Historic Ceremonies Honor Merced College Class of 2023

James Leonard l May 30, 2023

A pair of historic commencement ceremonies were held at Merced College last week to honor the Class of 2023, with hundreds of students crossing the stage in Merced and Los Banos.

The Los Banos Campus, which has been a part of Merced College for more than 50 years, held its inaugural commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 25. Nearly 100 students from the Westside took the opportunity to celebrate their graduation in their own backyard, joined by hundreds of family members and several distinguished guests from the college and community.

Those students were treated to a full commencement experience, with faculty and administrators in full regalia, Pomp & Circumstance in the air, and a keynote address from John Spevak, a former vice president of Merced College who served for several years as dean of the Los Banos Campus.

Spevak shared his perspective on the original vision for the Los Banos Campus and the many years of hard work and dedication that were needed it to fulfill its potential and become a robust, integral piece of the Merced Community College District.

“Graduates, I hope you take the story of the Merced College Los Banos Campus as an inspiration for each of your lives,” Spevak said. “Dream big. Have a vision for your life that will bring you fulfillment not just in a career, but in life. Use the support of others along the way. But be prepared to do the hard work that’s required to make your dream, your vision, a reality.”

Merced College to Celebrate 60th Commencement—and 1st in Los Banos

CVV News l May 16, 2023

More than 1,200 Merced College students are eligible to cross the stage at a pair of historic commencement ceremonies this month.

For the first time, a full commencement ceremony will be held at the Merced College Los Banos Campus on Thursday, May 25. Then on Friday, May 26, the college will host its 60th commencement at the main campus in Merced, on Don Odishoo Field at Stadium ’76. Both ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

“Commencement is always a special time for our students, their families, and our entire campus community,” President Chris Vitelli said. “We are proud to continue our rich tradition of celebrating Merced College graduates as they begin the next chapters of their lives, and we are overjoyed to give our Los Banos students a commencement experience all their own.”

The Los Banos ceremony is the latest in a series of investments and initiatives to grow the campus and give Westside students a complete educational experience close to home.

The campus will soon gain an outdoor gym, allowing the addition of three in-person kinesiology courses. A new campus café will provide hot meals and alleviate food insecurities. New faculty will be added in high-demand fields like welding, computer technology and information systems, and the college’s well-regarded, popular agriculture programs. Construction of a new Child Development Center, for both childcare and training, will be completed this summer.

The Los Banos commencement will replace a smaller merit and awards celebration in which students received scholarships and faculty recognized the Student of the Year. Until now, Westside students looking for a traditional graduation experience could only walk in the Merced ceremony.

“Our students already get a top-quality, reasonably priced education right here in their community, and now they can celebrate their graduation here, as well,” Los Banos Campus Dean of Instruction Jessica Moran said. “This will be an inspiring moment for our graduates and their families, and a milestone for the growth and development of our community.”

About 200 students are eligible to participate in the Los Banos ceremony, which will be held in the campus’s quad.

All told, more than 3,000 degrees and certificates have been earned by Merced College students for the 2022-23 academic year, with 1,600 degrees and 1,489 certificates being awarded to 1,726 students in this year’s class—the highest totals since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Class of 2023 includes 425 students who are graduating with honors, having earned a grade-point average of 3.50 or better with a minimum of 45 units completed. And 31 of those students have earned Superintendent’s Honors by maintaining a GPA of 4.0 with at least 36 units completed.

“On behalf of the Merced College Board of Trustees, I want to congratulate all of our graduating students and express my gratitude to their families and friends who supported them on their journeys,” Board President John Pedrozo said. “Merced College provides high-quality education and training that empowers community members of all ages to improve their lives and enhance their careers, and I have no doubt the Class of 2023 is going to do great things for our region.”

Both commencement ceremonies will be available via livestream on the Merced College YouTube channel at Merced College – YouTube.

For information on attending commencement, including a list of FAQs for graduates and guests, visit our Graduation webpages at Graduation Merced College (mccd.edu) .

New Year, New You: Get Healthier and Happier at Merced College

CVV NEWS l December 22, 2022

A new year is near, and people all over Merced County are looking to improve their physical and mental well-being. From fitness to time management to stress reduction and mindfulness, Merced College is the place to learn and grow in 2023.

The Merced College Business Resource Center has a slew of programs for personal and professional enrichment that are starting in January and February. Some are low-cost courses for college credit, and many are free, non-credit programs.

