Student Experience at College of San Mateo
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Student Experience
Gabriel Denham
Gabriel Denham Columbia University, Economics & Mathematics

Gabriel Denham’s journey to college was anything but traditional. After attending four different high schools, he came to the conclusion that school just wasn’t for him. In his junior year, Gabriel left school, took the state proficiency exam and earned his GED.  At age 17 and out of school, he never considered going to college. Instead, Gabriel spent 10 years in the workforce employed at various jobs and gaining life experience. After being sidelined from work due to illness, he reconsidered education.

“I decided to step outside my comfort zone and give college a chance,” says Gabriel. “I have always like math and when I took CSM’s math placement test, I tested into calculus. In my first semester, I enrolled in 18 units, including a calculus class with Professor Rob Komas. Rob’s class was a catalyst for me – it changed my life. It was the first time I realized the importance of education and could see how much fun learning could be. At that point, I decided I wanted to become a teacher. Being at CSM affected me deeply. I was thrilled to be back in school and to have finally found my place.”

Despite carrying a heavy course load, Gabriel began looking for ways to get involved in college life beyond the classroom. He decided to attend an Alpha Gamma Sigma (AGS) Honor Society meeting and, shortly thereafter, he was nominated and elected to be president of AGS. Presiding over meetings of 50-60 students was a daunting prospect for Gabriel who had fear of public speaking. “But the students were counting on me so I had to push myself and eventually, I overcame my anxiety.” Through his participation in AGS, Gabriel developed a social network at CSM and he also found a pathway to some wonderful opportunities.

“At CSM, I realized that the place I had avoided for so long—school—was exactly where I was supposed to be. I think there is an unfair stigma attached to attending a community college. It was easy for me to find other students who shared my motivation and ambition. Also, I was impressed that Mike Claire, the college president, made time to attend AGS events which showed that he genuinely supported us and was interested in what we were doing.

Due to his academic success and student leadership participation Gabriel received a number of scholarships at CSM.  In addition, he was selected for a coveted internship with UC Berkeley’s Physics Department to assist with research projects during summer of 2012.

In spring 2013, Gabriel graduated from CSM Summa Cum Laude, with highest honors – earning a perfect 4.0 GPA—and received A.S. degrees in both math and physics. As a follow-up, he is participating in a 10-week summer internship at Cornell University working on accelerator physics and material science which he described as “amazing!”  

Based on his achievements at CSM, Gabriel had his choice of attending a number of the most respected universities in the nation. It made for a tough decision as he received acceptances to UC Berkeley with a full scholarship as a physics major, and to UCLA, which offered him it’s most prestigious scholarship.  However, it was Columbia University’s offer of a full-ride scholarship to study physics that clinched the decision for Gabriel.

 “It is hard to put into words how much CSM has done for me and how appreciative I am. I came into CSM with terrible high school transcripts and little confidence I could succeed in school, and I left to attend an Ivy League university as one of Columbia’s PALS Scholars (Program for Academic Leadership and Service) which is the highest award they offer transfer students. I am equal parts excited and nervous to be attending such a prestigious university, but I have no doubt that my work at CSM as prepared me to succeed.”

Since discovering his passion for learning, Gabriel is planning on a career in academia. His long-range plans include earning a Ph.D. in physics and becoming a university professor and researcher. “It’s important to me that I try to pay forward the tremendous gift that CSM and Rob Komas, my calculus teacher, have given me, but it’s also important to me that I keep learning. CSM completely changed my perspective of education and, more importantly, of myself, and I will be forever grateful to the college. I am extremely proud of the time I spent there and to be a CSM alum.”

Professor Komas offers his perspective on Gabriel’s success at CSM:

"I saw Gabe's remarkable talent and dedication in his first semester back to school after 10 years away. I watched him grow personally and academically in the years at CSM that followed. It is impossible not to be very excited about his future. Gabe's potential is unlimited."