Student Spotlight

If you are a SDCCD faculty/staff member who would like to nominate a DSPS student or alumni to be featured in our Student Spotlight Series, or if you are a DSPS student or alumni who would like to self-nominate, please complete the below submission form!

Student Spotlight Submission Form


Under the Hood with John Loewenberg

John Loewenberg holds a light over an engine and smiles at the camera

John Loewenberg's love for the automotive world began early, and he knew he wanted to turn his passion into a career. After graduating from Poway High School in 2010, he embarked on his higher education journey at Miramar College in 2011. He chose Miramar because of its cost-effective tuition and the academic flexibility it offered.

John was eager to test drive various subjects while remaining committed to his true passion: automotive technology. Loewenberg fondly remembers his first years at Miramar, citing Mark Anderson's Health 101 class as a particular highlight.

"He made his class atmosphere fun and lighthearted, which made learning easy, especially since I was nervous about being at a new school," said Loewenberg, who also noted the professor's incredible support in providing disability accommodations.


Breaking Barriers with Guillermo Cabanellas

Guillermo Cabanellas outdoor headshot

With some collegiate experience under his belt, Guillermo Cabanellas embarked on his academic journey at SDCCD in 2022, initially choosing Geographic Information Technology as a field of study before changing his major to Health Information Technology. 

"I decided to pursue higher education to better myself and earn a decent salary while serving the community," said Cabanellas, who expects to complete his studies in Spring 2024.

As a student with ASD, ADHD, and visual and neurological disabilities, Cabanellas’ college life is impacted by difficulties with focus, integrating information, and processing it effectively.

“It’s easy to get disorganized and fail,” he said.



Cassandra Mullens Illustrates Path to Success

Cassandra is in her graduation regalia holding a boquet of flowers and diploma smiling

When reflecting on her decision to pursue higher education after graduating from Mount Carmel High School in 2016, Cassandra Mullens described Miramar as “a flexible and welcoming transition point from high school life to university life." Seeking to develop her skills as a character designer and illustrator, Mullens pursued her associate’s degree in Studio Arts for Transfer, honing her skills in life drawing, painting, ceramics, and woodwork. Spending most of her time in the Art and Visual Studies building, she found guidance in professors Jessica McCambley and Joshua Eggleton. 

As a student on the Autism spectrum, Mullens’ difficulty processing vast quantities of information and multiple steps given at once often resulted in overwhelm and overstimulation.



Yuhan Liu is Winning in Her Own Lane

Yuhan stands on the Miramar campus wearing a pink floral shirt, smiling

“She silently stepped out of the race that she never wanted to be in, found her own lane and proceeded to win." - Anonymous

Lately, quotes like the one above are providing Miramar College student Yuhan Liu with the motivation to follow her dreams. While Liu’s education and employment aspirations are relatively straightforward (complete her Business Administration associates program and obtain work in the same field), her journey toward these goals requires a custom-made route. 

As a student with cerebral palsy, Liu must pace herself, taking no more than two courses per semester in order to maintain a great GPA. 

“It may take other students an hour to complete an assignment, but for me it may take three or four,” she said.



Taking the Time with Vahide Balbin

Vahide is holding up a large fish and giving the peace sign smiling

When Miramar College student Vahide Balbin isn’t occupied with school, work, and family, the 30 year old mother of four likes to spend her time fishing.

“Sometimes you catch big fish, sometimes you catch small fish, sometimes you catch nothing, but you have to learn that that was time that you spent meant to mentally disconnect from everything. It reminds me that life is that way. Just taking that time to appreciate what you have. I call it water therapy.”

Fishing or not, Balbin’s entire life is a testament to the benefits of taking a little extra time. 

Coming to the U.S. in 1999 as a refugee from Kosovo, she quickly fell behind in public school. Bilingual in Croatian and Albanian, Balbin struggled with learning in English-speaking classes, and her grades suffered as a result. 



Juan Nieto is Up for a Challenge

Mesa College buildings with text "Student Spotlight Juan Nieto"

Juan Nieto's elementary school experience was marred by systemic shortcomings that unfortunately impact many students with disabilities.

“I guess my school didn’t understand my disability, so I was placed in [moderate/severe] classes,” he said. “I played with Legos from first through sixth grade.”

Nieto has Nystagmus, a vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements.

“My eye doctor told me that my eye is like a camera, but without the zoom.” he said.

Nieto was eventually placed in more appropriate middle-school classes, where he worked hard to catch up with his classmates.



Mary Coleman’s really good life

Mary smiling standing in front of a bulletin board with images and text

It’s been 15 years since Mary Coleman experienced a massive stroke that left her permanently disabled.

“It was an earthquake train wreck. Everything was destroyed,” said Coleman, who prior to her injury, served for ten years as a tenured English professor at San Diego City College.

Five weeks after the stroke, Coleman’s mother died of lung cancer. The resulting threads of shock, despair, and grief spun a web of depression from which she could not escape, leading Coleman to resist the recovery strategies presented by physical, occupational, and speech therapists. 

“In my mind, I didn’t need strategies,” said Coleman. I just needed my brain to heal quickly.” 






Amanda Chen Means Business

Amanda Chen is smiling and standing in front of a bookcase

Amanda Chen represents the first San Diego Miramar College graduate in our “Alumni at Work” series, which showcases how former SDCCD students with disabilities utilized Disability Support Programs and Services (DSPS) in furthering their academic and employment goals.

Chen began her studies at Miramar in 2012 as a business major. 

“I thought pursuing higher education would provide me with more job opportunities,” she said. “Since Miramar is smaller than a four-year university, I felt more comfortable taking classes there and getting help when I needed to.”



