Next: The Early Years

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The Power of a  Education

The Power of a  Education

As a young girl, I equated dinnertime with the mouth-watering taste of my mom’s authentic Mexican food amid “colorful” discussions about which one of us kids was going to help my parents with their jobs later that evening. By day, my mom was a housekeeper and my father worked as a foreman at Union Carbide. But each evening, after a long day’s work, my parents would bring us along to clean health spas and various banks. To this day, I am still in awe of my parent’s ability to balance their rigorous work schedules with our vibrant family life, year after year.

So, with such incredibly busy schedules, it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t sit around the dinner table discussing educational opportunities. In my family, success was not synonymous with education – it was synonymous with hard work. As a matter of fact, I can still remember a day in high school when I spotted a girl in the back of the classroom taking a practice SAT exam. I asked aloud, “What is she doing?” And someone responded, “She’s taking a test to get into college.” I thought to myself, “College…what a waste of time.”

Around the same time, my parents divorced. This was a particularly difficult period in my life because I was extremely close to both my mother and my father. Yet even though my father was a fun-loving person with an exceptional work ethic, even the strongest of men struggle with addictions. My father has thankfully moved beyond this difficult period and forgiveness has healed old wounds.

But at the time, my family dismantled. I went to live with my grandmother in Colton, leaving behind my mother, father, sister, and brother. I felt lost. Yet even though I didn’t know what the future held for me, I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working at the local Chevron gas station.

Next: North-West College

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“I’d suddenly begun a new journey.”

Fortunately, my sister told me about North-West College in Pomona. She was enrolled in the Dental Assisting program and loved it. So, with absolutely nothing to lose, I found their number and called to inquire about their programs. The following week, I drove to the college to meet with an admissions representative and quickly learned that the Medical Receptionist/Medical Billing program would be the best fit for me. I enrolled that very day, then drove back to Colton and quit my job at Chevron.

I’d suddenly begun a new journey. I made the drive from Colton to North-West College in Pomona every day, which was not too bad except for the fact that my 1969 Volkswagen convertible had no top and I could not afford to buy one. I drove everywhere, including the smoggy, loud freeway – in that convertible – day or night, rain or shine. The evenings were particularly uncomfortable because I had to wear a ski hat that covered my entire face just to stay warm.

In addition to my ‘topless car” issues, I had a tough time scraping together gas money. Luckily, I had a girlfriend who lived near the campus who let me stay with her. The only drawback was that when I slept over, I had to park my car down the street and sleep in her closet because her parents did not want a friend “squatting” at their house. We were able to get away with our sleeping arrangement for several months until her mother found out.

Then my wonderful grandmother gave me her beloved silver dollars for gas money. Yet even with her generous help, a few times a month I had no choice but to pull on my trusty ski hat and sleep in my topless convertible in the parking lot of the college.

Next: Meeting Mitchell

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“I was determined to finish what I’d begun.”

Perhaps because of the sacrifices it took for me to attend college, I was incredibly determined to finish what I’d begun. So, I kept my chin up and worked as hard as I ever had at anything in my entire life. I remember sitting with my best friend in the student union eating what little we’d brought for lunch, wishing we could afford to go out for lunch like many of the other students.

On a few occasions, the founder’s son would come to campus with his friends and there was always so much buzz surrounding his visit. Sometimes he’d walk into the student union with the master key to the vending machines, which he’d open up to take out snacks for his friends and himself. He seemed like the luckiest person on the planet back then. I remember thinking how lucky he was to be the founder’s son, to have a stable family, and, most importantly – the key to the vending machines!

And though I held no key to machines that promised chips and candy bars, I was beginning to feel that I held the key to my future success. I would wake up every morning feeling proud to put on my white uniform. I not only had a sense of purpose, but I had the opportunity to become a professional in a country that celebrates the American Dream. I was on my way.

But even then, I faced many challenges. I suffered through some very painful toothaches without dental insurance and, of course, I could not ignore the daily anxiety that trickled through my bones as I was barely scraping by financially. But now, I had a sense of belonging. In many ways, the staff and faculty of North-West College were becoming my chosen family. And suddenly, my toothaches and financial woes did not seem as painful or insurmountable. And perhaps most importantly, I did not feel alone. I’d found my people. My college. My purpose.

