Author Archives: Cari Craven

CCCCO Statement of Values and Commitment to Undocumented Students

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office will not cooperate with any federal effort to create a registry of individuals based on any protected characteristics such as religion, national origin, race, or sexual orientation.

The Chancellor’s Office will continue to advocate for educational opportunities for all students in the community college system, regardless of immigration status, at the state and federal level.

While the Chancellor’s Office acknowledges local authority and control in the administration of our community colleges, we encourage our local community college districts to consider our system’s values when responding to this situation. We find the following strategies to be consistent with these values and recommend using them as a starting point for your local deliberations in these matters:
• District police departments should not detain, question or arrest any individual solely on the basis of (suspected) undocumented immigration status.
• Districts should not cooperate with any federal effort to create a registry of individuals based on any protected characteristics such as religion, national origin, race or sexual orientation.
• No confidential student records should be released without a judicial warrant, subpoena or court order, unless authorized by the student or required by law.

The Chancellor’s Office will actively monitor developments about possible changes to immigration policies and work with partners who are committed to protecting our students.

Additional resources that may be of help to colleges and districts include a white paper issued by the American Council on Education, a Frequently Asked Questions document prepared by the Undocumented Student Program at the University of California, Berkeley, FAQs; prepared by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the California Dream Act section at
For questions about the guidance described here, please contact the Chancellor’s Office General Counsel at

1102 Q STREET, SUITE 4554
SACRAMENTO, CA 95811-6549
(916) 322-4005
Statement of Values
December 5, 2016


Columbia College’s Fire Academy will hold its graduation ceremony and presentation of Certification of Completion to 35 successful students of the Fire Technology Program. The event, which is open to the public, will be held Friday, December 16, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Oak Pavilion at Columbia College.

The certificates will be awarded based on the student’s successful completion of the academic and manipulative training as mandated for a California Firefighter 1 Certification. The students must still complete six months of full-time or one year of part-time field experience before applying to the state for Firefighter I Certification. “Some of the graduates will apply or continue with reserve, intern and volunteer positions at local or state-wide fire departments since entering the academy” said Chief Shane Warner, Columbia College Fire Technology Program Coordinator and professor. “Many of the students will pursue associate degrees in fire technology at Columbia College.” “Some of the students are already applying for seasonal employment with CAL Fire, Forest Service, and local fire agencies said Instructor Andy Van Hoogmoed.

In addition to the “routine” fire training classes, specialized training was delivered involving Auto Extrication, Low Angle Rope Rescue Training, Incident Command System, Hazardous Materials Training, Seasonal Wildland Firefighting classes, Confined Space, Basic Power Saw Safety, and live fire suppression training, which was conducted at the Twain Harte’s Fire Department Training Center. A special thanks goes out to: Vics Towing, Columbia College Fire Department, Columbia Fire District, Sonora City Fire Department, Twain Harte Fire Department, Tuolumne County Fire Department, CAL Fire TCU, U.S. Forest Service, and Sierra Conservation Center.

Angela Fairchilds Ph.D., President of Columbia College, will deliver a welcome message. Mike Marcucci CAL Fire Battalion Chief will convey the Keynote Address. Erick Vanderveer Captain with Hayward Fire Department will present closing thoughts.

Family and friends will view a student produced audiovisual presentation of their intensive 16 weeks of training. The rigorous training is designed to help serious candidates meet the requirements for demanding careers as professional firefighters, including more than 576 hours of academic and manipulative training, according to Chief Shane Warner.