Jessica Ramos-Bahena is Writing her own Story

A smiling Jessica Ramos-Bahena, wearing a black shirt and pants, is sitting outside in front of a scenic downtown San Diego background.

After experiencing a life-threatening car accident in 2009 that resulted in an acquired brain injury, Ramos-Bahena was determined to pursue an education that would translate into a rewarding career. Encouraged by supportive high school teachers, mentors, and tutors, she enrolled at San Diego Mesa College, where she took advantage of available programs and services that exist to help low-income students and/or students with disabilities achieve success in and beyond college. 

“I had to find a different way to learn in order to pass the classes,” she said.



Kael Heath is Going Places

Kael Heath is outside, looking over his shoulder and smiling.

CE student Kael Heath, enrolled at the college in 2017after obtaining an associate’s degree in Journalism from Southwestern Community College (2013) and a bachelor’s degree in English and Literature from Chico State University (2016).

Despite establishing a few close personal friendships and professional mentorships while at Chico, Heath had some trouble fitting in.

“Chico’s a party school, and I’m not really a party person,” he said.




The Unstoppable Michael Sarmiento

Michael Sarmiento is smiling, standing in front of fencing that is covered in green foliage. He’s wearing a light blue button-down shirt with red and navy blue accents.

Michael Sarmiento, achieved his Child Development Associate Teacher Certificate of Performance at San Diego Miramar College in Spring of 2020. 

Sarmiento’s post-collegiate future looked promising, as he was immediately hired at a local preschool. But as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc in schools across the globe, the new job unfortunately stalled before it even began.

“They said that closing the school would delay my start date,” he said, “and they never actually got back to me.”Despite this setback, Sarmiento wasn’t going to let a false start stop him.




A Bright Future Ahead for Luc Huynh

Luc Huynh is standing outside on Miramar campus, with trees behind him. He’s wearing a white shirt and glasses and looking at the camera.

A passion for Biotechnology runs in the family, according to Miramar College student Luc Huynh, who chose to pursue his degree in the field after learning about his cousin’s job at Biolegend.

“My most interesting classes so far were the BIO and CHEM lab classes, since they involved specific procedures that I got to learn a bit more about,” he said. 

As a participant in SDCCD’s Disability Support Programs and Services (DSPS), which includes the College 2 Career (C2C) program, Huynh found his stride in a challenging major with the help of DSPS and C2C staff.




Mary Mendoza Preps for a Culinary Career

Mary Mendoza is standing in a kitchen and smiling. She is wearing a white chef’s hat and coat.

Mesa College’s Culinary Arts and Culinary Management program is one of only a few in the nation that operates a classroom-driven public restaurant. Mary Mendoza has excelled in the program and is currently completing the final course for her Certificate of Achievement.

Mendoza’s love for making food and feeding people propelled her through the ongoing pandemic and many other obstacles. Recalling a favorite part of the culinary program, she said:

“I got to make food items with the recipe that I was given by my chef. I made appetizers, entrees, salads, bread rolls, soups and desserts. When I was done making the food item, I felt the love and support from the room. I am very proud of myself.”

Continue Reading Mary's Story!



Margaret Reed is standing outside on Miramar campus, with red flowering foliage behind her. She’s wearing a blue shirt and glasses and smiling at the camera.

If creativity is intelligence having fun, Margaret Reed must be having a lot of fun.

Reed, a former and current San Diego Mesa College student, carries a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Diego State University in English Language and Literature. She continues to expand her studies through Mesa’s English and Creative Writing program, all while owning and operating Tender Zest Creative, a boutique creative services company devoted to helping small business owners and writers market their work.

As an artist, poet, and entrepreneur with extensive work history in the corporate realm, Reed takes full advantage of SDCCD’s offerings to hone her writing and creative skills.

Continue Reading Margarets's Story!


The SDCCD journey continues for Danny Dunn

Danny Dunn is smiling and wearing glasses and blue and gold graduation attire.Falling asleep in class isn’t always indicative of a late night or a dull lecture. For students like recent San Diego Mesa College graduate Danny Dunn, involuntarily dozing off in school and other public places is the reality of living with idiopathic hypersomnia, a rare disease similar to narcolepsy.

“Most of my professors have been really understanding about it, once we figured out what was going on,” said Dunn. “It took me 16 years to get a diagnosis for that [disability], so we just thought I was lazy for about half my life! It's been a great relief getting diagnosed.”

Continue Reading Danny's Story!


James Walker’s Dedication and Drive

James Walker is standing outside on Miramar campus. He’s wearing a blue shirt and red glasses and smiling at the camera.

James Walker from Miramar College completed his Computer Business Technology (CBTE) Legal Secretary Certificate in Spring 2021.

Walker’s longtime passion for law enforcement and criminal justice prompted him to pursue this field of study. 

“It matches my interest with my skill set, and I’m confident that I can be successful in contributing to help others,” he said. “I also had a connection with several people that work in law enforcement, and I’ve always been interested in what they do.”


Continue Reading James' Story!


Raynisha Jackson Levels Up!

Raynisha Jackson, dressed in graduation regalia, stands smiling in front of City College commencement stage at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park.

Raynisha Jackson has a bad romance to thank for motivating her to pursue higher education in her thirties.

“It lit a fire under me,” she said, referring to her ex’s persistent negativity. “In the words of Ciara, I needed to ‘Level Up!’”

As a deaf person, Jackson was also looking to escape the limitations of the Social Security system. 

“We can't have careers if we're on Social Security. You can only make a certain amount of money a month before they start saying, ‘You seem to be a little more independent than we want you to be.’”


District Disability Support Programs and Services
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