For Cerro Coso English Professor Melanie Jeffrey, community college isn't just where she works. She says it also saved her life.
Growing up in Los Angeles, her family was poor and on welfare most of her young life. In high school, she attended a regional occupation program in cosmetology which landed her a job working in a hair salon straight out of school, which was her first career.
She was happy to have the job because the thought of going to college wasn't on her radar even though Jeffrey was always the one in her family -- which includes 11 siblings total -- who loved to read and had a voracious curiosity. She has written poetry and journaled since she was a child.
“I read very early, that was kind of the way I stood out in my family. Reading is always a way to escape for me, to drown out the noise of siblings,” she said.
Jeffrey moved to Antelope Valley to settle down when she became pregnant at 22 but then suffered a miscarriage. While struggling with the emotional fallout from her pregnancy loss, one of her hair clients who was the dean of student services at Antelope Valley College encouraged her to take some classes at the local community college.
Jeffrey said she was ready for change and decided to take the plunge.
Over the next decade she completed community college, transferred to UCLA where she completed her bachelor's degree in English and then went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and writing for the performing arts from UC Riverside.
In 2012, she was hired as full-time faculty for Cerro Coso Community College and she now teaches at the Tehachapi campus.
Just as she finished her master's degree, Jeffrey became pregnant again; her daughter is now 13 years old. The two share a love of music and enjoy road trips together. Last summer they went to Utah and fell in love with the landscape, Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey said she also cares for two of her siblings, one who is terminally ill and another who is disabled.
She has published one book of poetry and is at work on another. She soon plans to work on a TikTok video performance of one of her poems.
“If Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Plath had a love child that's the kind of writing I aspire to, minus the psychological drama and baggage,” she says of her writing style.
Now 48, as she reflects on the path she took from a difficult childhood to her current place in life, she credits the opportunities that opened for her when she enrolled in college at age 24.
“The statistics say I should not be where I'm at. I should not be someone with a successful career, who owns my own home. I should not be here,” she said. “It was a community college that saved my life and changed it in radical ways.”
- Hometown: Los Angeles
- Currently resides: Lancaster
- Favorite place to escape to: Hiking at Vasquez Rocks with my daughter.
- Favorite book: The book that changed my life as a writer is a book by Claudia Rankine, “Don't Let Me Be Lonely.” When I read this book, I realized I am not writing the right thing.
- Do you have a hero and why? Right now its President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. The bravery and passion and the way in which he is speaking on behalf of his people is amazing.