The Journey From Recovery to Discovery
"I knew I had made the statement that I would come back and teach, but I really didn't expect anybody to remember that! Imagine my surprise!?"
ROSEBURG, Oregon – Michael Fernandez is one of the newest adjunct professors in the Human Services program at Umpqua Community College (UCC). His journey began in a very unlikely way; bringing him back as an instructor.
"I was very apprehensive about coming back to school after taking such a long break from when I first stepped onto the campus 25 years before," he said. "But I did come back in 2010 and that's when things got very interesting."
Michael battled a significant addiction history which had created many challenges and barriers on a recurrent basis. He says the lifestyle was consistently destructive and unrewarding.
"I'm really not too embarrassed to admit this anymore, but I do believe that I was very intimidated coming back to school and recognizing the age difference between myself and many of the students," he said. "I was encouraged to apply for scholarships which I thought was a far-fetched idea. Guess what? I got several of them!"
After graduating from UCC, Michael went on to Southern Oregon University (SOU) and Northwest Christian University to complete his undergraduate program; but would discover that might not be enough to reach his ultimate goal.
"After attending a course at SOU, I was informed by the director of the psychology department that unless I was prepared to move forward on my education, a four-year degree in psychology may not be as beneficial as I had originally thought," he said.
After a further conversation with his professor, Michael decided his bachelor's degree and drug and alcohol certification were not sufficient for his goals.
"I felt like there were so much more I really wanted to know, learn, and become proficient in period," he said. "I decided to apply to graduate school and was accepted to the University of Southern California. I ended up graduating with my master's degree in social work in 2016."
Michael says he was once asked if he were given the opportunity to come back and teach at UCC, would he? His candid reply, "I knew I had made the statement that I would come back and teach, but I really didn't expect anybody to remember that! Imagine my surprise!?"
He says he agreed to make good on his commitment, and has found the experience very rewarding. Even his family has seen the benefits of the UCC experience.
"Since returning to campus to complete my degree, I am reminded that my wife actually was the trailblazer for our family," he said. "She came back to school under extreme conditions and managed to receive two certifications in the medical field. I followed her lead and since that time, half of our adult children have also graduated from UCC and are now fine contributors in our community. I thank UCC for the quality of life I have today."
In addition to many benefits Michael and his family have witnessed, he says he has also found a major key to maintaining clarity of mind and emotional centeredness.
"It's self care," he said. "Find something that is a healthy distraction and makes deposits into your well of life."
One final thing Michael wanted to tell while sharing his story is the amazing memory of Pauline Martel—the person he holds in high esteem as a mentor and the one who remembered he said he would come back to UCC to teach if given the chance. To her, Michael says "Mahalo, Pauline.”
Story by Hannah Horvath
About Umpqua Community College
Nestled in the beautiful North Umpqua River Valley, Umpqua Community College is the regional center for higher education in Douglas County, Oregon. UCC provides high quality college degree programs, workforce development, and community learning opportunities.
Alex Jardon, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator, Assistant Professor, Human Services