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Student Success at RSC Downtown

Our students come from all walks of life, and have many personal stories to tell. Here are a few of the stories from students at Rio Salado College Downtown. These stories are inspiring, just like the students themselves, and showcase how people can use education to open doors to a better future.


Esperanza (“Chantel”) Lopez
Unlike other children, I was raised by an uncle.  My mother left me with him in Mexico and came to the U.S. to make enough money to support us.  My uncle was very good to me.  He treated me like a princess.  But deep inside of me, I felt that something was missing: the love of a mother.  As time passed, I realized how much I missed her and needed her.

After two years, my mother brought us to the U.S.  Here, though, she had to spend most of her time working and could not pay attention to any of our problems.  I knew I was on my own.

In my family, I was not told that school was important; I was told that it was very important.  And yet, in freshman year, I decided to drop out of high school.  I found a job at McDonald’s and when I got my first paycheck I thought I had it all.  But I was wrong.  As I grew older, I realized that the money I was making was not enough.  So, I set a goal for myself and that was to finish school.

Now I have graduated from the Rio Salado College GED prep program and look forward to college.  I do not take ‘no’ for an answer and will see my course through.  Any dream can be accomplished.  All you have to do is go for it.


Debbie Conover
I am a 54-year old woman, a mother of 5, and a grandmother of 10. I’m in love with learning for many reasons. For myself, my family, my neighbors, in fact education and the more I learn has allowed me to help others. Many have little to nothing but, to learn is to educate. To educate helps everyone to live happy, fuller lives.

First with myself, I love learning because I see my mistakes. Life would have been so much easier with more education. I did the best that I could with the skills I had. Using my head rather than such hard physical work would have given me a chance to do the things I like instead of doing what I had to, to survive. I do not regret where I am now. I love my life. I just would have taken a different road to get here. At the age of 16 I stopped going to school, got married, and became a mother. I was still learning but in a different way, a harder more difficult way.

My road in life has been very bumpy and with many detours. Because of abuse, physical illness and emotional struggles, it has been hard to find my way. I have spent many years learning how to work my way through these difficult times. But I finally found the motivation and the road that has brought me back to school. Now I am learning with more confidence and still growing as a person.

Second, my family. I love watching them learn and grow. My children have all completed their education. They have families of their own, and have stressed the importance of education to their children. That brings me to my grandchildren. They are amazing. I see them loving to learn. Of all my many titles in life, “Grandma Debbie” is the best! There are three that are graduating from high school this year: Coulter, Tyler and Ashley. I am so proud of them! They are making plans for their lives. They have their maps and are finding the roads that will lead them to their destinations. It is wonderful as I look into their eyes and can see that they are proud of me too, as they encourage me to succeed and graduate with them.

Third, my neighbors. I believe we all have a story in life. I want to write my story of the experiences along the road I have taken. Hopefully, I can help inspire others to love to learn. Because it is never too late! Yes, I have a new map now and plan on continuing with my education. As in a song I heard, “I’m coming out. It’s a brand new me. I want to shine!”


Mrs. Lydia Guzman
I’m 50 years old and was born in Tombstone, AZ. I can to Phoenix at age 12 and by the time I was 16-years old I found myself pregnant, so I dropped out of high school. I got married and started my life as a mother and soon after I got a job as a cashier. After working at that for over two years, I applied as a bank teller and worked as a personal banker for over 13 years. Due to being bilingual in English and Spanish, I specialized in all aspects of banking from manager to teller.

I had started GED classes at that time as well. My husband became disabled at a very early time in our marriage and became a violent, drunk and abusive person with me and our two children. Being the only person in a relationship where you have to work and raise children and cope with the hardships of a physically and mentally abusive husband, I had put school on hold.

I got divorced after 17 years of marriage. I continued to work and was diagnosed with Fibro Myalgia and Lupus in the late 80s. There came a time when I could not work anymore due to my failing health conditions. I met a wonderful man named Joey. One day he asked me to marry him, and we have now been married for over three years. He encouraged and challenged me to go for it and get my GED and not quit.

We inherited a foster grandchild named Araseli, who is now 16 months old. During the sleepless and long feeding nights, I studied and did my best to meet the challenge my husband gave me. And with the grace of God, the help of my husband, the help of my Rio Salado college teacher, Miss Susie, after 34 years, I finally did it! I got my GED. After what I had to endure to reach my goal, I just know that if I can do, anyone can do it.

My real passion has always been photography. One day I decided to take photography classes, but I soon found out I needed my GED to attend that class. Now that I have my GED, I’m taking that class at Phoenix College! My dream is to be able to take photographs and capture life in its natural state, through my lens on my camera. Ultimately, I would like to photograph children professionally.


Maria Gomes
Maria began as an ELLA student at Paradise Valley Mall. Despite being in a marriage in which she was discouraged from attending class, she was passionate about education. She advanced in her language skills until the violence in her marriage forced her to quit.

