For Mesa Community College alumna Jessica Lake, (1997-1999), leaving the Navajo reservation to begin higher education studies was a big step. She had never been away from family and didn’t quite know how to plan her schedule of required classes. But Lake went on to earn her associate’s degree from MCC, her bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University and later her master’s degree in multicultural bilingual education at Northern Arizona University.
Today she is a teacher at the Kayenta Unified School District in northern Arizona, the same school she attended in her youth. She advises her students and her own children that attending a community college is a smart, economical way to attend college.
“MCC was five hours away from home, I had no relatives there and things were really different. It helped me become more independent,” said Lake.
“The American Indian Institute at MCC was helpful and supportive. At one point I had my book money stolen and the staff there helped me find a way to buy my books.”
While at MCC, she enjoyed her time on the women’s basketball team, traveling around the country when the team won the regional tournament.
“Basketball was my passion from an early age,” Lake said. “Playing on the MCC team was a good experience. I had never been out of Arizona and to travel to Kansas and Connecticut when we won the regional tournament was wonderful. I tell students that if you set your mind to it, basketball can take you places. But keep your grades up.”
Lake teaches early childhood education to high school students in addition to coaching sports at local schools. She emphasizes that dual enrollment is especially beneficial for high school students.
“By the time they finish high school, if they’ve done dual enrollment, they already have 25 college credits when they leave.”
Lake is happy with where she is in her career, although she says as her own children begin college, she might want to follow their lead and take some classes.
“Overall, I’m happy to be a teacher,” she said. “Life is good.”