Posted: June 28, 2014 by PJ Abode in General

Welcome to MindSpace!

MindSpace is a space committed to a meeting of minds through sharing, and by sharing we hope to form a strong sense of community that all can rely on for joy, support, and aspiration.

As a native of Santa Monica, French instructor Harriette McCauley attended schools in the Santa Monica Unified School District. After receiving an Associate of Arts degree from Santa Monica College, Harriette decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps. After leaving the Marine Corps, she attended California State University, Northridge, soon thereafter. Because of her outstanding grades, she qualified for the Dean’s List, in the Junior Year Abroad program and was chosen to attend college in Aix-en-Provence, France.

After returning home, Harriette completed her B.A. and M.A. in French/Spanish, as well as continuing her courses in Theatre Arts and the Credential Program for Secondary Education. She was offered a position at the Consulate of France, Los Angeles, honing her abilities to practice speaking, interpreting and translating French. Since then, she has been developing and teaching French classes. She teaches “Beginning Conversational French for Travelers,” Level I and Level II at SMC Community Ed.

What do you like about teaching at Community Ed?

The programs Community Ed offers, and the support I receive from Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education, and all of the staff, and the freedom I am allowed to develop and teach the classes – they have been marvelous.  And, I met Director of Career & Contract Education Michelle King and see the work she does to support the staff. I salute what they do. Just marvelous.  I see this particular class (“Beginning French for Travelers”) as being “organic.” It has structure but it unfolds according to the makeup of the attendees. Everyone is not going to Paris only, if at all. They may be visiting France or countries where French is spoken, so we focus on those things. These classes are like a “spark. There is a painting of God and Adam (“The Creation of Adam”) on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Italy that people are familiar with. As God reaches out to Adam, their hands/fingers don’t touch, but you get the sense that there is a “spark” of life between them that flows from one to the other, where the “life” of something begins. I hope my class is like that for the people who attend: a “spark.” Because each class is only for six weeks generally, I want it to “spark” the interest of those who attend to continue on in other classes where they can meet and greet other students, or immerse themselves in another language or pursue other possibilities.

What kinds of students do you have?

All kinds, all ages, all ethnicities. At SMC Community Ed, the age range has been 17 to 70’s-plus. They are either planning a trip, usually very soon after the class or they are thinking about planning a trip in the near future or they are exploring the possibility of a trip, or they are just interested in the language.

Briefly describe your year abroad studying at university in Aix? What was the name of the school/university? What was the experience like?

The California State Universities has a program they are/were involved with in Aix at L’Institut pour les Étrangers. It is a school for foreign students. Other colleges from the U.S. and other places also send their students there. There was also the Faculté des Lettres, Aix-Marseilles, which are equal to the UC campuses here. Brave students attended some of those classes and I took two classes there. I didn’t speak much, but listened a lot and learned a great deal. I was a theatre/film major here at CSUN and only picked up language as a major when I returned. So my focus was on theatre and film. We had to take the regular grammar, history, etc. classes in French, but were encouraged to take higher ed classes at the university.  My two were “Cineaste Jean Cocteau” and “Cinematic Film Phenomenon.”

Do you go to France often?

Every other year at least. I would like to make it a yearly event if I can. I go to immerse myself in the language and pick up new and current things that are happening. It changes so quickly. I usually stay with friends just outside of Paris.

What do you like about the French language?

The “drama.” It is a dramatic language (and I was a theatre/drama student in college, as well as a member of a theatre company in Hollywood). All of the nuances, the rhythms, the sounds, the linking of sounds, the structure – it is highly structured. French is “vocal gymnastics.” In my opinion, it is a “whole body experience.”

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Waking up in a “portion” of my right mind (smile).  That gives me the opportunity to make some wise choices for the day.

What is one of the best compliments you ever received?

