California Community Colleges Hits the Road

One student attends Modesto Junior College and has dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. A second is studying kinesiology at Orange Coast College with hopes of earning a doctorate in physical therapy. A third is a DACA student enrolled at MiraCosta College who is leaning toward a career as a graphic designer.

Meet Summer Scheidt, Rodney Stark and Melina Martinez, a trio of California community college students who are part of a Roadtrip Nation documentary that follows their three-week summer journey across the state to interview innovative alumni and learn how they chose their paths to a successful future. A dozen notable former community college students, from Sacramento police Chief Daniel Hahn to Telemundo co-founder Frank Cruz, were interviewed in a conversational format that yielded a treasure trove of learning.

“Seeing these really successful people who went to community college and had the same sort of experiences as you did is really empowering,” said Martinez, who is entering her second year at MiraCosta College.

“This will appeal to anyone who is embarking on a journey of career exploration,” said Roadtrip Nation Producer George Clements.

Roadtrip Nation is a nonprofit working to change the way people approach choosing a career by creating content, products and experiences that guide individuals in exploring what’s possible when they follow their interests. It directed its first road trip in 2001 and has driven more than a half a million miles and made more than 30 documentaries since then. This is the first Roadtrip Nation production done in partnership with the California Community Colleges.

For anyone questioning the impact Roadtrip Nation can have, Martinez said the June 22-July 12 adventure in the nonprofit’s signature green RV was a venture into self-discovery leading her to change her major.

“We talked to a teacher in Sacramento (Hassan McWhorter) who said younger kids are always asked what they want to be instead of being asked who they are,” she said. Others along the way articulated their thoughts on following their passion. By the time she returned to her home in Vista, Martinez had decided to follow her love of graphic design.

“I had been thinking about business marketing, but that’s not really what I wanted to do,” she said. “I was going down that path because I was more focused on the financial aspects of the profession.”

The trio’s first stop was with award-winning novelist Reyna Grande (“Across a Hundred Mountains,” “Dancing with Butterflies,” “The Distance Between Us”), a former undocumented student who enrolled at Pasadena City College and went on to obtain a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing and film and video from UC Santa Cruz and her master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Antioch University. Other interviews included Adam Balogh, an instructor at Laney College’s Machine Tech Program; Richard Fletcher, a guide supervisor at Hearst Castle; and Carrie Kneitel, creative arts director at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“These are real and raw interviews and discussions,” Clements said. “There is no script.”

Producers were looking for geographic and demographic diversity, and they selected road trippers through an application process launched on Instagram and Facebook. Approximately 200 students applied.

The documentary will be released as a one-hour special for digital distribution in December. It is part of a larger Roadtrip Nation partnership with the Chancellor’s Office offering all 115 community colleges digital access to more than 6,000 interviews conducted over the years, in addition to a “Share Your Road Alumni Platform” allowing community college graduates to record their stories.

The summer road trip is connected to the community colleges’ Guided Pathways initiative. For example, a Roadmap to Careers that is part of the partnership includes a career exploration assessment and an opportunity for students to develop and save their career searches and plans through November of 2021.

“I’m actually having road trip withdrawal,” said Martinez.  “I miss it. I miss being with people who are so inspiring and so inspired every day.”