Celebrating 75 Years as a College for Everyone

Take a moment and step into the lives of some of our former Salt Lake Community College students.

In this Then and Now photo-story gallery, alumni ranging from 2 years to more than 20 plus years, share what their mindset was like when they first began attending SLCC and where they are now. They also impart nuggets of advice they have earned and learned along the way. Advice they would have given to their younger selves.

If you are interested in participating, please reach out to peta.liston@slcc.edu. Participants need to have graduated with a degree or certificate from SLCC.

Gary Payton II, SLCC AA Business in 2014, From Spring Valley High School, Nevada

Then and Now

SLCC was a chance for me to get my grades up and to get some recognition as a player—SLCC was one of the best conferences to play in. It's been a grind ever since high school when I decided to put everything into basketball.

Going to SLCC was just another piece of the journey. I got into a good rhythm and routine and focused on what I had to do. I was used to adjusting to new places from growing up with my dad in the NBA. I'm used to taking things how they come and adapting to adversity.

My dad used to tell me to be a 'dawg' over and over, but I had to figure out who I was on the court. I had to aim to just be me, not some superstar, but to be anything that the team needs. I'm my own kind of player, not my dad, not others, just best at me.

Right now, I'm playing for the Portland Trail Blazers, before that I was with the Golden State Warriors when we won the 2022 NBA Championship.

"Just do the best for you and do everything you can to be prepared—adversity will come and so will opportunity."


Not many say, 'I'm going to choose the most difficult route possible.' You don't know if you're going to reach your dreams but you do know it is going to be difficult. You've got to promise yourself that you are going to buy in and take the punches as they come and enjoy the journey—the journey depends on how much work and effort you put into it. You got to have the mentality to never stop, never quit learning and growing.

Just do the best for you and do everything you can to be prepared—adversity will come and so will opportunity.

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Robert Hunter, SLCC AAS Photography in 2018, From Hellgate High School, Montana

Then and Now

I had to go on my own journey to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. After 2 years of college in Montana, I dropped out because I couldn't figure out my career path. I moved to Washington and worked as a dishwasher at a tribal casino.

One night in that hot, steamy dish pit I had the realization that if I'm going to be broke, I might as well be broke doing something I love. And I love filmmaking. My whole life had been influenced by movies and music. But what was missing from that space was the indigenous voice—I knew that was never going to happen unless we go out there and do it ourselves.

I set up a goal to get into the American Film Institute (AFI) in LA within 5 years. SLCC played a big part in making that happen. Some of my best friends are from SLCC.

I graduated from AFI in 2020—it was incredibly hard, it pushed me emotionally and physically. Now I'm figuring out how to survive in LA as an upcoming cinematographer, shooting commercials, music videos, short films—riding the waves as they come. My film, 'Hallelujah' got into Sundance and I'm working on another one.

"I had the realization that if I'm going to be broke, I might as well be broke doing something I love."


Keep moving forward. The second you stop is the moment you fail. You should never give up. Sooner or later, things will start to click. As far as school goes, if you need to take a break and work for a year, do that, but do it cautiously. I've seen many people never come back.

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Hailey Brohamer, SLCC AAS Diesel Systems in 2022, From Copper Hills High School

Then and Now

In 8th grade, I shadowed my dad at his job as a diesel mechanic and got to tear apart an engine with him. I decided right then that's what I'm going to do. I wanted to get a foot in the door of my career fast, so when I was 17 I started taking SLCC diesel tech classes. I gave up a lot of high school experiences, like dances, to keep up with all my classes.

Going into this field was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I've ever done. I went in with no prior mechanical knowledge or background. I don't have the same strength as some of the guys, so I have to think outside the box in finding other solutions. I've been working full-time for Wheeler Cat since my senior year in high school. I've become a lot more confident and have proved to myself that I am capable of a lot more than I think.

Right now, I'm a shop technician. I'm just learning everything I can possibly learn and investing in my toolbox by gradually adding new tools to it all the time.

"Going into this field was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I've ever done."