There are so many. In recent times, two of the students in my French class at another community college went on a long trip in France. They drove and visited a lot of places, some not so much touristy. When they returned, they sent me the most marvelous compliment. They told me they were able to navigate their way through their trip with few or no problems. Without using their names, here is the compliment they sent to me:

“We are soooo happy we took your “French for Travelers” class! We understood much of what we heard and were able to use simple phrases without inducing laughter or blank looks. The trip was great – we drove about 6,000 kilometers and enjoyed the different regions with their food specialties and architecture. The people were wonderful and appreciated our attempts to speak French. Thank you!”

But there are so many like this I’ve received in the past – this was the recent one.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Rappel off the side of a mountain.

Is there any thing you would like to add?

About my year in Aix: I learned how much French I did NOT know or speak when we arrived in Nice on our way to Aix. It freaked me out! I didn’t speak much for about a month – I just nodded or shook my head, whichever was appropriate at the time, especially in the dorms. I found that when we as American students spoke in French just among us, we reinforced a lot of mistakes; we needed to have French students/people to be in the mix if we really wanted to learn. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a French family who lived in a village about 35 minutes outside of Aix. Their youngest daughter, age 13, was taking an English class and needed tutoring. No one in that family spoke English, no one (except for the eldest daughter who spoke a little British English – there is a difference; the French will tell you.). It was the best thing that ever happened for me. They actually adopted me as one of their own. I spent weekends with them, went on vacation with them, and really learned to speak the language. When/As I began to notice that I was dreaming in French at times, I realized that I had arrived. The mom in the family even complimented me on that fact just before I was to leave and come back home.

And, as a result of my time abroad, I decided to complete my studies in French, earning a B.A. and M.A. in French with a minor in Spanish. I’m still working on a degree in Theatre (it can take forever). I also was able to work at the French Consulate in Los Angeles soon after my graduation. I was in charge of visas for non-French citizens. That was a plus. It was like being back in France. This helped/inspired me in developing the “French for Travelers” class that I would later teach.

Harriette McCauley will teach Beginning Conversational French for Travelers – Level 2 beginning April 21.

Planning for the Golden Years

Posted: March 7, 2018 by Bruce Smith in General
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Paul Heising has been teaching “Passport to Retirement” at SMC Community Education since 2003. He is a partner with Moran, Heising & McElravey, LLC, an independent investment advisory and financial planning firm that specializes in investment management and retirement planning for individuals and small businesses. He has served as both a director and advisor for corporate boards and frequently speaks to groups about investing and retirement planning. In addition, he has taught business courses to graduate and undergraduate students on a part-time basis at Chapman University for the last 15 years.

First thing first, what is it you enjoy about teaching your retirement course at SMC Community Ed?

The most enjoyable part is the interaction with all the wonderful people I meet. They represent all ages and all walks of life. The common element is that they are interested in planning for their retirement and committed to taking steps to achieve their goals. My commitment to them is that the class is 100% focused on helping them understand the things that can help them retire successfully and help them navigate through the myriad of choices they have.

Is there anything you’d like to add about the retirement course you teach?

My class is an educational class that covers a broad number of important retirement planning issues. My specialty is in Investment Management and Retirement Planning. My focus in class is an academic focus rather than a Wall Street focus. There is no sales pitch or sales focus in the class. It is purely educational.

What is the average age of your clients when they first come to see you?

I have clients spanning all age groups.  Some are in their 20’s and 30’s, some in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s or older. Each client has different goals and needs and it is my job to help them pursue their goals of retiring successfully.

What are some of their most common issues?

The most common issues for 20 and 30-year-olds are to pay down student loan debt, save for a down payment on a home, and to begin saving and investing. The most common issues for older clients who are working and saving for eventual retirement is to understand at what age they can plan to retire so they won’t run out of money and to invest with the least amount of risk in order to pursue their retirement goals successfully.

The last thing on young people’s minds is retirement and many of them are struggling with college loan debt and the high cost of living in places such as Los Angeles. How can they put aside money for retirement?

There are always good reasons to procrastinate since there never is a ‘right time’ to save and invest. Many reasons are very real and understandable. This is especially true given the more immediate need for younger adults to pay off student loans, save for a down payment on a home or spend necessary funds to raise a family. Still, the key is to live below your means and begin to save something, even a small amount while they are paying down their student loans or saving for a home. One great way is to invest in the company retirement plan (like a 401-k or 403-b), where you defer a portion of your salary into investments that can grow significantly over time*. Sometimes employers provide a match to an employee’s salary deferral that can help the retirement plan grow even more significantly.

