Saddleback Stories

Cindy Sandoval

My time at Saddleback was really valuable to me and I cherish every single one of the five years it took me to graduate. I was able to create memorable experiences and I took many classes that guided me in the right path. In addition to working on my GE requirements, I was selected as the Outstanding International Languages Department Student in French, 2015-2016 and I was able to Study Abroad in Santander, Spain for the summer. My experience in Santander is probably one of my favorite memories and I always encourage anyone who is even thinking about studying abroad to JUST DO IT.  

Cindy Sandoval
Cindy Sandoval

After studying abroad I was offered a position in the Language Lab where I learned the administrative aspect of the education system. Additionally, I participated in many school events like the Día de Los Muertos Celebration, the multicultural fair - in which I presented the cultural and artistic aspects of Mexico (like Día de Los Muertos, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera), Club Rush in which I had a booth to present the Study Abroad programs in the Spanish department, and participated in the Day of Silence.

As a first-generation Latinx Student, I am very grateful for my experience at Saddleback College. Saddleback has amazing professors and staff and I am thankful for their guidance and preparation.

Although, it took me a long time to transfer, I am leaving with two associate degrees: one in Spanish and one in French. I am currently attending UC Irvine as an undergraduate double majoring in International Studies and Spanish.


David Pino
Adjunct Faculty Member

My father was born in small Mayan village in Mexico and immigrated to American in the 60’s to work as a farm laborer and gardener. He broke his back to feed us and provide us with shelter. My mother who was born with Polio, toiled as a maid and seamstress to help my dad pay the bills. Both my parents never passed the 5th grade and English was their second language, which they learned informally as they struggled through life.  

David Pino
David Pino

While they could never save for my college education, or help me fill out the application forms for Saddleback College, they still helped me in the most crucial way, they believed in me. At Saddleback in the 80’s I encountered so much support from my professor, especially Mike Merrifield, Pete Espinoza, Mariana de Saracho, Juanita Baltiera, CarmenMara and Doug Barr. All these people and many more inspired me to keep going, even when I had no money and had to help my parents make ends meet.

Nevertheless, twenty years later I returned to Saddleback, after earning my Bachelors and Master’s degree to lecture as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Political Science.

I have dedicated my life to helping students of all backgrounds embrace education as a vehicle to success and personal fulfillment. Earning a degree in America is the great equalizer in our society. It’s the ticket to the middle class for many working-class people and first generation immigrants. It’s an honor to be part of the Saddleback family.


John Williams
Former Gaucho Football Player

I enrolled at Saddleback College in the summer of 1969, 50 years ago this year. I played football and ran track for Saddleback for two years, receiving my AA degree in June, 1971. This photograph was taken of me as an incoming freshman football player that first summer. It was wonderful as all players were given a portrait like this for their families.  

John Williams
John Williamsl

Attending Saddleback College in those first years was a wonderful experience, almost like attending a very small private college. Most students and faculty gathered around the library and small cafeteria and it seemed everyone knew each other back then. What a great experience and it was culture shock for me when I transferred to the University of Iowa, a Big Ten school with thousands of students.

My wife, Joann and children, Ian and Lauren went on to graduate from Saddleback also. We are an all Gaucho family!.


Katherine Albright

Life has its twists, turns and surprises yet, never would I have guessed what was to come when I attended Saddleback College in 1988. I was never a student, ever, prior to college. In elementary school I cut school for 2 weeks before getting caught. I would simply hide in the bushes next door until my mother left for work then, I would go back into the house, put my swimsuit on and lay out in the yard working on my tan. When my mother asked me what I was doing all that time, I cued the tears, and said I "...needed time to think." Middle school continued along the same path, poor grades and intense apathy. Finally, in high school I got a job and a car. I was done. I graduated with a 1.08 GPA!! One teacher took pity on me and pretty much passed me so I would graduate.  

Katherine Albright
Katherine Albrightl

After high school I tried to take on the modeling world and acting with a modicum of success. I mean, I squeaked out a living for a few years but, I was still waitressing on the side. Then, it hit me, I should go to college! I took classes at OCC but either withdrew or failed them. Who flunks out of their first term of fashion and merchandising?? Oh ya, me! I ended up waitressing at the Mission Viejo Coco's for a while and started renting a room from a family. It was at this point I made a decision. I was going to attend Saddleback College and get my RN!.