If you're a woman and you want a hands-on job, look into the trades. If you have determination and drive, companies will hire you in a heartbeat. Don't be intimidated because it's mostly guys. You'll be surprised how many supportive people there are if they see that you are putting in effort and are willing to get your hands dirty. Give it a try.

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Catalina Anthony, SLCC AS Biotechnology & AS Biology in 2015, From Kearns High School

Then and Now

I'm a Dreamer and I'm a scientist. I've known since I was 8 that I wanted to go into science. I started off at the U of U, but after two semesters it became financially overwhelming. I was a bit depressed, but I didn't want to stop going to school. So I figured I would get my generals at SLCC because it was more affordable and then I would go back to the U of U once I had enough money from working.

While at SLCC, I read about the biotechnology program and got really into it. The classes were small and the way the labs were set up made it easy to get to know my professors. I like to ask a lot of questions and the professors were right there. After two years at SLCC, I transferred to Utah Valley University and completed my bachelor's in biotechnology.

One of my SLCC professors connected me with a paid internship at BioFire Diagnostics—I worked there for five years. Now I'm pursuing my PhD in the U of U's Molecular, Cellular & Evolutionary Biology Program.

"Don't just quit altogether if school becomes financially overwhelming."


Don't just quit altogether if school becomes financially overwhelming. Take your education one step at a time; you don't need to finish it all in four years and it is okay to start at a community college. Initially, I thought the quality of education at SLCC wouldn't be the same as a bigger institution. I was wrong. I learned so much from my professors, and from the opportunities they helped me pursue beyond the classroom. I absorbed everything in those years—it was so worth it.

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Trung Tham, SLCC AAS Fashion Institute in 2016, From West High School

Then and Now

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to go into fashion design and work for a big fashion house, but I wasn't quite ready to leave the nest after high school. I got a pretty cool scholarship to SLCC and decided to give it a go. As a fashion design student here I took it very seriously and made it known that I wasn't messing around. My professors really nourished me.

I didn't know it then, but I was getting technical skills that would be unmatched to what I would find in Paris and New York City. When I got into the Parsons School of Design, I was ahead of the game in presenting clothes. Parsons focused on concept and thinking outside the box; I loved it and it really stretched my mind.

I always speak highly of SLCC, even in Paris and NYC. I was super proud of it—it's a hidden gem.

In NY, I fulfilled my design fashion fantasy and worked for the Peter Do fashion house. I was on a small team so I saw it all, the grunt work and the glamour. I'm now pulling my creativity in a different direction and I'm in my painting phase. I needed a break from an industry that is always go, go, go.

"I always speak highly of SLCC, even in Paris and NYC. I was super proud of it—it's a hidden gem."


Home in on something that makes you unique based on your authentic self—design is not all about following the trends. Find something you are happy with. If you are at SLCC, dive in and give it your all. You have such a support system here and a lot of creative freedom. What you will learn here is how to transform those skills into real life. I did.

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Christina Andino, SLCC AS Social Work in 2015, From West High School

Then and Now

I didn't really have plans to go to college. I was just trying to survive. I had been in the foster system since I was 13 and was living on my own at 17. It was super scary. I was thrown into adulthood and had to figure it all out at once, on my own.

I was working but not having school felt like a piece of me was missing—I had loved high school and had been super involved. I knew of SLCC because of a concurrent class I had taken. I did some research and was able to get financial aid and then some scholarships, so I could work part-time and go to college.

My first semester at SLCC was overwhelming. I failed some classes. I was intimidated and it seemed like everyone knew what they were doing. I suffered through it until I finally asked for some help. I started talking to my professors about my situation and they were pretty awesome and understanding.

I was well into 5 years at SLCC before I figured out that I wanted to be a social worker—I knew these were the people who helped me when I was a foster kid. I earned my bachelor's in social work at the U of U and eventually became a therapist in private practice.

"I didn't really have plans to go to college. I was just trying to survive."


I know you are probably scared. I promise this is not as scary as you think. You just need to take that step—reach out to an advisor and ask for help. For foster teens, check out the First Star program.