Is there a fear among all age groups, but particularly young people, that they will lose Social Security? If so, how does that tie into retirement planning?

While no one really knows how the Social Security system might change in future years, it has changed a number of times since it started in 1935 and will like change in future years, too. The best way to factor the possibility of a reduced or even the elimination of future Social Security benefits is to plan as if it may not be a benefit in the first place. Unfortunately, this may mean that someone may have to plan to delay their retirement or save even more.

All investments involve risk, including loss of principal. The hypothetical investment results are for illustrative purposes only and should not be deemed a representation of past or future results. Actual investment results may be more or less than those shown. This does not represent any specific product or service.  Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Why Should I Take Guitar II?

Posted: February 13, 2018 by Bruce Smith in General
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By Peter Risi, SMC Community Ed Guitar Instructor

People often ask me:

What should I do to continue my guitar playing after taking the Beginning Guitar class?

An easy obvious answer is to take Guitar II. This class is a continuation of the Beginning Guitar class offered at SMC Guitar II with a little looser guidelines. We cover some standard fundamentals in Guitar II that resume where we left off, however there is a little more flexibility open to what the general consensus of students’ interests are. Based on previous classes, the likelihood is there will be some additional note reading, scales, some deeper into chords, strumming, songs, and more.

I already know the essentials on guitar so why take Guitar II?

Guitar II can be considered a next step after the intro Beginning Guitar class level. It can also be thought of as a way for anyone who knows some basics or has been self taught that wants to advance their playing.


Another big reason is that sometimes people just need the discipline to help keep them motivated to continue playing. The only way to improve is to keep practicing, and sometimes the commitment of showing up each week for six weeks can be just what is needed to get over the hump to stay engaged to progress.

Peter Risi

Why bother taking the Guitar II class? Practicing is too much work!

The most important thing is to understand that we play the guitar for our own personal reasons. Some people play for a creative outlet, some because it helps them to relax, others for sheer enjoyment and pleasure, while others because they are more serious about learning. The main thing to understand is that guitar playing is supposed to be fun! This is a low-pressure class that allows you to put in as much effort as you can without overloading yourself. The only thing to be aware of is that you only get out of it what effort you put in — so the pressure will only be what you put on yourself. The attitude should be that you are there to get as much out of the class as you can while attending.

Peter Risi has been playing the guitar for over 35 years and has a Bachelor’s degree in music from Mercy College in New York. He’s also a professional musician with writing, performing, teaching and recording experience. You can hear some of Pete’s original music at Reverbnation and iTunes.

He will teach Beginning Guitar starting Feb. 24 and Guitar II starting Feb. 20.

SMC Extension/Community Education’s exciting new fashion program taps into a vibrant national industry that contributes billions of dollars to the economy each year in both the nation and in Los Angeles, the second largest fashion center in the U.S.

LA Mode 2016, SMC’s annual student fashion show

And one aspect of this important economic sector is that U.S.-based fashion manufacturing benefits from new trends in the retail industry, which often demand small-batch, fast-turnaround products to meet fast changing consumer tastes. U.S. production allows for a product to be conceived of and produced in weeks.

But to ensure the quick turnaround, it’s important to have an efficient Fashion Tech Pack – one of the courses being offered by Extension/Community Ed – set in place for ease of production and accuracy of the products being made.

“In 2015 alone, consumers spent nearly $380 billion on apparel and footwear,” according to a report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. “The industry, which encompasses everything from textile and apparel brands to wholesalers, importers and retailers, employs more than 1.8 million people in the United States. It relies on workers in a wide range of occupations, including fashion designers, market research analysts, computer systems developers, patternmakers, sewing machine operators and wholesale buyers.