“Whatever your goals for the new year, there’s something here for everyone,” said Caroline Dawson, Dean of Instruction. “As a community college, we take pride in offering a wide range of classes, workshops, and programs for all the lifelong learners in our community.”

Here are a few ways Merced College can help you start off the year on the right foot. For information or to register for classes, visit businesscommunityeducation.com http://businesscommunityeducation.com, or contact registerbrc@mccd.edu<mailto:registerbrc@mccd.edu> or 209-386-6733.

Get healthy. It’s everyone’s favorite New Year’s resolution for a reason, and Merced College is here to help! Yoga, badminton, Team Pump (or interval training), lap swimming, and cardio tennis all begin in January and run throughout the spring semester. Register today by visiting businesscommunityeducation.com<http://businesscommunityeducation.com/.

Build your resume. Looking to change jobs, explore Merced’s growing hospitality scene, or build new skills? The Hospitality Career Academy might be for you. It’s perfect for those looking for careers in restaurants and hotels, but the free academy can benefit anyone in any line of work. Learn conflict resolution, customer service, stress management and more — and learn the craft of cocktail mixology while you’re at it. A kickoff event for the Spring 2023 academy is scheduled for Jan. 30, and classes begin in February.

Be your best at work. The Customer Service Academy is not just for retail employees. With workshops in team building, values and ethics, communication in the workplace, time management and more, the academy is ideal for any employee, team, or organization looking to improve teamwork and collaboration. Classes start in January, so sign up today!

Be more positive. Merced College is embracing the science of happiness, and the Well-Being Institute is the perfect place to learn more about how to choose positivity, build resilience, fuel your body for success, and find your purpose. The program is being offered face-to-face for the first time in 2023, with classes starting Feb. 1.

For information or to register for classes, visit businesscommunityeducation.com<http://businesscommunityeducation.com/, or contact registerbrc@mccd.edu<mailto:registerbrc@mccd.edu or 209-386-6733.

Merced College remains committed to athletics equity as Title IX turns 50

Merced College remains committed to athletics equity as Title IX turns 50

By CVV News l June 16, 2022

Title IX turns 50 years old this month. The landmark legislation formally sought to reverse the impact of pervasive sex discrimination on American women. When the Higher Education Amendments passed in 1972, Title IX prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational institution or program receiving federal aid.

Title IX has since increased access to educational opportunities for three generations of American women, while forcing a sea change in women’s athletics from youth sports to the upper echelons of Olympic and professional competition.

At Merced College, which opened to students in Fall 1962, the men’s athletics program began the following academic year, 1963-64. The Blue Devil Athletics Department didn’t include a women’s sport until 1971, a year before Title IX was passed. 

That didn’t make the college wrong. The college now features a balanced athletics department with seven women’s programs and seven men’s programs. 

That also doesn’t make the college unique. It simply shows the work that has been done in U.S. schools over the past five decades to increase equity.

“We were very blessed to have [original athletics director] Don Odishoo guide us from the start,” said women’s basketball coach Allen Huddleston Sr., whose 29-year tenure included coaching the first generation of Title IX athletes showing up on campus. “It has been a different story adapting to Title IX here at the college with a supportive administration.”

How it started

According to annual course catalogs, Blue Devil athletics started in 1963 with varsity men’s programs in basketball, wrestling, baseball and tennis. The college added football and golf for the 1964-65 academic year and track and cross country in 1965-66.

Coming on the heels of Title IX’s passage, volleyball was the first women’s team in 1971. The school began adding women’s cross country, tennis, softball, swimming, track and field and water polo several years later.

The college’s athletics slate has fluctuated the past 50 years. Tennis, cross country, wrestling and golf are no longer offered. According to outgoing athletics director Steve Cassady, Blue Devil softball shut down when coach Sheryl Wiens retired in 1986. There was no team in 1987, but it returned in 1988 when Cassady took over as coach. The college also permanently added women’s basketball for the 1992-93 season.

“We added women’s basketball, not only to come into compliance with Title IX, but because it was the right thing to do,” said E. Jan Kehoe, the Merced College president at the time.

Most recently, Merced College shuttered men’s soccer after the 1999 season and women’s soccer after 2002. Title IX requires institutions to respond to community desires. So, still hearing a consistent clamor for soccer from annual student-interest surveys, the college brought back both teams in 2021.