God bless my poor parents, they took the news kindly but with a grain of salt. I asked them to pay for it and they said a resounding "no." So, I came up with a deal. If I paid up front for school and got a "C" or better in a class, they would pay me back for my tuition and books. They said "yes" to this so, I felt on my way.
What I found at Saddleback no doubt changed the course of my life! In the beginning it was kindness.

From the registrar who helped my order my OCC transcripts to the person in Financial Aid who got me to apply for EVERYTHING possible including EOPS, there was this sense of "you can do this and we are going to go above and beyond to help you!" My first class was Anatomy with Dr. Gary Fugle. I will never forget what he taught me, and how he taught me. Every class he would get so into his lectures that he would be covered in sweat. Time flew by in class, I could not get enough! I began to study, make flashcards, re-write my notes every night. I began being a student for the first time in my life. I worked so hard in and out of his class. It paid off, I got my first college "A." My parents were in shock! They said, "okay, but can you do it again?" And I did, over and over I got "A's and B's" in college level coursework. Even math had these amazing teachers! My Pre-Calculus professor (all I remember of her name is Ronnie) even gave me and my friends her home number so we could call if we had questions on the homework. Like I said...above and beyond at every step.

At this point, my parents took over paying for my college experience (well, tuition and books anyway)!
I made the Dean's List term after term, I joined Alpha Gamma Sigma, I got invited to be a tutor in the student tutoring center and I was able to tutor students in the same classes I was in. Here was the girl who could not care less about education tutoring her fellow students in pre-calculus at the same time she was taking it!

Then, one day it happened! I met with Dr. Fugle to discuss the very sad state of the male and female cadavers. I asked him if there was any way myself and a group of students in the Bio Club could dissect a new cadaver for the department. He said he would look into it, then he asked me the million dollar question, "what are you going to do?" I replied that I was going into the nursing program. The next words out of his mouth rocked my world, he said "...nursing school? Why not Medical School?" He showed a level of belief in me no one else had ever shown me. He began pushing me to think harder, try harder, ask thoughtful questions. He did get that cadaver for us from UCI. Then he set up an Independent Study class for us to work on it. I practically lived on campus. I hung out there, made friends there. I fit in there!

Saddleback has meant so much to me and where my life went. I transferred to West Valley College in Saratoga to be closer to my significant other at the time. I went there for one year and got all A's, a 4.0. All because of how I grew and blossomed at Saddleback, I am certain. Next came one of the biggest decisions of my adult life, where did I want to attend University? I chose UC, Davis, and only UC, Davis!!

After months of agonizing over getting in or not I called and they said "YES!!" I was an official Aggie!

I had taken everything I needed for my Associate of Science degree in Biological Sciences. But, I wanted to return to Saddleback, with my new units, and graduate from the school that changed my life and would continue to for many, many years. After a tearful presentation of my West Valley units to Saddleback, I was granted the opportunity to cross the stage at my Alma Mater.

To make this very long story short, I went to Davis, changed my major to Genetics, made the Dean's List a few times, was on track to go to medical school, had a horrific car accident, withdrew from Davis for a term, returned, fell in love, graduated and moved to Monterey, CA.

There's not a whole lot to do here in human genetics, so, I went back to school and got my teaching credential in Science and Math. I have been teaching, with Dr. Fugle in mind everyday, ever since!

I am good at what I do because I can connect with kids. I teach in a Title 1 school and I "get it" when the students tell me they hate school. But, I am always thinking back to the kindness and belief Saddleback treated me with and this is how I treat them. It is how I connect to them as people which I learned accidently one day by stepping onto the Saddleback College campus.


Keleigh Nicole Jones

I am currently attending Advance Beauty College. I am so thankful for the resources available from Saddleback College. I have been given a second chance to successfully complete the education of my choice. I have always had big dreams, starting as a gymnast and then becoming a mother of two.  

Keleigh Nicole Jones
Keleigh Nicole Jones

Now that I am enrolled in Cosmetology School, my education inspires me to dream even bigger. Welcome to my world!.