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Kristin Ashby, SLCC AAS Occupational Therapy in 2019, From Marsh Valley High School, Idaho

Then and Now

In biology class, the professor would tell the class, 'You should remember this from chemistry.' For me, chemistry was 19 years ago! It was intimidating. But the professors were really supportive. One teacher reminded me that participating means more than just being smart. He said, show up, participate and do my best. It worked out.

I had been a stay-at-home mom and knew I needed another purpose as my kids got older, so I decided to go back to school at 38 to become an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA). None of my college credits counted anymore, so it took me two years to re-do classes and take the prerequisites for the OTA program.

I figured I would just take classes while my four kids were in school. We all studied together, and they saw how hard I worked. They saw that I was human. I had to re-take anatomy but earned an A- the second time.

I first leaned about occupational therapy when my son developed a chronic disease. I looked into it more and saw I could work with children. Since graduating, I've worked at the Alpine School District and absolutely love what I do.

"I figured I would just take classes while my four kids were in school. We all studied together, and they saw how hard I worked."


Embrace being older and returning to school. And when you make study groups, make sure those young people are in your group because they are smart—and they will help you. Also, apply for scholarships even if you think you won't qualify for one. SLCC makes it simple. I only had enough savings to pay for one semester at a time but ended up getting scholarships.

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Rolando Ruano, SLCC AA Business in 2015, From Kearns High School

Then and Now

I was 33 when I decided to go back to school. I was in a dead-end job—up to that point I had worked in sales, customer service and construction. I started evening classes at SLCC, while juggling being a husband and a dad. I bombed my English class the first time around.

Most semesters, I took between 18 and 21 credits. At the beginning, I was overwhelmed and ready to quit school. I had always wanted to be an attorney, but I just couldn't see a pathway forward. Then I met Luz Gamarra, an SLCC advisor, who listened to me. She connected me to financial resources and mapped out how I could graduate from SLCC in one year and transfer to the U of U.

I also got involved in the peer-mentoring program Manos Amigas, and it really helped connect me to others. At the U of U, I finished my bachelor's in Business in 3 semesters. I felt well prepared for the upper-division classes. While there, I started studying for the LSAT and applied for law school. For money, I did remodeling during breaks and baked and sold Guatemalan pan dulce throughout the year.

Now I'm an attorney and specialize in criminal defense and immigration law.

"I had always wanted to be an attorney, but I just couldn't see a pathway forward."


If you are young, don't do what I did. It took me 13 years to get back to school. My parents were immigrants and had no idea how to help me navigate college. Find a mentor, and if you aren't sure what you want to do, just get started.

To older generations, do what I did. Just go for it. Don't let the fear of being too old hold you back. In law school, some students were on their second or third careers.

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Tashelle Wright, SLCC AAS Biology in 2014, From Murray High School

Then and Now

When I graduated high school, I was already a mom and working as a CNA with plans to become a nurse. I could have gone to a four-year school, but I just felt like I fit in more at SLCC. Plus, I was able to get childcare on campus, and the class schedule was flexible so I could continue working.

My dad, who is from Ghana, raised my sisters and I to prioritize education. He said, 'No one can take that away from you.' Neither of my parents had gone to college.

When I came to SLCC I had plenty of drive and loved learning, but I lacked confidence. I knew there was this judgment from others that as a Black, single, teen mom, I wouldn't excel. I wanted to show I could be more than a stereotype and help myself and my son move beyond where we were at.

At SLCC my mentors saw something in me that I didn't see; they really inspired me to change my trajectory. From SLCC, I became a McNair Scholar at Westminster College and went on to earn a master's and PhD in public health. Now, I'm a health equity postdoctoral researcher at the U of U School of Medicine.

"I wanted to show I could be more than a stereotype and help myself and my son move beyond where we were at."


You are your best investment. And SLCC is a cost-effective way to invest in yourself even if it is just one class at a time. It is okay if your path is not the same as others. Find mentors at work, or school or in your family. Talk to people in your dream field. Ask: How did you do it? What would you do differently? What brings you joy at work? People like to share.

