How five O.C. college students deal with uncertainty in education and the job market

Amid a global pandemic, Orange County college graduates (clockwise from top left) Sydney Roberts, Oscar Flores, Austin Salcedo, Daniel Tsentsiper and Amanda Fuentes reflect on their last semester and near future.
(Photos by Staff Photographers Don Leach, Kevin Chang, Scott Smeltzer, Raul Roa, and courtesy of Amanda Fuentes)

At community colleges and four-year universities, students looked forward to performing the last rite rituals of their higher education years before launching into the next phase of their lives.

They shared news when they received acceptance notifications from universities they hoped they would attend. Others are close to finishing degrees that will checkmark the required portion of their dream job descriptions.

But the coronavirus outbreak disrupted their plans. Not only did students adjust to learning exclusively online in self-isolation, they also had to live with uncertainty during an era with an end-of-times vibe — questioning whether to postpone their transfer start dates or caring for family members who tested positive for the coronavirus while balancing classes and jobs.

TimesOC checked in with five O.C.-based students to find out how their last semesters are shaping up and what the next few months could have in store.

Orange Coast College

Austin Salcedo, a student at Orange Coast College, will be transferring to Stanford University in the fall.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Austin Salcedo, a 25-year-old U.S. Marine, said he was euphoric when he found out he was accepted into Stanford University last Friday. The Orange Coast College natural science major plans to study neuroscience and go into research.

“I stumbled onto psychology books, and I really just fell in love with the content,” Salcedo said. “I found it extremely interesting how our brain works and how none of our brains are the same, in a sense.”

He was also accepted into a summer research fellowship through a Yale University program. Since the campus is closed, he was given the option to defer the program to next year. So instead, after finals he is heading home to his family in Miami. As for Stanford, he is anxious and unsure about whether to postpone his enrollment to another quarter.

“I’ve been having a hard time with the online transition. So if I’m going to go to Stanford, I’d really rather it be in-person,” Salcedo said.

He later added that he’s been “fighting off a lot of anxiety and depression due to all of the uncertainty in our lives right now.”

Salcedo finds himself staring at a screen not being able to stay focused. It’s difficult for him to develop a routine while studying from home. He dropped one out of three courses because it was hard to keep up.

His advice to current and incoming students, who will most likely continue with online learning, is to take it easy on yourself and reach out to friends and family to vent.

Golden West College

Psychology student Sydney Roberts will graduate from Golden West College this month and plans to transfer to Cal State Long Beach in the fall. She is active in the campus LGBTQ organization and held a Pride Prom via Zoom last week among other accolades.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Golden West psychology major Sydney Roberts is Cal State Long Beach-bound.

Since the Golden West campus closed to students and Roberts isn’t part of federal work study, her student assistant gig dried up. She is currently finishing six classes while working at an auto shop as an assistant.

She felt the impact of quarantine when she couldn’t visit universities as she considered where to transfer. It‘s why she chose a campus familiar to her. Roberts will continue to study online in the fall, as all Cal State University campuses opted to cancel the majority of in-person classes.

“It’s definitely a struggle,” she said. “I mean, we have to do what we have to do to follow our dreams. But going to a new school, not knowing anyone, not knowing professors or counselors — it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”

Roberts has made many connections on the Golden West campus, whether it be with her counselors or her peers through the college’s LGBTQ club, Gender Love Acceptance Sexuality Alliance.

As the president of the club, she helped switch their Pride Prom to a virtual event, which was held last week. There was dancing, a live DJ, caricature artist, tarot card readers and games.

Cal State Fullerton

Cal State Fullerton student Oscar Flores, 29, of Anaheim is a public relations major who is entering into the job market after he graduates this spring. Flores is currently taking four virtual classes. Due to the coronavirus, he was laid off from an internship at a company that was going to extend his time until he got a job.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Cal State Fullerton public relations student Oscar Flores is enrolled full-time while working two internships — one at the college and another at a Newport Beach marketing agency.

Although the marketing agency internship was supposed to end in April, they agreed he could continue working there until he found a job. When the pandemic hit, plans changed and he was let go.

Thursday was his last day of classes, but he said he feels like learning stopped mid-March since he’s averse to online classes.

Last week, Flores started digging into the job market.

“Options aren’t the best, but I mean that comes with everything that’s going on,” he said. “Everything in the state is opening in phases. With there being a limited number of jobs and so many people applying for those jobs, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to try something new that differentiates me from the rest.”

He considered graduate school, but it was too late to apply and didn’t think adding more student loan debt was in his best interest. Instead he’s looking to free virtual resources to beef up his resume and skills. Flores recently tuned into an online panel about virtual job interviewing etiquette.

Luckily, the savings he’s earned working full time while going to school will hold him over the next few months of quarantine.

Irvine Valley College

Daniel Tsentsiper
Every day, Irvine Valley College graduate Daniel Tsentsiper takes a walk around North Lake in Irvine before studying with his friends.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Daniel Tsentsiper is still trying to decide between transferring to UCLA or UC Berkeley. The 20-year-old Irvine Valley student is studying business administration and expects to focus on finance.

His favorite part of the day is taking a walk around North Lake in Irvine to clear his head after finishing online class sessions. He’s fasting in solidarity with his Muslim friends for Ramadan and joins them in the evenings. Tsentsiper completes his school work while his friends pray, and then they work out together.

Sticking to a routine has helped Tsentsiper adjust to online courses, but he’s nervous about whether the UC classes in fall will continue to be online.

“I’m the type of student that loves to be in class,” he said. “My major is very physical, hands-on, a lot of relationship building, a lot of seeing people face to face. That’s been really difficult for me.”

He tuned into a UC Berkeley webinar in which six professors discussed how they faced the 2008 recession. Their answer was to be flexible.

Tsentsiper is furloughed from his LA Fitness personal training job and an on-campus tutoring job. He also postponed a summer finance internship, a trip to Japan and a birthright trip to Israel.

“My plan is just to learn this summer,” he said. “I’ll be able to learn a new skill or get acclimated with the university I’m choosing by taking their courses.”

His advice to graduates as well as incoming community college students is to use the resources available, whether it’s academic, career or socioemotional counseling.

“This is a humbling experience because in the past few months I’ve been asking for the help and I’ve been getting the help,” he said. “I’ve actually signed up for a therapist at IVC. I’ve never been to therapy before, but now I have weekly meetings with her.”

Chapman University

Amanda Fuentes, 23, is graduating from Chapman University and entering into the job market in the communications and marketing fields.
(Courtesy of Amanda Fuentes )

Soon-to-be Chapman grad Amanda Fuentes had to move from on-campus housing back to her family home in Azusa when the university shut down.

“Moving back was very tough. I had to get used to a new environment in the middle of the school year,” she said. “Simple things like a place to study, a place to do your homework was difficult.”

On top of the changes, she is caring for her mother who tested positive for the coronavirus. Her mother is starting to recover, but the family is still wearing face masks all the time, constantly cleaning and keeping a distance from each other within the home.

“I’m super proud of myself,” she said. “I realized that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought before this entire pandemic happened.”

She reached out to her colleagues at the university career center where she interns as a marketing assistant; a career advisor; and her mentor at her other part-time internship to let them know what was going on.

She said their support, along with family and friends who delivered groceries, helped her feel less stressed.

Her summer internship at an entertainment company is canceled, and she’s job searching. Working at an on-campus career center has provided intel on how to network and use LinkedIn. She is interviewing for positions that weren’t posted online.

“If you have a mentor, reach out to them,” she said. “They will support you like no other. They’re the reason why I have been able to be so motivated during this time. If you don’t have a mentor, find one in a career center or professor.”

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