Jean England

I started at Saddleback College in 1984 as a returning adult. I received my AA degree in 1987 and transferred and continued my education receiving my Bachelor of Science degree.  

Jean England
Jean England

I returned to Saddleback College in 1989 to work in the assessment center while pursuing my MS degree. When I completed my Master of Science degree in counseling, I was asked to teach a course I had taken there as a student - Applied Psychology 160. I feel my experience at Saddleback College prepared me to be a better, more understanding counselor and instructor for returning adults from my own experience. I understood their fears and shared my own experience about going back to college as a returning adult. Saddleback College made it very easy and comfortable for me to pursue my goals.


Linda (Frazer) Polese
Class of 1969-70

I graduated from Mater Dei High School, Santa Ana, in 1968. A new college was scheduled to open in the fall of 1968 in Mission Viejo called Saddleback College. As I was living with my family in Tustin, it was a short commute. We drove over to the new campus off of Avery Parkway in Mission Viejo. There were several temporary buildings and it was surrounded by open fields and sheep grazing nearby. I decided to major in business and took several business courses that were taught by the most dedicated teachers. 

Linda Polese Homecoming queen
Linda Polese Homecoming queen

I especially loved my business law class. I thought at that point I would continue to be a lawyer! Some of my courses were tough, but some were fun. I learned shorthand and had a lot of fun writing as fast as I could. I remember in my archery class we were told to be careful not to hit the sheep! Golf was also taught at Saddleback and we loved hitting the balls with the beautiful vistas all around us.

The following year 1969-1970, the school had their first homecoming game. The football team nominated eight girls to be voted for Homecoming Queen. I was selected, and therefore was the first Homecoming Queen for Saddleback College. I was honored on Nov 8, 1969, at the Homecoming Game Saddleback College vs. Barstow College at Mission Viejo High School stadium.

On February 14th, 1970, our Congressman, Jimmy Utt, was the speaker for the new permanent campus site. I attended the ceremony along with the SJC superintendent, and other County Board of Education heads and Trustees. The Mission Viejo Reporter, March, 1970, had an article and picture of the dedication.

I am again living in Mission Viejo and have such fond memories of Saddleback College. It is a great opportunity for students to start their college education and have the opportunities that await them for further education or starting their careers.


Matt Gaffney
Defensive Tackle, 1970 Mission Conference Champion football team

Before joining the United States Navy in 1971, I played defensive tackle on the 1970 Mission Conference Championship football team.  My fondest memories at Saddleback College center on football.  In 1968, during the inaugural football game against the Cal Luthern frosh team, I witnessed Tim Butler score the first rushing touchdown in Saddleback history. 

Matt Gaffney picture

In the same game, Chris Hector, the quarterback, threw the first touchdown pass to Mike Derbyshire.  I will never forget either of these moments.   My memories of my time as a Gaucho are fond ones for me.  I was fortunate enough to play for two of the greatest coaches in junior college football history, head coach George Hartman and offensive coordinator Jay Roelen.  Coach Hartman is in the California Community College Athletic Association Hall of Fame.  In my opinion, coach Roelen is worthy of this honor too.  We used to pack ‘em in at Mission Viejo High School in those days.


Patricia Piecuch

My dream was always to attend college, but I had no support because only the son(s) are allowed higher education in my family. My brother graduated from DePaul and is a successful attorney. I always put myself in positions to prove to myself that I am college material. It wasn't until my daughter started college that I cried saying "it is never my turn". My husband, a successful engineer, took me to Irvine Valley and said, "sign this girl up for a class". 

Patricia Piecuch picture
Patricia Piecuch picture

My first class was Film as Literature which I thoroughly enjoyed. After that class I switched to Saddleback College where I received several certificates and graduated Cum Laude with an AA in Business Admin. I was bit by the college bug and didn't want to stop my education so I got my education certified then transferred to Chapman where I graduated Magna Cum Laude, Bachelor of Science with a Finance Emphasis.

Getting my degree opened many doors for me that wouldn't have been opened otherwise. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend Saddleback College and made my dream of higher education come to fruition.


