Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Vivian Varela
Associate Professor of Sociology and Distance Education Coordinator, Vivian Varela, had a traumatic introduction to Ukiah. As a small child, her family was passing through the city when an automobile accident totaled their car. No one was hurt, and the family, although shaken, continued on to their destination in Portland, Oregon by bus.
When Varela heard from colleagues at Taft College (TC) that her dream job was being advertised at Mendocino College (MC) in Ukiah, she remembered her earlier experience and decided to give it a try anyway. Luckily, her fate had changed. She got the job as Distance Education Coordinator in 2007, and recently added the sociology position to her responsibilities. Her car, she notes, is still in one piece.
Varela was 24 years old when she began college at TC, after being on welfare for 7 years. Her first degree was an AA in business administration from TC. A newly divorced single mom, who needed to support her family, she enrolled in an online sociology degree program at Chico State University (CSU), graduating with a BA in 2003. Since all of her classes were online, she did not actually see the CSU campus until graduation.
She immediately enrolled in an online master's program in education, with a specialty in online teaching and learning, through Cal State Hayward, and graduated with an MA, earned totally online, in 2004, while still living in Taft. She earned a second master's degree in sociology from Cal State Bakersfield in 2006.
Because her mother had returned to college during Varela's childhood, she says, "I knew it was possible." She credits an "outstanding professor at TC, Dr. Greene" for inspiring her to major in sociology.
While completing her education online, Varela worked at TC in various classified positions, including 10 years as the campus webmaster. She also worked as a computer systems operator for an oil company.
Since her arrival at MC, Varela has helped the faculty develop two AA degrees which can be earned totally online: the liberal studies AA degree, and the AA in sociology, which will be a new offering in Fall 2011. Many students take a combination of online and on-campus courses to get the classes they need within the constraints of their schedules; however for students who cannot get to campus at all, the online degrees are a godsend.
Varela says her favorite class to teach is Introduction to Sociology, "because it covers so much material that any student can find something to get excited about." She loves to challenge students to "look beyond ourselves to notice how culture impacts us." She explains that "if one person loses his/her job, it may be a personal tragedy; however if a company (such as Masonite) closes down, it becomes a social problem for the whole community."
Varela says the best part of her job is "challenging students to consider their world views." The most challenging part of her job, she says, is "keeping my examples current." She explains that cultural references from her past have no meaning for today's students, so she uses YouTube and other media to present sociology in a way that makes sense in 2011.
When she is not working, Varela enjoys spending time with her adult children: son, Matthew is a petty officer 3rd class in the U.S. Navy; and daughter, Marcie, is the stay-at-home mother of Varela's young granddaughter, Sequoia. She also enjoys reading, sewing, crafting and quilting. She serves as a board member for the Ukiah Symphony.