The fall 2016 Columbia College Fire Academy graduates:

Arendse, Colin
Bailey-Gates, Connor
Bebernes, Robert
Blagg, Austin
Boykin, Joshua
Corona, Johnathan
Danicourt, Brendan
Davis, Garrett
Fields-Richardson, Coleton
Figley,  Kelley
Findley, Erik
Hagstrom, Tanner
Johnson, Christian
Johnson, Magnus
Kassahn, Clay
Love, Tyler
Lubenko, Mitchell
Marcus, Blake
Mayberry, Sterling
McCready,   Justin
McIntyre, Thomas
Miller, Myranda
Myers, Meghan
Ogden, Randy
Saenz,   Alex
Serpa, Cheraya
Smith, Bradley
Souza, Dylan
Taylor, Justin
Townzen, Frisco
Ulvevadet, Nathaniel
Waggoner, Matthew
Walker, James
Whiting, Ryan
Zuspan, Zachary


For further information contact Fire Academy Chief Shane Warner at 588-5308 or Captain Andy Van Hoogmoed at 588-5153


WHO:        Columbia College Foundation

WHAT:      “A Changing Landscape: Tree Mortality in the Sierra Nevada”

A free community event featuring leading experts in forest ecology

WHERE:     Sonora High School Auditorium

WHEN:      Thursday evening October 6. Doors open at 6:30 pm; program 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

A leading national researcher and local experts on forest transition will be the featured speakers at a free community event presented by the Columbia College Foundation Thursday evening, October 6.

“A Changing Landscape: Tree Mortality in the Sierra Nevada,” a two-hour evening program at the Sonora High School Auditorium, will be moderated by Columbia College Natural Resources Professor Tom Hofstra, and features a panel of leading experts who will help make sense of the tree mortality and many landscape changes so visibly under way in the Sierra Nevada from drought, fire and beetle infestation.

The October 6 program continues a community lecture series planned by the Columbia College Foundation in cooperation with college faculty and regional partners. The program is free. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the evening’s program will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Refreshments will be available after the event.

Leading the evening will forest researcher Eric Knapp, a nationally known forest ecologist with the US Forest Service. Knapp specializes in understanding how disturbances historically have altered forest systems, from food chains and wildlife to forest resilience. Knapp, Lead Research Ecologist for the Northern California Region of USFS Pacific Southwest Research Station, regularly publishes his research on forest health and forest management.

Hofstra and Knapp will be joined by regional panelists with a range of expertise, including U.S. Forest Service Entomologist Beverly Bulaon, biologist and protected species specialist Terry Strange of Strange Resource Management, and high country landowner and Columbia College forestry instructor Lara McNicol.

Speakers will focus on the big picture of tree mortality throughout the Sierra Nevada region and the long-term impacts of drought, fire and beetle infestation.

“No issue is more critical – or more visible — right now,” said Stephanie Suess , Columbia College Foundation Board Member who is organizing the event. “This is a chance to learn from experts on what we can expect in the years and decades ahead, and what choices we can make as a community.  The Foundation is pleased to bring these key players together for an educational evening.”

For more information, visit or call (209) 588-5065.

The Columbia College Foundation is a community nonprofit established in 1972 to promote quality higher education that enriches the academic, economic, and cultural life of our community. Our mission is to promote student success by providing community resources that support and expand educational opportunities for Columbia College’s students. Learn more at or call (209) 588-5055.

Columbia College Transfer Day and College Night offer all students access to college information

(Sonora, CA) – High school and college students will have a chance to speak in-person to representatives from four-year colleges and universities at Columbia College’s Transfer Day/ College Night events scheduled for Thursday, September 22, 2016. Both events are free and open to all community members, high school students, and their families.  Free parking is offered on campus all day for these events.

The Transfer Day portion of the event will be held from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM, outside the Tamarack (Library) building on the main Columbia College campus, located at 11600 Columbia College Drive, Sonora. Transfer Day is targeted at current Columbia College students seeking information on transferring to a four-year college.

The College Night portion of the event will be held from 5:00 PM- 8:00 PM inside the Oak Pavilion on the main Columbia College campus. College Night is designed to assist high school students and their families, and community members, in making plans to pursue a higher education.

Representatives from University of California, California State Universities, Columbia College, as well as private and out-of-state four-year colleges and universities will be on hand to answer questions and provide information about their institution, including academic programs, admission procedures, transfers, financial aid, student life and more.  Students will be able to go from table to table, collect literature, and speak directly with representatives from each school.  Most representatives are from admissions offices, so students can hear firsthand what they need to do to meet admission requirements and obtain information on programs, tuition and scholarships.