Jose Reyes Mejia Alegre

I emigrated from Mexico on March 22, 1975. It was a Saturday about 10:30 am when I received my visa to enter the U.S. At first, I wanted to go back to Mexico. However, I ended up working as a garbage collector for SOLAG based in San Juan Capistrano. One working day, I found lots of math books and set up my own small library. After working at SOLAG for three years, I started working as janitor at San Clemente High School. At the same time, I tried several times to go to school (4 or 5 times). I began with ESL first and then took math in the wrong sequence, from calculus to basic math.

Jose Reyes picture
Jose Reyes picture

Then I met Pete Espinosa, an Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS) Counselor at Saddleback College. I became a full time student during the fall of 1978. To say the least, I left my job at the high school. While I was at Saddleback, I worked as a math tutor and completed all of my GE classes and transferred to CSU Fullerton in fall 1980. In 1985, I graduated with a major in applied math.

I worked as a physics and math tutor at Fullerton College for one year. Then in the fall of 1986, I started the graduate program in applied mathematics and received a Master’s degree in the fall of 1988. As a professional I have taught at CSU Fullerton from 1986 to 1988 as a teaching assistant, followed by positions at Cypress College from 1988 to 1989, and Fullerton College from1989 to 1990. I began teaching at Chabot College in 1990. I earned my Master’s degree in Physics from 1999 to 2001 at CSU East Bay.

What I have achieved, it would have not been possible if I had not attended Saddleback College when I did.


Christina Bolin
Former Saddleback Softball Player

I graduated high school in 2007, and 3 years later, I began going to Saddleback College after Coach Nick Trani convinced me to play softball for his team in 2010.  Playing softball for Coach Nick and Saddleback College was the best 2 years of my life. It was also the most challenging time after taking years off from the sport and dealing with injuries throughout my college career.

Our 2011 and 2012 softball team took 3rd place in the Orange Empire Conference and our team made it to Southern California Regional Finals. In my freshman year, I was named the Orange Empire Conference MVP.  It is a moment in time when I felt the most pride.

Additionally, I earned the CCCAA All State honors in both my freshman and sophomore years. During my career as a Gaucho,
I broke 16 program records, 10 of which I still currently hold including highest career batting average (.494), most career RBI’s (89), and most career homeruns (20). More recently in 2016, I was proudly inducted into the Saddleback College Hall of Fame.

After 2 years of playing softball for Saddleback College, I spent an additional year finishing my required classes to transfer as a Psychology major. During that year, I was an assistant coach for the Gaucho softball team which eventually took 5th place in the Orange Empire Conference and made it to 1st round of regionals. After graduating from Saddleback College, I went on to transfer to California State University, Fullerton where I completed my bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2015.

Beginning my higher education and my collegiate athletic career at Saddleback College was the best decision I ever made. It also put me on the right track to become the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. I graduated from Saddleback College in 2013, CSUF in 2015, and began working at Saddleback College in student services in 2016.


John Hellriegel
Former Lariat editor, Student Trustee Class of 1989 

Saddleback College and the people, classes, and experiences I had there changed the course of my life forever. I came to Saddleback in 1986 right out of high school. I had no clue what I was doing and I spent the first year in a fog. It wasn’t until I met Vern Hodge and Mike Reed did things begin to come into focus. I joined ASB on a whim, encouraged by Leslie Humphrey, a friend from high school. From there everything changed.

John Hellriegel picture
John Hellriegel picture

Vern encouraged me to invest in the college, the classes, and people there. I had never met anyone who advised and counseled students like he did. It was inspiring. I also joined the Lariat at the encouragement of Mike Reed and my experience in his Mass Media class. It was there I found a sense of purpose and family. It was Mike’s passion as an educator and the positive influence he had on students that made me want to become a teacher.