Next: Meeting Mom

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“We shared a similar passion for promoting the empowerment of women.”

Utilizing the skills I gained at North-West College, coupled with the incredible work ethic my parents had instilled in me, I eventually went on to found a consulting business that specialized in opening practices for new physicians. Yet, amidst all of the extraordinary blessings that had come into my life, perhaps the most magical one occurred on a seemingly uneventful evening back in 1990.

My friend had asked me to go out with her to a nightclub and, moments after we arrived, I introduced myself to a kind-looking guy whom I asked to dance. Later that evening, we exchanged numbers. When he asked me what I did for a living, I shared that I worked for a physician. As I continued to describe my career, he confidently responded, “I know exactly what you do.”  He then asked me which school I attended. I replied, “A very special one called North-West College in Pomona.” His face transformed into a giant smile.

On our first date, he asked me to meet his mother, which I thought was a little odd for a first date, but I agreed. And boy, am I glad I did. Because his mother was the Founder of North-West College! I had so much respect and gratitude for her and there I was – standing in her home. On a date. With her son. All of my memories of him with the keys to the vending machines suddenly came flooding back. It felt almost unreal and yet, utterly natural. What a wondrous feeling.

I so loved the college that she’d founded, and, in talking with her, I discovered that we shared a similar passion for empowering women. A lifelong bond between us formed instantaneously. She embraced her Jewish children as much as she instantly embraced Mitchell’s Hispanic girlfriend. What a loving mother she was.


“I am also proudly the new ‘mom’ at the College.”

As a 21-year-old, I felt beautifully challenged by Marsha Fuerst. Our dinner conversations were always centered on women and how we, as women, have the ability to accomplish whatever we set our minds on. She always told me that I could be an entrepreneur. In fact, it was my future mother-in-law who encouraged me to start my own company back in 1995. From that day on, I became an independent, successful woman who took immense pride in making my own money and helping my family in any way that I could.

In 2010, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with aggressive Alzheimer’s and unfortunately she needed to leave North-West because she was no longer able to communicate or walk. But her spirit lives on in all of us whom she inspired to carry on her legacy.

I’ve since begun working with my husband, Mitchell who now owns the college. Together, we are passionate about not only honoring – but expanding his mother’s legacy. I am now both a successful graduate of her college as well as the new “mom” on campus. I am as passionate as Marsha about empowering young women and men to succeed in a world brimming with opportunities as well as developing a strong team of individuals who are committed to helping them succeed.

Currently, the private college sector is under intense scrutiny, and we are facing a challenging operating environment. However, our colleges are here to stay. We are different, we care like the family we are – and as a result, we are thriving. Maybe it’s because of my mother-in-law’s vision. Maybe it’s because we’ve been a family-run organization for half a century. Or maybe, it’s because, no matter what, we will always take care of the student. Because in our family, we were and always will be the students.

Next: Empowering Others

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“Life is pretty magical if we only take a chance.”

North-West College gave me the opportunity to start my own medical billing and consulting business, through which I was able to employ countless single moms as well as young men with their own dreams of being professional, independent, and  successful. I’ll never forget sleeping in my car, counting silver dollars for gas, or hiding out in my friend’s closet. This is why I am so passionate about empowering these young people who walk through our doors – because I see myself in them.

But more than that, I see all of us in them. We all have dreams, we all want to be successful, and we all want to have a calling, a greater purpose in life. I have found that mine is sharing with others what transformed this confused girl with little focus, into a confident, inspired, and passionate woman who now works alongside her husband at the college that gave her a chance. Incidentally, we now own the building and parking lot where I once slept in my car. It’s all a beautiful full circle – minus the ski hat.

Next: The Next Generation

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“Work to become better versions of ourselves.”

This is what I tell our students: You can turn your life around just like I did. Life is pretty magical if we only take a chance, work hard, and believe that we can be whatever we set our minds to becoming.