Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Kurt Combs
"Nobody ever started out in life to be an articulation officer," quips Kurt Combs, counselor/articulation officer at Mendocino College (MC). "It was accidental in my case," he smiles. "When the former articulation officer retired, I was the only person even slightly interested in taking over."
Born in Petaluma, and raised in Cotati, Combs graduated from high school in 1966, believing that he was not academically capable of going on to college. He took all the shop classes possible during high school, then earned his living as a fabrication welder for twelve years, working at Mare Island Shipyard and at various metal fabrication shops in Sonoma county.
At age 31, he began taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) with the goal of becoming a welding instructor. While a student at SRJC, he held a temporary job as a vocational counselor to replace someone who became ill. When welding jobs became scarce in the 1980's, Combs considered a career in counseling for the first time. He earned an AA degree in liberal arts from SRJC, followed by a BA in economics from Sacramento State University (Sac State), and eventually, at age 40, an MA in psychology and a lifetime credential in counseling from Sonoma State University (SSU). While at SSU, he worked in construction during the summers, learning plumbing and carpentry skills, which he now uses on his home in Lake County.
Combs worked as a counselor at SRJC, and as a part-time counselor at MC, until he was hired full-time at MC in 1999. He says he liked the fact that he could have a voice and make a difference at a small college. He and his wife bought a home in Lake County, and they have appreciated raising their family in a rural area.
Combs recalls how the Lakeport Center, where he works, went from a little office down on Main Street to the current "new" Center, and he delights in plans for the permanent Lake Center campus which are now underway.
Uncomfortable speaking up in class as a student, Combs enrolled in a public speaking course at Sac State, which he calls "the most important course I ever took." He now enjoys teaching public speaking at MC part-time.
Combs says the best part of his job is "working with students, seeing them succeed." He says he also loves articulation, which he explains as the rules and agreements between colleges and universities that help students who begin at a Community College, transfer their courses to 4-year universities. He enjoys the influence he is able to have on the courses accepted for transfer, both at MC and at the state level.
He advises students who plan to transfer to to decide early what majors/careers they want to pursue, and to make the effort to visit the universities that interest them.
Combs quotes his maternal grandfather to explain his practical philosophy of life. "If you sharpen a shovel before you use it, then oil it when you are finished, it is always ready to be used again," he says. "In other words, take the time to do a thing right the first time, and you will always be prepared to succeed."
In his free time, Combs enjoys being with his family, and working on 1960's General Motors cars. His wife, Denise, is employed at Hospice in Lakeport. Daughter Rebecca is a kinesiology student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and daughter Jennea is a high school cheerleader who drives a 3/4 ton truck.