Models in designs for LA Mode 2017, SMC’s annual student fashion show

The fashion industry is particularly important in Los Angeles. The Congressional report notes that the “Los Angeles area employs more than 99,000 people within the apparel, textile and wholesale industries, and the textile, and apparel industries pay almost $7 billion in wages to workers in the region.

“The Los Angeles area employs about one-quarter of all of the fashion designers in the United States,” the report continues. “Local apparel companies earn almost $18 billion in revenue in Los Angeles. As a sign of how far Los Angeles has come, in 2012 Saint Laurent moved its main design studios from Paris to Los Angeles. Recently Saint Laurent even presented its fall 2016 men’s and pre-fall 2016 women’s collections in Los Angeles.”

For students of fashion design, learning how to create a Tech Pack is a must, says La Tanya Louis, who teaches the class and is also the producer to SMC’s widely praised LA Mode, the annual student fashion show. It is a vital tool used in today’s apparel manufacturing industry to provide the critical blueprint necessary to mass-produce a garment according to modern standards and technology, she says.

La Tanya Louis, 3rd from left, with SMC student production team for LA Mode

Louis notes that the class is also useful for those already in the industry who want to upgrade their skills and for those who are re-entering the field after taking a break. It’s also a needed skill for entrepreneurs who want to start their own clothing line, which requires the understanding of how to communicate the production process with manufacturers.

And the advantage of being a designer and entrepreneur in the City of Angels? Says Louis, “It’s easier to enter the industry in L.A. than New York. New York has more hierarchy or has a more well established pecking order, because it’s the fashion capital of the U.S. And there’s more freedom to let your creativity blossom in L.A.”

It’s all about the rice.

“I really do believe the reason people start to like sushi is the rice, not the fish,” says SMC Community Ed instructor Nikki Gilbert, aka The Sushi Girl. The secret to good sushi is the subtly vinegared rice, she posits.

And Gilbert reveals her secrets when teaching classes or hosting sushi making parties. And when she caters meals, her diners might not know the secrets of her cuisine, but they like what they taste.

Gilbert has the perfect resume for sushi chef and teacher. A native of Venice, she stumbled upon a passion for Japanese food in her teens while working at Mikasa, a favorite restaurant from her childhood.

She moved on to college, first at SMC and later at UC Berkeley, and took her enthusiasm for all food things Japanese and talked her way into a job as the only non-Japanese speaking employee at a sushi bar in Berkeley. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Ethnic Studies, she moved to Kitakyushu City, Japan where she was hired by the prestigious Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme, which is aimed at promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations. She found a home away from home in a local yakitori (a Japanese type of skewered chicken) bar and spent three years “soaking up every ounce of Japanese culture possible,” she says.

Through Sushi Girl®, Gilbert has taught ten of thousands of people to make sushi for themselves, including some of the world’s most famous celebrities. She has worked and trained in sushi bars in both the U.S. and Japan, including the renowned Masazushi in Otaru. She speaks enough Japanese to get by and says she likes to go to Japan about once a year.

Gilbert is something of a purist when it comes to sushi – she makes it light and simple and fresh.

What are some of the trends in sushi making?

There are always things that surprise me – like putting wasabi on sushi as if it’s frosting and then ginger and soy. Others have created southeast or Latin flavors. And then there are sushi burritos, but you’re missing all the subtleties.

Is sushi making an art?

I know some people think it’s an art, but for all foods, presentation is the art. I like practicality with design, function with form. In other words, I like all presentation to enhance the taste of the food, not the artistic expression of the food as still life.

What is one of the main fallacies about making sushi?

That you have to make rice for 10 years before you can touch fish.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Netflix & a couch

What is one of the best compliments you ever received?

That I make the best sushi rice.

What was the last picture you took with your phone?

People decorating the Rose Parade floats.

What book(s) are on your nightstand now?

“The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg”

Nikki Gilbert will teach a three-hour workshop, “Sensational Sushi – Level 1,” on March 3.

SMC Community Ed is excited to announce that it is offering a new photography class this winter, Lifestyle Portraits, and the very talented Steve Anderson will be teaching it. The course begins this Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018.