Title IX wanted schools to increase opportunities for women proportional to what existed for men based on their demographics, but it wasn’t as simple as adding women’s teams to match the numbers of male athletes.

Kehoe said they first had to understand that no single women’s team could balance numbers from a football team. Also, it was difficult to find additional money to pay for startup costs like uniforms or facility additions or upgrades, and then also build a budget to fund annual operating expenses like salaries, travel and per diems.

How it’s going

Merced College now supports roughly 350 athletes in football, women’s volleyball, baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s squads in basketball, soccer, water polo, swimming and diving, and track and field.

Volleyball coach Jessica Casey said she had a great situation when she started coaching in 2004 because Cassady, the athletics director at the time, coached women and advocated for women’s sports.

Casey, 45, represents the second generation of Title IX, which grew up as the legislation helped rip down a curtain of myths about women’s athletic capabilities.

“I can’t even imagine being told I can’t do something because of my gender,” she said. “It’s not something we even whisper around the water cooler anymore.”

Current Merced High volleyball coach Patricia Flanagan-Khodikian says community colleges allow athletes to extend their careers and help them strengthen their chances of playing at a four-year school.

Flanagan-Khodikian, 30, is part of the third generation of Title IX, the one that easily found opportunities and increasingly better coaching at the “next level” while playing volleyball at Stone Ridge Christian High, for Casey at Merced College, and for another two years at NAIA Hope International University in Fullerton.

Ironically, Flanagan-Khodikian admits she knew nothing of Title IX until she was a college senior studying college sports management.

That is not a knock on her. It actually shows how far women’s sports has come that she had the luxury of not knowing how deeply Title IX informed her athletics career.

“Everywhere I have played and coached have been places where they worked hard at equity in athletics,” Flanagan-Khodikian said.  “I had a blast as an athlete because of that. Now, as a coach, anytime my girls are on the fence about playing in college, I can tell them to just give it a chance.”

Where it’s headed

Because of the overall growth in women’s athletics, coaching women’s sports is a legitimate career path. But it has also created a preponderance of male coaches coaching women’s teams.

Two of 11 Blue Devil head coaches are women—Casey, who will be coaching her 19th season at the college in Fall 2022, and former Blue Devil softball standout Suzanne McGhee, who just finished her 14th season this spring.

“I’ve been trying to train [one of my players] to take over for years,” Huddleston said. “I’ve seen so many young women who would make outstanding coaches. It’s important that they come back and share their skill.”

Flanagan-Khodikian, who also coaches for the Twisters local travel volleyball team, added, “As soon as we see someone with a drive for the sport, we tell them they should coach. It’s not just a job. When you’ve followed that path yourself, you realize which life skills you’ve learned from competing—being a good teammate, grit, a strong work ethic and how to remain calm under pressure.”

Casey agrees women’s sports at all levels need more women coaches and administrators.

“We need those female voices,” she said. “And they need to get paid. The WNBA and women’s soccer have been fighting for equal pay for years. When the amount of work athletes put into their craft is equal, but women are being paid dramatically less, we’re still fighting that battle.”

Moving forward, Title IX will also be tested by how successfully schools protect LGBTQ+ students. In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Adams v. The School Board of St. Johns County Florida affirmed that Title IX also protects people who face discrimination for their gender identity and sexual orientation.

“I think female athletes are doing amazing things right now, and it’s so fun to watch and to be a part of,” Casey said. “But [equity in athletics] is still a fight. It’s a conversation we should continue to have.”

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Felicia Roberts took an idea gathered a few people to reached into a minority community to highlight the positive, using a minority newspaper the Central Valley Voice. Roberts was joined by her sisters Carolyn Williams, Alleashia Thomas, niece Hermonie Lynn Williams, nephew Ron Williams, cousin Jerald Lester, Jay Slaffey, Greg Savage, Tim Daniels and the late J Denise Fontaine. Each individual played an important role in the birth of the newspapers. Since, then many have stood strong behind the success of the newspapers and its goal to fill a void in the Central Valley community The Central Valley Voice published their 1st issue in November 1991. Its purposed was to highlight the achievements of minorities in the Central Valley. The Voice focuses on the accomplishments of African Americans and Hispanics giving young people role models while diminishing the stereotypical pictures of gangs, crime and violence that permeate the minority communities. Since 1991, the Central Valley Voice has provided an important voice for the minority community throughout the Madera, Merced. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

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