By the end my second year at Saddleback, I was neck deep in everything Saddleback, to the point where Vern encouraged me to run for Student Trustee. I stretched myself, ran and won the position. Saddleback was the kind of place where you could do that sort of thing - a place to stretch and challenge yourself. I spent so much time at Saddleback I needed to find an on campus job. Before it was all over, I must have worked six jobs at Sadddleback. Interestingly enough, even after I graduated from Chico State, I ended up coming back and working night jobs at Saddleback. It was like coming home. I went into Saddleback a confused 18 year old, C average student at best. However, Saddleback launched me into a love for learning and a passion for educating future leaders. I went on to graduate from Saddleback College with high honors. Before my educational journey was over, I had graduated Magna Cum Laude from Chico State, National University and Biola University. I ended up becoming a life-time educator and leader, working with middle school students for the past 25 years. I thank God every time I think of Saddleback College. The people, classes, and experiences were the best of my academic career and forever influenced the course of my life. Thanks, Saddleback College and Happy 50th!


Carla Conn
Senior Counseling Office Assistant

Carla Conn, who works in the Saddleback College Counseling Department shared this photo taken in September 28, 1995 of three generations of family, Marisa Morrison (daughter), Lindsay Morrison (mother) and Irene Conn (grandmother).   

Carla Conn picture
Carla Conn picture

All three women were enrolled in the same algebra course.  Lindsay Morrison graduated in May 1977 earning an AS Degree with Honors in Interior Design and Home Furnishings.  Irene Conn graduated the following year with an AA Degree in General Studies.


Michael Campana
Former Gaucho running back

I attended Saddleback from fall 2008 to spring 2011. I played on the Gaucho football team as a running back during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. I transferred to Humboldt State University and played football for the 2011 season before transferring and completing my bachelors in business administration at the University of Southern California. 

After USC, I moved to Europe for a year and played in their professional American football league. For the last few years I have been working as a Systems/Integration Consultant for a software firm.  I have returned to school to pursue my MBA at the University of Redlands.  My wife Shyann, also a Saddleback alum, and I are regulars at the Gaucho football games.


Leah England
Sr. Administrative Assistant, Office of the President

I came to Saddleback as an employee; a mother returning to work as my child became self-sufficient. My supervisors encouraged me to dust off my college transcripts to see if those old units could benefit me. I couldn’t imagine how I would do it. I had no idea the breadth and depth of the support that I would receive from the administration, management and faculty at Saddleback College. Not only was I supported by my co-workers, but my management’s encouragement, our tuition reimbursement program, the help of the Financial Aid office to win a BOG Fee Waiver, the computer/printer lab (I had no computer at the time) and the tutoring program made it possible to graduate with an Associate degree in Social & Behavioral Science in less than two years.

When I originally left school to manage my family, I thought that I would be lucky to finish an Associate degree in my lifetime. My experience at Saddleback has not only given me a thorough understanding of how to continue my education at a university, but has provided me with the confidence and inspiration to do so. Now I am transferring into an Industrial/Organizational Psychology Bachelors of Science degree, with self-assured conviction to achieve a Masters; a far cry from the feeling that I might never achieve an Associate degree. This educational achievement has not only improved my life, but has had a positive ripple effect into the lives of my children, professional associates and my ability to contribute to the community. Thank you, Saddleback College Family!


Cathy Arreguin
Grants Analyst

Saddleback College has been a BIG part of my life for many years now. I took classes in Child Development, Math and Yoga when I first moved to south Orange County from Los Angeles 23 years ago, and then about 10 years ago when the recession was in full swing, Saddleback saved me!! I had been working in real estate development for over 13 years when I was laid off... twice! Saddleback gave me the opportunity to transfer my skills into a new career and I haven't looked back! I work in the Saddleback College grants office and I LOVE my job.  I love working with the whole Saddleback team to develop opportunities to support our students in innovative ways through grant funding. 

Cathy Arreguin picture

Saddleback is definitely a family affair for me. My daughter came to Saddleback after high school, received a wonderful education and transferred to UC Berkeley a year ago.  During her time here, we attended a college transfer counseling appointment with a UCLA representative here at Saddleback. I went in with my daughter because she asked me to attend with her.  I didn't realize I would be getting counseled as well! During that meeting, I found out that I could complete my degree at UCLA with one class at Saddleback! Not finishing my bachelor’s degree had been an albatross hanging around my neck for over 20 years! My colleagues at Saddleback had been encouraging me to finish but I was scared it was too late. Well at Saddleback, IT IS NEVER TOO LATE! Happily, I enrolled the following semester and fulfilled my quantitative reasoning requirement for UCLA, submitted the paperwork for graduation after completing the course and that was it!  I'm a graduate!  Thank you Saddleback! XOXOX