For more information contact: Melissa Raby, Vice President of Student Services – 209-588-5132.

Follow Columbia College on Facebook: or visit

A list of college representatives attending will be available Tuesday, September 20, 2016.


Columbia College awarded $1.18 million federal grant to improve college readiness for adults

 Columbia College has been awarded a five-year federal education grant totaling $1.18 million to launch an Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) for the Mother Lode region. The college will partner with more than a dozen local agencies in the central Mother Lode to encourage and assist adults who are interested in college and career training to improve their economic opportunities.

The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, will support staffing and outreach to connect with and serve an estimated 1,000 individuals per year, providing them with information on educational and career training options, financial literacy, and assistance with college applications and financial aid.

Columbia College was one of 143 colleges and organizations across the nation selected for the five-year EOC program, and one of just four in California.

“We are very proud that, once again, Columbia College has successfully competed with much larger institutions across the nation for resources to support our community needs—we are small but mighty”, says College President Angela Fairchilds. “This funding allows us to extend our reach to underserved communities in our region with a goal of helping more adults to access education and training beyond high school.”

Grant funding will support a part-time director, two transition specialists and an administrative assistant who will work in coordination with a range of public and nonprofit partners in five counties – Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Stanislaus. Partner agencies will include social service agencies and nonprofits, school districts, job training centers, the Sierra Conservation Center and more.

The Motherlode Educational Opportunity Program (MEOC) will be hiring staff and launching services this fall.  The new transition specialists will be centered at Columbia College and will travel to partner agencies on a weekly basis to assist adults with the following services:

  • Information regarding the benefits of, and options for, participating in postsecondary education
  • Support applying for college
  • Support applying for financial aid
  • Referral to alternative and adult education programs including GED and ESL programs
  • Workshops on goal setting, financial planning, major and career selection, etc.
  • Connections to services including test prep, tutoring, counseling (academic and personal), etc.

Brandon Price, Columbia’s Associate Dean of Student Equity, said the services are essential for adults in the Mother Lode who want to prepare for better opportunities.

“Our MEOC partners indicated that adults in our area have a profound need for support in their efforts to enroll in, and navigate, post-secondary institutions,” Price said. “And research suggests that access to, and participation in, higher education is key to economic mobility.”

Regionally, only one in five adults age 25 or older hold a college degree, yet that is an increasingly important step to better paying jobs. Nationally, by 2020, an estimated 65 percent of jobs will require at least an associate degree, and regional trends match that outlook. Of the region’s 300 occupations that now pay at least $20 per hour, 68% require at least some college or post-secondary training.

Educational Opportunity Centers are one of eight federal grant programs collectively known as the Federal TRIO Programs. TRIO Programs identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. They help low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs.

Columbia College has a related TRIO program, Student Support Services, now in its sixth year, that provides support services to first-generation or low-income college students already enrolled at Columbia College who are headed for a four-year university. The new MEOC program seeks to reach adults in the community who are not attending college, and are interested in learning more about options of all types of college and post-secondary training.

For more information contact: Anneka Rogers-Whitmer, Director of TRiO – 209-588-5145

Additional information is available from the US Department of Education.

Columbia College attends inaugural convening of Second Chance Pell Pilot Program in Washington, DC with U.S. Department of Education Secretary John B. King and Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates

Melissa Raby, Vice President of Student Services, and Marnie Shively, Director of Financial Aid at Columbia College are in Washington, DC today attending the inaugural convening of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which allows incarcerated students to receive federal Pell Grant funding for postsecondary education. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 69 selected colleges and universities that will provide postsecondary education to nearly 12,000 students in more than 100 state and federal prisons nationwide. Columbia College was selected to participate in the program out of more than 200 applicants in 48 states.