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Nate Blouin, SLCC AS General Studies in 2014, From Proctor Academy, New Hampshire

Then and Now

I had dropped out of a college in Ohio and came out to Utah to ski. I didn't really see myself going back to school. I just kept thinking I'll figure it out. But some financial issues and pressure from my parents to 'ge my act together' prompted me to enroll at SLCC. It had been 5 years since I had been in college, and I was starting at ground level since my previous grades had been horrible.

At the time my attitude was, 'I don't belong here, and I don't want to be here.' That didn't last. I remember being intimidated by some of the students, who were so Intelligent and often spoke up about important issues. The classes were small and the teachers were really engaged—now, I realize how rare that is.

At first, I didn't know what I wanted to study so I just started taking different courses and worked toward a General Studies degree. Then I took some writing classes; the professors really got me interested in the power of writing. I ended up transferring, seamlessly so, into the U's Writing and Rhetoric program and earned my BS. While there, I got involved in politics and started down a path that connects to the work I do today.

In 2018, I headed to Brown University for a master's in Public Affairs. Now, I'm a Utah Democratic senator—I was elected in 2022. It is both humbling and exciting being in this new role.

"At the time my attitude was, 'I don't belong here, and I don't want to be here."


If you don't know what you want to do, take your time. Starting at SLCC is a great way to figure out what you want to do without paying four-year college prices. Take advantage of the breadth of classes and take classes that interest you, including in the trades. Just explore.

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Adam Dastrup, SLCC AS Geography and General Ed in 2000, From Granite High School

Then and Now

I started at SLCC straight out of high school because college was what you were 'supposed' to do next—though neither of my parents had gone to college. I was living with my dad, working at a burger joint and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

At SLCC, I changed my major 6 times in 5 years. I took all kinds of classes but when I took a geography class, suddenly I knew what I wanted to do. It was like I had found my compass and from that point forward I was laser focused on my path. I went on to pursue a bachelor's and then a master's degree in geography at the U of U. Before that first geography class, I thought geography was about memorizing capitals. It's actually about a sense of place.

Eventually, I started teaching at SLCC with the same professors who had taught me as a student; they were one of the reasons I came back. If you had told my friends in high school that I would be where I am now—a full professor at SLCC—they would have said, 'No way.' I was a social kid and jock in high school and not into the books. I didn't think I was smart enough to go to college.

"It was like I had found my compass and from that point forward I was laser focused on my path."


Trust your instincts and know that you can do hard things. It can take some time, but this is when you'll find your own compass. Be aware though that life can get in the way if you spend too long waiting to get an education.

While in high school, connect with people and programs that can help you prepare for college. I did it through Upward Bound but SLCC has similar programs like PACE and the Summer Bridge programs.

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Angela Brown, SLCC AAS photography Emphasis in 2000, From East High School

Then and Now

I cut my teeth at SLCC as a junior, leaving high school at lunch every day for concurrent enrollment. I was a drama kid and photo nerd who loved psychology and art history. I didn't really have many friends in high school, and I clicked with the college kids in my art classes. At 17, I just wanted to follow my own creative path and take the classes I was interested in.

I went on to run SLUG Magazine, which covers Salt Lake's underground art and music scene and community subcultures. A few years later, I started the nonprofit Craft Lake City and launched our DIY Fest as an alternative art's festival that celebrates Utah's creative community. Craft Lake City is about spotlighting local artisans, STEM makers and young entrepreneurs; it also inspires those who don't identify as creatives to seek that artist within.

Through SLCC's Miller Campus I participated in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program in 2013. It changed my life. It allowed me to see myself as a leader and gain the confidence I needed to take risks and grow my businesses.

"And don't dismiss yourself—give yourself a chance. Nine out of 10 times, you can do it."


Get as much experience as possible in classes, internships and through volunteering—even if you don't know how it is going to turn into a money-making career. Follow the areas that inspire you and make you feel alive. Work with individuals who are doing things that interest you so that you can determine if it truly is a fit for you. And don't dismiss yourself—give yourself a chance. Nine out of 10 times, you can do it.

