A father of four, Alva Long came to San José City College after he decided to switch careers in 2010. Almost five degrees and over ten years later, he is about to graduate and transfer to eventually get his teaching certificate. He hopes to come back to City College and teach community college students.
We were able to talk with Alva, as we celebrate City College’s centennial, about how he got to City College and what he’s enjoyed most about his experience here.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Dallas, Texas. My family moved there from the Los Gatos area, because my dad got a good job offer. It didn’t work out, and my mom couldn’t take the bugs, giant cockroaches, and scorpions. She didn’t like the weather or the environment. They came back to California
just two years later and have been in the Los Gatos/San José area ever since.
My grandparents owned a little piece of land in Los Gatos that my dad was able to take over. Because of that, I was able to go to kindergarten through high school in the Los Gatos school system. After graduating high school, I stayed in San José, because I’ve always loved this area despite the high rent. I like the diversity, how close it is to the coast, the mountains, and so many beautiful areas to visit. It’s close to social opportunities like opera, plays, and the arts. Everything is just an hour away.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do in high school. So, after I graduated, my first job was outside sales, because I knew I had the gift of the gab and a lot of confidence. I felt sales was a great way to make big, easy money by just using your charm and charisma. It went pretty well at first.
In a lot of ways, sales is selling people things they don’t necessarily want, need, or can afford. So, is that really fulfilling? As I continued in sales, I realized the product or service was benefiting the company at the expense of my client. Especially when I knew there were superior products that were less expensive, and that the company would rather I sell the more expensive product that didn’t work as well over the cheaper one that worked better. I would lose my job if I did that. It was a job that lacked integrity.
When did you start at San José City College?
This is an unusual answer. I started at City College in 2010 to change my career. I started taking classes I was interested in, and soon realized I wanted to become a professor at junior college. I knew I wanted to do what my instructors were doing with me, to integrate and infuse students with great life skills. I’ve enjoyed learning so much, I’ve obtained associate degrees in Psychology, Social Behavior, Spanish, Alcohol and Drug Counseling, and I would have finished in Spring 2020 with a degree in Communications, but then COVID hit.
I decided rather than finish the two classes I need online, I would wait until classes were back in person. I really like the interactive dynamics of being with your classmates and instructors to bounce ideas off each other. I gain so much more from that collective, the coursework has so much more depth.
After I graduate, I am seriously thinking of transferring to San José State or UC Santa Cruz (UCSC). I haven’t decided on a major, but I want to pick one and go for it. There is a shot I could get into a 4-year, and then take the final step of getting a teaching credential to get hired at City College.
What surprised me the most at City College was how the overwhelming majority of staff, administrators, and instructors were so determined to help make sure you had a wonderful experience at City College. They were always introducing me to new resources and getting me into programs for free tutoring and college success.
I started taking the free tutoring courses to make sure I got an A in science courses. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) should have a second M for Medical. After attending, they asked me to become a tutor. So, I did, and it’s been a blessing. I’ve been doing it for five years. When you have the students you are tutoring come back a few weeks later and say, “Alva, thanks to you I got an A- on my exam,” it’s a great feeling to know you were there to support them. I say, “no, you studied and did all the hard work, I just helped you get there.”
For all the years I attended City College, I got more involved in all different aspects of the college. I was highly involved in Student Government as a senator for the first three years helping with many different types of activities. We were one of the more involved student bodies, and I was surrounded by a lot of proactively engaged students who wanted to make student government more functional. I got voted as an officer and director of fundraising. That is the highest tier position in student government. After three years, I felt it would be good for others to take it over, so I stepped down.
One moment that really stood out was during an event called the Hall of Excellence Award banquet where they had a beautiful dinner provided for those involved. It happened to be a year when the student government were the ones who announced the student winners. I was one of the student government announcers switching off with other announcers. One of my fellow officers announced that I had won two awards, one for being part of the student government, and for being Male Student of the Year – Runner Up! Both were a great honor. That was a fun event.
One of the reasons I’ve taken all the courses I have is to learn more about my family. All my uncles, grandfather, and my dad had issues with alcohol, drugs and smoking. My sons and myself are nothing like them. I broke the chain. I did contact sports instead, plus, I was raised 100% by women. Because of that I am a well-rounded person. I have three sons and one daughter. I have one son who graduated with a 4-year degree and works at Twitter. My second son is about to graduate from Arizona State University and was in the military. My daughter just graduated Rutgers University with a master’s degree in political science. My oldest son is my artistic one. He’s very gifted in music and other types of art with a very lucrative online business. He’s also a toy collector with a collection worth well over $100,000.
Who have been your favorite instructors?
Sherry Key who teaches many of the science courses I’ve taken has such a powerful passion for teaching. She is very, very good at finding ways to motivate her students. She lets every student throw out their worst exam, saying, “I’m not going to let any student not get the grade they want if they bomb one test.” She has so many unique ways to work with her students to get a good grade, have a great experience, and learn a lot in her course. She is exciting, as well as being very interactive and dynamic.
Oliver Christian is another science teacher whom I found so amazing, I took Astronomy, Oceanography, and Meteorology with him. How he teaches the information is the most amazing part. He makes you feel like you are actually experiencing it in nature, physically, even though you are in the classroom. He is one of the most respectful, kindest men, not only professors, I have met in my life. He really works with his students, and will bend over backwards to help you through his course.
Señora Rebecca Gamez is a Spanish teacher. She loves when her students come to her class and learn not only language, but a new culture, customs, music, art, dances, food. And because you are learning about her culture, she puts one hundred percent of herself into every minute of every class. You get a dose of what it means to be Latinx and learn amazing things about this rich and incredible culture. That was one of the reasons I got into Spanish. I thought, if I start, I might as well go all the way. I have a total of 22 units in Spanish. Not a lot of Americans are bilingual, I’m sorry to say, including not a single person in my family, not even my children. I even speak Italian a little bit now.
All these great memories and experiences are something I want others to have. You can get so much out of City College. While I’ve spent a lot of time here, the amount of time someone spends is irrelevant, because they will still have incredible experiences that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.