Courtesy of Jan Janes, Gavilan College:
Proud Baler and Hollister resident Madison Mitchell turned negative challenges into opportunities on her way to two BA degrees. She spells out the ways Gavilan College shaped her success.
“Community college has a terrible stigma: unfair, unjust and simply wrong”
An acknowledged mediocre student in high school, Mitchell said she must have heard the threat every other day: If you don’t shape up and perform, you’ll end up at Gav…you don’t want that, do you?
“My GPA was weak, I probably couldn’t have gotten into a prestigious college after high school,” Mitchell relates. Her self-awareness included the knowledge of the money her parents were paying for two older siblings to attend four-year schools.
“I decided I wasn’t ready. Since I had always wanted to be in the civil service, I would go into the military.” Mitchell describes 9/11 as a huge influence in her life and paired the idea of service with citizenship.
After graduating from high school, she waited for a position in military intelligence to open up. All source Army Intelligence (AI) trained her in intelligence collection, how to analyze and assess an enemy’s assets based on human, signal and image sources. In four months she was building intelligence products that reflected best assessments.
“It was a great job, a lot of computer work, and I loved it,” Mitchell said. She was top in her class of 400 in AI, though not a great soldier. “I was not a great shot.” She describes her service as fortunate. Not serving in combat meant she worked in a secure location, underground. She discovered, within the military, lack of combat duty has a stigma.
“If you’re not aware of what Gavilan has to offer, start talking to your professors and counselors”
“It was such a bad stigma that I was going to fix it,” she said. “I would get a combat position by going to work for a contracting company.” The contracting company required an AA in order for her to be hired. To fulfill that path, she went straight from the military to Gavilan College.
“I’m getting my two-year degree and I’m out. I don’t want to be left out of the action!” she recalled thinking. Mitchell selected Blanca Arteaga as her counselor and they developed an ambitious ed plan.
“Blanca is the best,” said Mitchell. “She asks about classes and homework, but she also make you feel human still by asking about you, your family.”
At Gavilan, Mitchell chose a double major in Administration of Justice and Political Science. She was fascinated by the material, exceeding the required units every semester. “Professor Turetzky was very knowledgeable about groups we consider terrorist groups, a wealth of knowledge, and this is a path I want to pursue professionally,” she said.
“Great student, great person. Madison Mitchell took all my classes and excelled in them all,” said Political Science instructor Marc Turetzky. “A positive, passionate person with an interesting and diverse background.”
“Gavilan is the foundation that built the fabulous path I’m on now”
Mitchell was offered an internship with the South County Task Force violence intervention program, where she met Bernice Aguilera.
“I recognized this was something I wanted to do,” said Mitchell. “It was an amazing program to work in, and those people are changing lives.” She cites Aguilera as a mentor and force of nature who guided her, changed her in unexpected ways and shaped her life path.
Mitchell graduated from Gavilan with a double AA, and because of her work in the military and her extra units, received a third AA in intelligence ops from another institution. She transferred to San Francisco State University (SFSU) and petitioned to double major in Criminal Justice and International Relations.
Combat service waned as an aspiration, but her interest in civil service continued to grow. “I’m trying to improve my life and my country. There isn’t a lot of money in it, but money isn’t everything.”
Checking out the Federal Bureau of Investigation website, she spotted an FBI Honors Internship program and applied in the fall of 2017, along with more than 15,000 students nationwide. It was a nine-month process of interviews, polygraphs, background checks and more. In June 2018 she learned she was accepted.
“Can you be in DC on Monday?”
“Of course I said yes,” said Mitchell. Then she arranged for ten weeks of care for her five-year-old daughter with grandparents. And had to give notice at the violence intervention program. They said the job would be waiting for her when she returned.
From ‘you are ruining your path in life’ to FBI intern
After completing the training in Washington, DC, Mitchell returned to finish her academic work at SFSU. She will receive her BA in Criminal Justice in December and a second BA in International Relations next spring, graduating with a 3.91 GPA. She will also continue her internship at a regional FBI field office.
“Community college in general, and Gavilan College specifically, is the place where I could build my GPA,” said Mitchell. “I could make mistakes, learn and explore what I wanted to do.”
Next spring, Madison Mitchell will start work on her MS degree at San José State University.
Photo caption: Madison Mitchell and Blanca Arteaga met up at Gavilan College to talk about career paths. Photo courtesy of Gavilan College.