Student Experience at College of San Mateo
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Student Experience
Melissa Aliu & Sione Fanaika
Melissa Aliu & Sione Fanaika UC Santa Cruz, Sociology
Louisiana State University, Sociology
Cousins Melissa Aliu and Fehoko Fanaikacome from a close-knit Pacific Islander family that greatly values a college education.  Sacramento native and high school football player, Fehoko made the move to the Bay Area to be closer to his extended family and continue his football career at CSM. He lived with Melissa’s family in South San Francisco and the two cousins found themselves attending CSM at the same time. As fellow students, they provided each other with motivation to work hard and inspiration to reach their respective goals.

After graduating from El Camino High School, Melissa attended another community college for a year but she realized it wasn’t the right place for her. “I decided to enroll at CSM and although I didn’t know anyone at the college, I was better able to focus on academics.”  At CSM, opportunities began to open up for Melissa. She adapted quickly as she got to know faculty and staff and made new friends.  “I appreciate the diversity of the campus; it made me feel more comfortable,” says Melissa. Making connections with faculty was another benefit for Melissa. “My ethnic studies professors Frederick Gaines and Rudy Ramirez and my English professor Jon Kitamura were especially inspiring.

She became involved in student life by joining the Pacific Islander Club and participated in events that celebrate the culture. Melissa also worked as a student assistant in the Financial Aid Office conducting workshops and as a student ambassador assisting the college’s marketing department with outreach activities.  Her work experience at CSM provided the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Melissa explains, “I could understand the struggles that students go through, and, to best assist them, I became knowledgeable about appropriate resources that I could refer them to.”

Melissa’s overall involvement at CSM – through academics, extra-curricular activities and work experience — played an important role in her decision of a career path. “Since attending CSM, my life has changed for the better.  I realized that I can apply my CSM experience to a career: I’ve decided to become a counselor and work with high school students in their transition to college,” says Melissa.

In spring 2013, Melissa became the first in her immediate family to become a college graduate and did it in a big way: she earned three associate degrees from CSM. She also was the recipient of the prestigious UC Santa Cruz Karl S. Pister Leadership Opportunity Award. This two-year scholarship is awarded to outstanding community college transfer students who are nominated by college presidents.  Melissa will transfer to UC Santa Cruz in fall 2013 to study sociology.

For Fehoko, attending CSM was a welcome opportunity for multiple reasons, as he describes, “CSM is known for having a very successful football program. It was a perfect place get a get a great education and to meet good people from all over the Bay Area.  The camaraderie I experienced with my teammates through athletics and academics will have a lasting impact – my ‘CSM brothers’ are like family to me.”

As a student-athlete, Fehoko gives credit to his coaches and professors for supporting and encouraging him to succeed in and out of the classroom. “Coach Pollack and the other coaches helped me become stronger academically, physically and mentally. I also appreciated my professors who pushed me to do my best and develop strong study habits that would help me when I transferred. English Professor Teeka James and Math Instructor Monsour Kalantar gave a great deal of their time to help me understand the material in their classes. I am thankful to them for what they did for me.”

Another person who provided motivation to Fehoko was his cousin Melissa. “She was the definition of hard work’ she held three jobs and was enrolled as a full-time student.  Melissa was a role model for me and encouraged me to do well in classes so that I could transfer to a university. She gets credit for keeping me on track.”

After two standout seasons as a guard and offensive lineman for the CSM bulldogs, Fehoko earned his associate degree from CSM and received a full-ride scholarship to play football for Louisiana State University, one of the finest football programs in the nation. Fehoko has the distinction of being the first football player in LSU history of Tongan heritage. In addition to finishing college, Fehoko hopes to play in the NFL and eventually he would like to have a career in which he can give back to his community.

Attending CSM with Fehoko also had an impact on Melissa, “Fehoko is a very optimistic person and his optimism kept me motivated. His success in football hasn’t changed him. For all he has accomplished, Fehoko has remained humble and appreciative of where he is now and how he got there. I find that inspiring!”

Even though Melissa and Fehoko are attending universities thousands of miles apart, they will continue to motivate and inspire one another.  Melissa explains, “Since Fehoko has moved to LSU, we have become pen pals – it’s a more meaningful way to communicate because we can keep the letters and re-read them when we get homesick. And it’s a good way to share our college experiences.”