For Grace Noland, a graduate of Mercy High School in Burlingame, attending CSM was an enhancing and transforming experience. She arrived at the college as a determined and independent student uncertain of what she wanted to pursue academically, but she had confidence that she would be able to figure it out at CSM. “I wanted to start over. I wanted my successful past—that had been successful because of my dedicated parents and supportive teachers and coaches—to be put to the test. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it alone. And, I wanted my supporters to be proud that they had contributed to my success.” Grace could have done it alone but she believes that it wouldn't have made her personal or academic life as interesting. She was working full time to pay for her education and participating in a few extra-curricular activities, but she wasn't completely satisfied. It was during her second semester at CSM that her perspective changed completely. “I met a girl in my philosophy class, who is now one my best friends, and she was adamant about me showing up at an Alpha Gamma Sigma* (AGS) meeting. Having tried clubs in high school I tried putting it off for as long as I could, but when I finally attended, I thought it was okay. As I continued to attend meetings, I became more comfortable and realized that I had skills that could help the club.” As she got more involved in AGS, Grace decided to volunteer for a position on the club’s executive board, that of communications officer. With the position came a lot of work, organization and fun, and ultimately, her skills helped build a stronger club. While college life was good, Grace decided to pursue her childhood dream of visiting and studying in Italy. Sheknew she had wanted to participate in the college’s Study Abroad Program and she applied for the Semester in Florence. While in Florence, Grace was able to take a full load of transferrable courses and travel throughout Italy. “Most of the organized trips were the perfect length and the right amount of structure and freedom.Italy was a life-changing experience but not for the romanticized reasons most people think. I found myself contemplating my next step. Where was I going? What should my next steps be?” When Grace returned to the states, she was at a crossroads: her family, health, and finances were hurting. However, she realized that CSM was there for her once again. Faculty helped her believe in her potential both in the classroom and beyond. She was also asked to become a student assistant for a faculty leadership group which she found interesting because it provided insight into how the college operates. Working on campus added a new dimension to her education. “I feel that I’m a stronger and more confident person, both academically and personally because of the friends I’ve made at CSM and the support I received from faculty and staff.” Grace will be earning two associate of arts degrees and three certificates in spring 2013 and she now has a clear path to follow: “I was inspired by Professor Rope’s Speech 100 class to become a communications major. I will be transferring in the fall to San Francisco State University. I decided I want to stay local, and by doing so, it allows me to work to pay for my education. My goal is for the rest of my education to be as stress-free and fulfilling as possible. While I’ve not decided on a particular career, I want to keep my options open. I just know that I like helping people.” “I would recommend CSM to anyone; it is wonderful for all types of people. It's a nurturing place where students are received with open arms and the best intentions. It's what you contribute that will follow you the rest of your academic career and life.” *Alpha Gamma Sigma is the California Community Honor Scholarship Society.