Approximately two years later Maria was back at Rio Salado College, this time as a GED student at Northern. She was now living in a home sponsored by a women’s foundation. Every day, she took two buses to get to class and every day she was pleased and grateful to be given the opportunity to continue her education.

Eventually, she made enough progress toward the GED that she was eligible to apply for the Adult ACE Program. During the application process, students meet in the computer lab to set up an online student account. Maria was so unfamiliar with computers that she was afraid to move the mouse! It was clear that she would have to develop some computer skills or else would not be able to get through AACE or any other kind of college program.

Ever determined, Maria found out that Goodwill Industries offered free classes in basic computer skills. Again, she spent a great deal of time negotiating public transportation, and because the classes were offered on a first-come first-served basis, she arrived at least a half hour before the start of class so that she was assured of getting a seat. She attended the computer skills class several hours a week for two months. When not in class, she practiced typing, using a free online site. Little by little, she gained basic computer skills. Without persistence, and her passion for education, these seemingly small accomplishments would not have been possible.

In spring of 2012, Maria started the AACE Program. She earned an A in her first class, Strategies for College Success. The next class, Basic Arithmetic, was a struggle for her, but she put in many hours with the tutor. She finished the class with a B. During her third class, she was informed by the staff of the women’s organization that her time in the home would be ending soon. She would not be allowed to continue with AACE because the organization felt that in order for her to gain self-sufficiency, she would have to find a job as soon as possible. She was devastated. But a person like Maria Gomes is never defeated. She immediately began researching training programs in nurse assisting.

Maria had worked for several years as a physical therapist assistant in Africa. Her goal was to eventually gain the training to be eligible for work in this field in the U.S. A program at Pima Medical Institute would be the quickest program of study. The quicker that she could complete a program, the quicker she could get out and find work. By a stroke of luck, Maria was introduced to the director of a foundation devoted to supporting and encouraging women in gaining an education. Maria was awarded a full tuition scholarship through the Halle Foundation.

Maria spent four hours round-trip in commuting to get to the campus in Mesa. But she remained positive and upbeat as ever. She used the time to study and to prepare her mind for the school day. She completed the nurse assisting program in two months. She passed the program exam and then went on to pass the state board of nurse assisting certification exam. The women’s shelter staff saw that Maria was taking giant strides towards independence. They were happy to have Maria as a role model for other women. Maria has now found her first job and is ready to move into her own apartment. For Maria Gomes, 2013 has been a big year. In addition to completing her certificate and finding employment, she was inducted into the National Adult Honor Society. She also became a U.S. citizen. She says, “I started my new life at Rio Salado College. I had the seed and the potential. But if there is no soil and no seed, nothing will grow. Rio Salado gave me the opportunity to grow. So now I have strong roots and the fruit will be harvested. I have all the tools to succeed. When I think about it, what if there had not been any help from anybody? What if I had never heard of Rio Salado College?”


Susan Hersom
Rio Salado College gives great reasons to explore our passion for learning and fun. Rio Salado College has a lot to offer for anyone who wants to take steps for a new beginning. For instance # 1, getting your GED and #2, earning a scholarship for the AACE program where you can use it toward a new career and as well as look good on your resume.

While taking footsteps into the unknown journey, you can’t help noticing students and teachers working and communicating as a community. It’s as though a light switch was flipped on for the very first time with enthusiasm and hope. Students are from all walks of life, from all over the world, all nationalities. Our world here at Rio Salado College is united.

As a student myself with Rio Salado College, I followed my mentor Suzi Hobin from the Paradise Valley Mall to the new Downtown location. We have an array of wonderful instructors, they believe in us even when at times we don’t believe in ourselves. They’re enthusiastic and they never make us feel that we’ve failed. They are always positive and motivate us to persevere. In addition a great staff is ready to help from reception desk to advisors and counselors.

Patti Blanco is the Transition/Adult Ace Advisor. She will walk you through setting goals. Our college also has a computer lab, and to top it off a great security team so our students and staff can feel safe. It is as though we have all become our friends and family.

I am a single mother, and want to make sure I can be a good role model for my family and society. My daughter Lauren attended GED classes along with me. Rio Salado College gave my daughter Lauren Hersom a sense of hope. It brought out her self-esteem and gave her encouragement stepping into a better way of learning. Lauren is a graduate as of May 16, 2012, at the age of 16 years young, thanks to Suzi Hobin our education coach, and my daughter’s dedication and hard work. Now Lauren has taken another step. She has completed the “Strategies for College Success” course.

In high school I finished the eleventh grade and was short just a few credits in the twelfth. I know at my stage in life I could progress and do a lot more with an education and it’s never too late to progress.

Mom and daughter are so blessed to have our footsteps together with Rio Salado College ingrained in our memories and hearts forever.