Solana Beach mom gets second chance at college dream

Carey Cimino

With one child on the way to college and another not far behind, Carey Cimino began to consider what she wanted to do in the next stage of her life. Although always active in the community, the Solana Beach mom wanted more.

“It’s a huge theme with stay-at-home moms,” said Cimino, who has an 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. “You kind of lose your identity because you’ve given so much to raising your kids. I went back to thinking about what I originally wanted to be.”

Originally from the Bay Area, Cimino earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations from UC Davis in 1990. But Cimino had also always wanted to pursue her master’s degree. In fact, while working in banking, she started her teaching credential 25 years ago, but left the program after she got married and moved to Southern California.

After giving birth to her daughter, Tess, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. A son, James, soon followed.

Although the kids kept her busy, Cimino also dedicated much of her time to the community.

As a Rancho Santa Fe resident for 17 years, Cimino served as president of the Rancho Santa Fe Community Center Board and co-chair of the Rancho Santa Fe School Education Foundation. She also served on the boards of the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA and Torrey Pines High School Foundation and as a member of the Rancho Santa Fe Unit of Rady Children’s Hospital Auxiliary.

“I enjoy being part of something and helping make a difference,” said Cimino, who relocated to Solana Beach about three years ago.

As her children grew older, Cimino started working in real estate. But she still wanted something more.

When it came time for her daughter to apply to college, she helped her and her friends research and apply to schools. She saw how difficult it was for her daughter to get into college, despite being a bright student and having supportive parents and access to many resources.

At the same time, Cimino also volunteered in the College & Career Center at Torrey Pines High School. The experience reminded her that she always wanted to work with students.

“It all came full circle,” Cimino said. “I really like helping the kids find themselves, figure out their career, what they want to be and how they want to get there.”

Still, the thought of going back to college had not even crossed Cimino’s mind until her father suggested completing her teaching credential. With encouragement from her family, Cimino decided to apply for graduate school.

After reading about San Diego State University’s school counseling program, with an emphasis in social justice, Cimino said she felt like she had found her calling. Although the application deadline was just a few weeks away, she decided to try.

“It was such a last-minute decision,” she said.

Cimino took both the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) tests, studying one week for each test. She compiled her transcripts and received letters of recommendations.

And then she got the email: She was one of 18 students chosen out of an applicant pool of 100 to be a member of the SDSU School Counseling Cohort.

“At 46 years old, it never occurred to me to go back,” she recalled. “All of a sudden, to have this dream, and have it all come back, it was so great. I was so excited.”

The two-year master’s program finishes in May 2017, the same week that Cimino’s son will graduate from Cathedral Catholic High School.

“Whatever your obstacle is, there’s a way to bust it down,” Cimino said. “I’m totally proof of that. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

In addition to full-time classwork and on-site experience at local schools, students choose one of three additional volunteer learning experiences. Some are Court Appointed Special Advocates for Voices for Children, a San Diego-based nonprofit that recruits, trains and supervises volunteer CASAs. Others members work with kids on a Native American reservation. Cimino chose to work on a committee that is hosting the first-ever conference supporting access to higher education for immigrant and undocumented students.

Presented by The Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership, or CESCAL, the conference, “Supporting Access to Higher Education for Immigrant and Undocumented Students,” aims to equip school counselors and college partners with the knowledge and skills to support student access and equity to postsecondary opportunities and funding options.

“Enabling and educating kids can only help all of us,” Cimino said. “I would hope that people can learn from this conference and come out with the tools to help these kids because there are a lot of tools out there. You just have to reach and find them.”

Dr. Trish Hatch, a national leader in school counseling, heads the nonprofit CESCAL, and is one of the reasons why Cimino chose to continue her studies at SDSU. Hatch serves as an expert consultant to the White House and the U.S. Department of Education, advocating for students and school counselors all over the country.

In just six months of working with CESCAL, Cimino said she has learned so much about the need to increase opportunities for all students through improved school counseling programs.

“Education improves education for those kids, but also, I think, education for the rest of society about the issues those kids face will lead to greater justice for all,” she said.

The conference will take place April 27-28 in San Diego.

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