In 1994, Pell Grant eligibility for students in state and federal prisons was eliminated as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program to restore educational access for some of those individuals, improving their chances of successful and productive reentry after they are released.

The convening, which is hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), features keynote presentations by Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and U.S. Department of Education Secretary John B. King, who will also moderate a panel of students describing their college experiences in prison.

During the day-long conference, postsecondary and correctional leaders from the selected pilot programs will have the opportunity to share ideas and hear from leaders in the field of correctional education in preparation for developing and implementing new programs or expanding existing ones.

“Expanding educational opportunity for people who are incarcerated not only improves their lives, but strengthens our communities by preparing them to contribute to society rather than return to prison,” said Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “We are thrilled that Columbia College is a partner in this important initiative to restore and expand access to college in prison.”

With support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Vera is providing technical assistance to the selected Second Chance Pell sites as part of the Expanding Access to Postsecondary Education Project. The project aims to facilitate the implementation and scaling up of quality higher education programs in prisons and those that work with students after they return home, and to assist with the development of policies, procedures, and practices to increase the participation of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in these programs.

For more information contact:

Melissa Raby, Vice President of Student Services





Columbia college SPRING 2016 presidents list

Columbia College has named 206 students to the spring 2016 semester Presidents List. We are pleased to officially recognize their exceptional scholastic achievement. This acknowledgment is reserved for students completing twelve or more units of semester coursework at Columbia College and earning a cumulative grade point average between 3.5 and 4.0, with no grade lower than C.

Columbia College spring 2016 Presidents List students are listed below by city.