Dr. Ladi Boustani
Generalist Counselor

I remember being told by my high school counselor that Saddleback College would be a great institution, allowing me to pursue my dreams. I started at Saddleback College in 2005, immediately after graduating high school. My first encounter with a counselor, allowed me to navigate through my academic career path. By joining the Honors program, the Psi-Beta Psychology Honors Society, and utilizing the tutoring services, I became familiar with many of the provided resources. Dedication to my studies and attendance of office hours during four consecutive semesters, paved the path for my acceptance into all nine University of California campuses, amongst which I attended UCLA.

At UCLA, I majored in Psychology and minored in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Consequently, I transferred to Alliant International University in order to receive my masters and doctoral degrees in Psychology. I returned back to Saddleback College in 2012 with the objective to complete my doctoral hours at the student health center. This rewarding experience allowed me to treat individuals, couples, and families.

Today, I am a licensed clinical psychologist and work as a part-time Generalist Counselor at Saddleback College Counseling Services, with emphasis on providing personal, academic and career counseling in addition to teaching counseling courses. Throughout my academic path and career, Saddleback College has served as a navigation point, providing me with outstanding services to reach my dreams.


Shyann Howard
Learning Disabilities Specialist 

I started at Saddleback in 2009 and took classes all the way up until fall 2014.  I was a cheerleader for our Gaucho football team in 2009 and 2010.  Following Saddleback, I received my bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cal State Fullerton in 2015. I am currently a doctoral student and will be graduating in spring 2020 with a doctorate in clinical psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University. 

I am a learning disabilities specialist and working as a part-time faculty member in the Learning Disabilities Center within the Disabled Students Programs and Services department at Saddleback College.  


Marilyn Lantz
Office Assistant, Disabled Student Program

I was a returning student and single mom of many years after being employed in the garment industry for almost three decades. After losing my job, my daughter, who had graduated from Saddleback College, encouraged me to go to college. She helped me enroll in one class to start my first semester at Saddleback.
I was all in after that one class, Fundamentals of Nutrition. I received two AA degrees, a member of the Alpha Gamma Society, and received a scholarship to California State University San Marcos. I graduated Magna cum Laude and was the first in my family to receive a degree from a 4-year college.

Marilyn Lantz
Marilyn Lantz

While I was a Saddleback student, I volunteered at the Learning Resource Center and at what is now called Disabled Students Programs and Services as a relief receptionist, office aide, and exam proctor. I am handicapped and after a couple of semesters, my daughter told me about classes in the Adapted Physical Education (APE) program, now known as Adapted Kinesiology. It was a wonderful program, under the direction of Instructor Ron Hastings, who was the impetus of creating that entire department.

In addition to taking classes in this division, I also assisted Instructor Hastings’ Aide with the processing of paperwork which is indicative of a disabled student services program. After a month or so, Ron asked me if I would like to work for him, and of course, I said yes. I now have been working in the Disabled Students Programs and Services for 22 years. It has been my privilege and my joy to work with and for a segment of our student population who are sometimes forgotten or disenfranchised. They have shown me that all people have some disability, it’s just harder to detect in some people.

So I finish with this; I love that we are the Saddleback gauchos. According to some historians, gauchos are known to be skilled, brave horsemen known for their hard work and initiative. In the spirit of gauchos, we work for, go to school at, cheer for our favorite college team, and retire from Saddleback and should remain gauchos always.

Richard Barnett
Class of 2018

I might not have a long story, but I wanted to express my HUGE thank you to Saddleback College for making me a better person. Even though I am taking my last class this semester and earned my AS in Business in 2018, I am deeply saddened to leave this wonderful school where I made such a great memories and met so many fantastic peers and absolutely wonderful professors.

Richard Barnett
Richard Barnett

Thank you Saddleback College for letting me be a little part of you and I will remember you forever in my heart and if there is something significant will come out of me I will recognize your excellence and the start of my path at Saddleback College.

Thank you, thank you, and thank you again Saddleback College, for everything!