“My father gave me the ultimatum of going to school or working alongside him in the fields of the Oxnard Plain harvesting celery and lettuce. Being a stubborn teenager, I opted for working in the fields. I thought to myself ‘How hard could this be?,’” said Dr. Vega, assistant dean at Ventura College East Campus (VCEC) in Santa Paula.
Vega remembers leaving the house before sunrise his first day of work. He did not make it 30 minutes before he was in their white Ford F150 crying. He realized his father was right and education was the right choice.
“To this day, I thank my father for those 30 minutes.”
Vega had the opportunity to attend a four-year university out of high school, but he chose to attend nearby Oxnard College, which enabled him to save money and discover his passion for learning.
“I was academically eligible, but I was not emotionally mature to be out on my own. I did not have the necessary soft skills to survive on my own,” he said.
Transitioning from high school to college was humbling for Vega, who realized the habits that served him in high school would not provide the same results in college. He learned that he needed to adapt to each course, learning the individual language and writing style for each subject.
While satisfying a general education requirement, a love for history emerged. He remembers how Professor Tomas Salinas’s U.S. History course incorporated the underrepresented accomplishments and contributions of minorities to this country.
“We, as a collective, have made such wonderful contributions to society and our communities, but our stories are never told,” said Vega, who went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in history from UC Irvine.
This new love complemented an old passion—accessibility and equity in high school education.
“I wanted to be the change agent in students’ lives, where they could realize that a college education was for them as well as anyone else,” said Vega, who has a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from California State University, Northridge. “My career path did not end up the way I envisioned it, but I am still where I need to be: advocating for students.”
At VCEC, Vega oversees dual enrollment for high school students and off-campus programs. Though it has been more than 20 years since he was a community college student, he sees students struggling with the same obstacles he did.
“Being a first generation student, it was difficult figuring out how to pay for school, having to pay for textbooks and possibly not having a support system at home because my family did not understand the rigors of college. I still see that in many of my students,” Vega said.
The enduring challenges strengthen his dedication to working in higher education.
“I enjoy working with students and their families to achieve their dreams,” he said. “I enjoy listening to them and being the person that says ‘When I was younger…’ or ‘In my day…’ More than anything, I want them to know that they are not alone. I share my story of bringing my experiences and loved ones along with me. Their teachings and support are what got me through every stage of my education.”
He also loves spending his time making people laugh, watching his daughters play sports and supporting them and their teammates.
And every day he lives his life inspired by the many mottos passed down to him, including a reminder to be humble and stay true to yourself. “My grandfather and father always told me that when you lose sight of that, people will come to take everything away from you and will most likely succeed in doing that.”
—Michelle De Leon, Moorpark College alum