Nicolas Logan Alta Loma
Trenton Bennett Angels Camp
Justin Clemens Angels Camp
Hayley Gorden Angels Camp
Todd Loughran Angels Camp
Christina Martinez Angels Camp
Christian Wilson Angels Camp
Heidi Lawson Arnold
Kellie Olsen Arnold
Kathleen Stone Arnold
Monica Taylor Arnold
Brandy Johnson Big Oak Flat
Jane Kelley Burson
Evan Christian Columbia
Ethan Hinman Columbia
Emily O’Neill Columbia
Fanjaharilanto Rasoavero Drake Columbia
Michael Storey Columbia
Nicholas Albertson Copperopolis
Joshua Gish Copperopolis
Kaley Graham Copperopolis
Natasha Hawken Copperopolis
Glenn Perry Copperopolis
Elvia Prado Copperopolis
Alinda Rahn Copperopolis
Jennifer Roe Copperopolis
Steven Rose Copperopolis
Eric Stolz Copperopolis
Sean Bell Coulterville
Brooke Bozzo Coulterville
Hana Moskovitz Davis
Margaret Glover El Portal
Shannon Bias Groveland
Stefan Karunos Groveland
Heidi McAdams Groveland
Kasey Carajan Jamestown
Sophia Dragun Jamestown
Kierin Harrison Jamestown
Abrielle Hurst Jamestown
Jacob Ramsey Jamestown
Bradley Sullivan Jamestown
Cynthia Yacovetti Jamestown
Audrey Harper La Grange
Kirstin Leventhal La Grange
Michael Weiland La Grange
Joel Arambula Lodi
Kaeah Domenech Lodi
Hannah Spicer Manteca
Jesse Campbell-Taber Mariposa
Chase Gibson Mariposa
Carlianne Lopez Mariposa
Maria Makhina Mariposa
Angelina Mirassou Mariposa
Hanna Olson Mariposa
Bryce Bernat Merced
Gemamiah Battle Mi Wuk Village
Mary Monteverde Mi Wuk Village
Chailah Reynolds Mi Wuk Village
Judah Wilk Mi Wuk Village
Brian McGregor Moccasin
Anthony Berbena Modesto
Garrett Johnson Modesto
Sarah Miser Modesto
Ryan ArceJaeger Mokelumne Hill
Channing Harris Mountain Ranch
Tara Cookson Murphys
Michael Forjan Murphys
Carrie Graham Murphys
Wesley Hill Murphys
Bailey Kato-Dutton Murphys
Diego Medrano Murphys
Danea Palmer Murphys
Andre Sage Murphys
Brandon Basore Oakdale
Johnathan Borba Oakdale
Wade Branch Oakdale
Hannah Butler Oakdale
Emily Mason Oakdale
Audry McCain Oakdale
Erin Moitoza Long Oakdale
Bryce Neal Oakdale
Stephen Perreira Oakdale
Darrin Powers Oakdale
Lena Schulke Oakdale
Hannah Stewart Oakdale
Denise Thompson Oakdale
Samuel Walker Oakdale
Joseph Tullus Palo Alto
Grant Duran Pollock Pines
Jacob Vonada Pollock Pines
Katelyn Sammann Ripon
Shasta Garcia San Andreas
Amanda Hummel San Andreas
Carina Swann San Andreas
Aaron Simonson San Jose
Jenna Beers Sebastopol
Brittanny Allen Sonora
Erik Anderson Sonora
Julia Anderson Sonora
Jessica Anselmi Sonora
Alexander Arnold Sonora
Patricia Hazel Bibal Sonora
Aidan Bolduc Sonora
Sabrina Boles Sonora
Tiffney Bowen Sonora
Ronald Brewer Sonora
Andrew Brown Sonora
Paige Bryant Sonora
Alexsis Byers Sonora
Patrick Carroll Sonora
Christopher Childers Sonora
Elliott Cox Sonora
Jeremy Dana Sonora
Drake Davis Sonora
Sean DeAnda Sonora
Justin DeHart Sonora
Ashley Derichsweiler Sonora
Konrad Ehresman Sonora
Colton Fredrickson Sonora
Brooke Fulkerson Sonora
Daniel Gattoni Sonora
Gregory Gayle Sonora
Tamara Gossage Sonora
Jamie Guerrero Sonora
Andrew Guptill Sonora
Shelby Haefele Sonora
Andrew Hall Sonora
Jennifer Hamrick Sonora
Jennifer Hood Sonora
Lauren Johnson Sonora
Garrett Jones Sonora
Lorena Jurado Sonora
Ahna Kerr Sonora
Daniel Kristofic Sonora
Ryan Lacasse Sonora
Katie Liukkonen Sonora
Alex Lundeen Sonora
Sydney Lyon Sonora
Izak Mahoney Sonora
Colton Masters Sonora
Luke McCarthy Sonora
Alexa Meisner-Bogdahn Sonora
Tea Miale Sonora
Kaitlyn Miller Sonora
Mikaela Mitchell Sonora
Brent Mohr Sonora
Mona Mohr Sonora
Travis Moses Sonora
Brenden Narita Sonora
Jessica Nosanow Sonora
Molly Olson Sonora
Austin Page Sonora
Rachelle Palomino Sonora
Sean Phillips Sonora
Josephine Price Sonora
Miriam Reza Sonora
Jocelyn Schader Sonora
Emily Schmittle Sonora
Nicole Schultz Sonora
Christopher Shepard Sonora
Emily Shumway Sonora
Katie Stuart Sonora
Adam Taylor Sonora
Rachel Thompson Sonora
Jackson Trent Sonora
Jonah Vassar Sonora
Christine Verplanck Sonora
Megan Vistica Sonora
Nicole Wallace Sonora
John Warnock Sonora
Ariel Watson Sonora
Julianne Wright Sonora
Marcelene Hanson Soulsbyville
Wesley Laumer Soulsbyville
Desirie Terzani Soulsbyville
Joseph Ziganto Soulsbyville
Daniel Gragg Stockton
Zachary Wallace Sun Valley
Nicole Glass Sutter Creek
Melanie Bruce Tuolumne
Jeremy Dillon Tuolumne
Caitlin Egger Tuolumne
Hannah Grabowski Tuolumne
Emily Jacobson Tuolumne
Mason Mendoza Tuolumne
Donna Miller Tuolumne
Daniel Pavlin Tuolumne
Kameryn Perkins Tuolumne
Andrew Preuss Turlock
Brian Beasley Twain Harte
Shawn Betzenderfer Twain Harte
Sarah Glazier Twain Harte
Clint Heller Twain Harte
Abby Kitchen Twain Harte
Hayley Mutchler Twain Harte
Katelyn Stewart Twain Harte
Darren Warnock Twain Harte
Kyle Warren Twain Harte
Carter Christian-Billings Vallecito
Elizabeth Ernst Vallecito
Amber Baptista Valley Springs
Eric Cancilla Valley Springs
Zackary Freeman Valley Springs
Julie Glahn Valley Springs
Edgar Gomez Waterford
Bryan Perez Winton