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Glory Shekinah Stanton, SLCC AA General Studies and Pre-Med in 2014, From Syracuse High School

Then and Now

I graduated high school early and was going to take a year off but my mom said, 'Nope' and signed me up at SLCC. She wanted me to get a jump start and a feel for college classes. After a semester at SLCC, I switched to Weber State. One week in, I knew I didn't want to be there. It had this intimidating-college feel. I wanted smaller classes with professors who were easily accessible, approachable and supportive.

After I got the hang of what was expected from me academically, I got involved—older student leaders took me under their wing. After my first year, I became president of the Black Student Union. I wanted to be a doctor and went on to the U of U to earn a bachelor's in Health Promotion and Education. Then, I headed to graduate school at Vanderbilt University and earned a master's in Medicine, Health and Society with a bioethics and law focus.

Right now, I work as a clinical researcher at Meharry Medical College and I'm focused on studying for the LSAT. I want to be a lawyer and merge my knowledge of racial health disparities and the law, to close some of the equity gaps in communities of color.

"I graduated high school early and was going to take a year off but my mom said, 'Nope.'"


Allow yourself the grace to experience your journey. I fully intended to be a doctor and be married by now with kids. My aspirations changed; at first, I thought this was a failure on my part, but I found an entirely new passion. That's grace.

Be patient with yourself especially while at SLCC, where there is an extremely communal and supportive culture. It is rarely found in the places I've gone since. Take advantage of it.

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Ryan Frye, SLCC AAS Culinary Arts Institute in 2016, From Collierville High School, Tennessee

Then and Now

I was 28, living in Park City doing the ski thing, and working in restaurants.

I had tried college once before—I was on a soccer scholarship, but I partied a lot and lost it. My whole life and future was about being an athlete. Soccer was my passion. I was upset, lost and wondered, 'What am I going to do? Nothing else brings me joy.'

It took me years to find something else I cared about as much—cooking food and bringing people together. I figured if I'm going to commit myself to a career, it's got to be something I really enjoy. Maybe one day I'd open my own restaurant.

I wanted to nail something down before I turned 30. Attending SLCC's Culinary Institute was a chance to learn more but also getting a degree was something I could be proud of.

Now, I'm the executive chef at the Washington School House Hotel in Park City. My time at SLCC and all my experiences up to this point have set me up to succeed. It's added to my arsenal of knowledge, --- allowing me to move up to this chef level.

"I had tried college once before—I was on a soccer scholarship, but I partied a lot and lost it."


Cliché or not, do something you really like doing. It might take a while to find it—it did for me. Drive for a goal you want to hit and be willing to put in the hard work and sacrifice, which right now might mean giving up some fun.

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Cris Stiles, SLCC AA Communications in 2014, From Huntington Beach Union, California

Then and Now

I was supposed to be a 3rd generation Marine. The Marine Corps was supposed to be my ticket to music school. Then as a senior in high school, I was diagnosed with hemophilia so I couldn't serve in the Marines. Instead of school I focused on the California ska band I played in, and we toured around the West—it was a party scene all the time. I loved performing. I never thought I'd become a high school band teacher. Never.

According to statistics, with my background, I should have ended up dealing drugs, in prison or dead, not in college. Our band's music scene ended, and I was working in a movie theater when I decided to serve an LDS mission and was sent to Ogden.

After serving I enrolled in SLCC with plans to earn a communications degree, but my plans shifted when I spent a summer performing with SLCC's marching band and then teaching Bingham High School's marching band. After these experiences, I knew what I wanted. A few courses shy of my AA here at SLCC, I transferred to the U of U and earned a bachelor's degree in music education.

I'm now the director of bands at Mountain Ridge High School. I love my job. I get to be continuously engaged in music, be creative and around young musicians developing their talent.

"According to statistics, with my background, I should have ended up dealing drugs, in prison or dead, not in college."


Don't be afraid to take classes that challenge you. And don't avoid a class because you think it is going to be a waste of time—it just might be what sends you on a new trajectory, the one you are supposed to be on. Be open to a new path—there's not always a straight line to the things that inspire you.

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