BY ELIZA GALFAYAN
If you haven’t heard of Mt. Sierra College you’re probably not alone. Located in Monrovia, CA (about 20 miles east of Los Angeles) this small for-profit college caters to a diverse student body and a strict focus on fast paced curriculum for students who want to pursue careers in non-traditional but newly developing and often lucrative industries like Gaming. The board is comprised of a veritable who’s who of the Armenian community. Five out of its six board members are prominent Armenians like Rafi Ourfalian – Chairman of the Board, Z. Greg Kahwajian – Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Vaughn Hartunian who is the principal co-founder of the College, John Davis – Chief Financial Officer, and two local businessmen. This small college offers a big punch for anyone interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business, technology or media arts.
While choosing the right college can be a daunting task no matter what the individual’s pursuit in higher education may be – most often for Armenians this pursuit is in more traditional careers like law, medicine, business or engineering at typically traditional four year colleges. But for students who are interested in pursuing careers outside the conventional realm of education – colleges like Mt. Sierra seem to fit the right profile. Patrick Azadian, Director of Admissions and Marketing at Mt. Sierra, says “students are drawn to Mt. Sierra College because they have an interest or passion for the media arts, game arts, technology or business [where our] programs are hands-on and industry driven. “
In the wake of recent and major budget cuts at universities and colleges throughout the state Mt. Sierra maintains its ability to offer students a fast paced environment in which they can pursue a bachelor’s degree in four years or less without the hassle of dealing with classes either overcrowded or cut due to major budgeting issues. In fact one of the reasons that Mt. Sierra is so desirable for so many students is the smaller class sizes with personalized attention from faculty who are experts in their respective fields.
Kristine Babich graduated from Mt. Sierra College in 2008 as a Graphic Design major. Kristine graduated from Glendale High School in 2005 and wanted to pursue a career in design and began looking at schools that could offer her the small classes and hands-on on experience she wanted. A friend of the family had attended Mt. Sierra and his experience was so positive that she looked further into what the school had to offer. “I didn’t want a traditional college. I was taking classes at College of the Canyons while I was still in high school and didn’t like the large, overcrowded classes. I wanted a more focused school where I could get the hands-on experience I wanted. And at Mt. Sierra I felt like I was in an actual work environment. The honesty and criticism really helped my design work,” she says.
Kristine is one of a growing number of young Armenians who are interested in non-traditional careers and the Armenian influence on the Board at Mt. Sierra was a drawing point for her. She says “as an Armenian it validated my own traditional Armenian values toward education.”
She graduated in three years with a degree in graphic design and today works for The Chip, Inc. – a company that offers business network solutions. She credits her experience and education at Mt. Sierra in helping her establish her career.
Today many for-profit colleges are facing strong regulatory actions to make sure they are focused on student success, graduation and eventual employment.
John Davis is the college’s Chief Financial Officer and offers perspective on how Mt. Sierra fares in the world of the for-profit college. “Unlike many in this industry, Mt. Sierra College has focused on student success and responsible growth” says Davis. He points to a poster on the wall of the conference room he comfortably occupies. The poster reads “Employers who have hired our graduates – AT&T, Pepsi, Disney, Xerox, Sega, EMI, JPL…” and much more. Davis continues to say “We have always walked on the white side of the line… and at the end of the day the regulations are added incentive to focus on student success and graduation. Our numbers continue to grow and we think we’re doing the right thing for our students.”
According to Davis financial aid is also available to all Mt. Serra students who qualify and it can be in the form of grants or government subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Mt. Sierra’s Financial Aid Department can guide and advise students after enrollment and throughout their program at the College. The financial aid package can be tailored to the student’s particular needs. “Many Mt. Sierra students also take advantage of the Federal Work Study programs while they are enrolled at the College. In addition, need and merit-based scholarships of up to $8,000 are available for adult learners and graduating high school seniors who enroll at Mt. Sierra College” says Davis.
Perhaps what gives the students at Mt. Sierra College an edge over other colleges – public or for-profit – is the small community of committed individuals who are invested in the student body. Patrick Azadian adds “our focus in on student success. This begins with the admissions process and continues throughout their time with us, and follows them beyond graduation. Results are very important for us. If a student is enrolled at Mt. Sierra, we provide the proper environment for that student to earn his or her degree in a timely manner and to pursue a career in the field of study. Over 78% of Mt. Sierra graduates were employed in a career corresponding to their degree programs.”
Walking through this small campus one is struck by the sense of community apparent between students and staff. Inside the halls are lined with student art work that boasts the schools focus on the creative industries it trains its students for. “We specialize in a niche of highly popular programs for careers of the future. Unlike many of the public institutions we are growing and have classrooms and courses available to fulfill our educational mission. If you are serious and passionate about having a career in media arts and design, game arts, information technology or business, we may just be the right choice for you,” says Azadian.
Mt. Sierra’s programs are hands-on and industry driven. Being hands-on implies that what you learn in the classroom can be directly applied to the needs of the industry. This also means that there is a career in the industry that matches our bachelor’s degree programs. According to Azadian, “you can earn your graphic design degree and become a graphic designer or an art director. Or you can earn a degree in Information Technology – Information Security and become and information security engineer or an analyst.”