Water Education and Awareness Day

The fulfillment of basic human needs, the environment, socioeconomic development, and poverty reduction are all dependent on water. Cooperation around this precious resource is key for the future of the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants; we must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource. Every action involving water management and use requires effective cooperation between multiple agencies at local levels. In recognition of this reality, the Forestry and Natural Resources program at Columbia College declared May 26, 2016 to be a local Water Education and Awareness Day as a means of focusing attention on the importance of water-related issues while advocating for the sustainable management of water resources. The days program includes stimulating speakers, presentations, panel and thematic discussions as well as a series of water-related displays.

The Center for Water Resources Management is a new collaboration facilitated by Columbia College to promote water education, certification, and training and is based at the Innovation Lab in Sonora, CA. Steve Christianson, Program Coordinator, states, We have brought together education, utility organizations, governmental agencies as well as the private sector to develop our next generation of water workers for an exciting day of learning.

On May 26, 2016 the Innovation Lab and the Center for Water Resources Management, located at 101 Hospital Rd. Sonora, CA, will host the first Water Education and Awareness Day from 10:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. The event is free to the public and will feature presentations by Columbia College, Motherlode Job Training, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the State Water Resources Control Board. A panel discussion of experts will discuss the future of the industry, employment, and the drought.

The Center for Water Resources Management, a unique collaboration of utility agencies, industry, government, school districts, community colleges, and universities will meet quarterly in a formal Water Cluster starting this July. Water Clusters are backed by the EPA and the Sonora Water Cluster is the first rural-based cluster in the nation. The Mother Lode Region, one of the highest producing watershed areas in California, providing water for the Bay Area as well as contributing to Southern Californias water supplies, faces unique challenges including multitudes of small water systems with a lack of central coordination. Over the last couple of years, the effects of the drought combined with the impacts of the Rim and Butte fires have challenged the region while also creating opportunities for employment. The Center for Water Resources Management along with Columbia Colleges Career Technical Education (CTE) Division and Forestry and Natural Resources program are combining forces to develop cutting-edge training opportunities. Columbia College programs have created a tremendous launch pad for a Regional Water Training Program. Existing Columbia College programs and courses include: Two-year Associate in Science degree (Water Resources Management), Certificate of Achievement in Water Resources Management, Skills Attainment Certificate in Wastewater Treatment Plant Operations, and many other offerings in Forestry and Natural Resources.

Come and be part of this exciting opportunity to learn and explore job opportunities.

For more information contact:

Steve Christianson

Program Coordinator

Center for Water Resources Management

101 Hospital Rd. Sonora, CA 95370


Fire science program draws in students far and wide

The call that came in early March was the sort of thing Michael Bender had spent months training for.

In a Columbia home five minutes from the fire station, a person had stopped breathing.

Bender, 26, and the two partners who were on duty with him reviewed their plan as the truck sped toward the home.

This was the rehearsed part: One of them would hook up the AED, one would apply the Bag Valve Mask, and one would begin compressions.

What they hadnt rehearsed, and what Bender could never have prepared for, was how he would feel.

It was probably one of the most intense moments of my life, he recalled. You never know how youre going to react to someone whos dying, or potentially deceased.

The questions that had raced through his head while in the truck vanished the moment he set foot in the living room, where the patient was on the floor.

It had been about eight months since he enrolled in Columbias Fire Academy, a 16-week crash course in firefighting, and his instincts were on autopilot. He and his team went into action, flawlessly executing their prepared emergency response. Today, that episode remains a prime example of why he got into this business.

All of a sudden you might have to drop what youre doing to go save someone or respond to a fire, he said. Its just being there for someone all the time. Thats a good feeling.

At Tioga, Sonora and other high schools, and at Columbia College, home to one of the most highly regarded firefighting programs in the state, teens and young adults are discovering the thrilling duties of fire service.

In a region bedeviled by some of the most severe wildfire blazes in the United States, many recruits get firsthand looks at a young age.

At Tioga, which is just outside Yosemite National Park and home to 48 students this year, Kurt Edwards, a graduate of the school, got a taste of firefighting early on and decided to stick around.

He is stationed with the U.S. Forest Service at a station in Groveland, within a few miles of the campus.

He decided to start teaching the Fire Science class when he heard Tioga was no longer offering the class.

When I went to Tioga in 2004, the class was offered by a retired person through the forest service, he said. Theyd since lost that class. When I heard they hadnt been doing that for a few years, that sparked an interest, because thats what got me interested in the Forest Service when I took that class.

He now teaches what is called the Basic 32, or a standard Forest Service firefighting class, named for the number of hours required. Although you cannot apply to be a full-time seasonal firefighter until you reach the age of 18, his students are old enough to be called up to the station when there is action.

From what theyve seen so far, Edwards said, they are impressed.

In large part, that seems to be because of lifestyle and travel, if not Edwards himself, a nine-year veteran of the Forest Service. Edwards has traveled as far east as Tennessee and has been to every state west of, and including, Colorado.

For some, the traveling aspect of the job is particularly appealing.

Being such a small mountain community theres not that many job opportunities if you dont get scholarship to go to college or cant afford to go to college, he said. The great thing about this job is you can go anywhere in the US.

While stationed with Engine 342 in the Forest Service, he would sometimes deploy for up to 14 days at a time while working 16-hour days. The routine was simple and rigorous: rise at six, get a briefing, fight fires, sleep on the ground, and do it all again the next day. As long as it wasnt raining, he and his team usually preferred to sleep outside.

Bender, who began working at Columbia College fire department this year, said most students in the 16-week Fire Academy and the two-year A.S. Fire Technology degree are from the area, and many come directly or were once enrolled in high school-level fire science programs.

Mike Spear, who is stationed in Tuolumne County and is a battalion chief with Cal Fire, said that many students go on to work with the Forest Service or apply to Cal Fire.

Because both are difficult to gain admittance to, a strong background, or at the least a thorough introduction and basic credentials, are required.

At Columbia, students taking at least six credits can apply to work at the schools fire department, which is, according to Bender, the only junior college with a fully-functioning fire department.

Students arrive from Boston, San Marino and all over the state, Bender said. We had a student last semester from Tennessee, one from Arizona, a lot of guys from southern California.

Paul Avila, division chief of Cal Fire for the Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, recalled deploying to fight the 1989 Oakland Hills Fire, one of the most devastating in recent history.

That kind of solidified the reason for why Im here, he said.

Spear said he also traveled often early in his career and did work that was both challenging and fulfilling.

But many graduates end up working locally, in one of the many nearly-overlapping jurisdictions belonging to state, county, or city fire departments. In Tuolumne and Calaveras counties alone, said Avila and Spear, Cal Fire has perhaps 300 uniformed personnel.

Local fire departments also utilize dozens of volunteer firefighters, a crucial backbone of Tuolumne County fire departments, Avila said. And with summer approaching, volunteers are needed now more than ever.

As for Bender, the journey towards becoming a career firefighter will continue. Hell soon begin working with Cal Fire in the Madera-Merced-Mariposa region.

A graduate of Sonora High School, he will continue to live in the area, making the commute to the Mariposa area.

By Scott Carpenter / The Union Democrat

Published Apr 5, 2016 at 01:59AM