A lifestyle portrait by Steve Anderson

In the early years at his studio, Steve’s photography included a blend of food, high tech, medical and people with clients like Taco Bell, Gateway Computers, and Beckman. However, Steve’s love of photographing people eventually evolved into his specialty and the focus of his work. Currently Steve shoots editorial and lifestyle portraits of people, public figures and personalities.

Steve, who graduated with honors from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, says photographing people is his life’s passion.

“I am fascinated by the human expression, changing with every fleeting thought,” he says.

What exactly is Lifestyle Portraiture?

Photographing people in their everyday life surroundings. It’s a single photograph that tells a big story through small details that the viewer “discovers.”

A lifestyle portrait by Steve Anderson

You say in your description of the class that art directors and magazine editors are on the lookout for lifestyle images with a clear story and compelling visual uniqueness. Can you elaborate? What kinds of magazines?

Every magazine today is looking for compelling stories. For example, food magazines want to see images that, say, capture the lifestyle of that small cottage-style life in Portugal overlooking the citrus trees that flavor the hanging prosciutto while old men play checkers and paella is cooked over an open flame.

Steve Anderson 

Who are some famous photographers known for their Lifestyle Portraits? Henri Cartier-Bresson, Annie Leibovitz, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus?

Leibovitz being the exception, I wouldn’t say these other photographers are lifestyle photographers in today’s context. Theirs are great images of life from a long time ago.

The lifestyle image today has a huge commercial application – like seeing a group of young men and women in a cornfield enjoying the sunset and a beer. It represents a life (style) that a commercial brand can connect itself with to sell its product. This is why it is the most sought-after type of image today. Those who are famous to the general audience are the preferred image-makers for advertising agencies. For example, I like the work of Andy Anderson, who has big name clients.

A lifestyle portrait by Steve Anderson

Looking at your website, it appears photography has taken you all over the world. Can you briefly expand on that?

I’ve been fortunate to travel the states and few countries for several clients. 2014 was especially notable as I went to Kenya for a month shooting for Lewa House safaris, Lamu board of tourism (small Kenyan island), a Kenyan cheese farm tucked away into the foothills north of Nairobi, a bakery and an all-natural health store in a city mall.

The travel gigs aren’t always so glamorous, budgets are getting smaller and clients expect more. For example, the last time I flew to Maui for an Aqualung job, we landed at noon (9 a.m. California time), got on a boat and started shooting on the boat, in the water and at several beaches. We didn’t stop until the light was gone at about 8 p.m. In the dark we headed back to check into the hotel, have a meal and sleep six hours. At first light we got back on the boat and repeated until early afternoon, then dashed to the car rental return and flew home. Total time on the island was less than 30 hours, but I got amazing photos and that’s why I do it.

Lifestyle Portraits will start January 6, 2018. Register now to reserve your spot in this very unique first-time offering.

Roberta Wolin-Tupas has loved her long and distinguished career as a dancer, choreographer and instructor, but is particularly fired up about her latest project that has Santa Monica College students teaching elementary school children not only to dance but also to dance their curriculum.

Roberta Wolin-Tupas with Daniel Jimerson performing with R Dance Co.

SMC students who have completed The Teaching of Dance for Children certificate – a combination of Dance, Early Childhood Education and Psychology classes – do an internship at SMASH (Santa Monica Alternative School House) in Santa Monica. With the help and guidance of SMC Dance Department chair Judith Douglas, Wolin-Tupas, an adjunct dance professor on the main SMC campus and a modern dance instructor with SMC Community Education, created the program.

“SMASH is a progressive elementary school that encourages creativity and gives a lot of special attention to its students,” Wolin-Tupas said.

Recently, seven SMC student teachers were brought into the school to work with children in Kindergarten through second grades to help the youngsters dance based on subjects they have learned as well as introduce them to a variety of dance styles including modern, jazz, ballet, and Folklorico.

“The children dance every possible subject you can think of, from the solar system to life under the sea to history, art, literature and more,” Wolin-Tupas said. “In dancing, the learning of the subject is enhanced.

“The program was a complete success and SMASH has asked us to come back,” she added.

“I am thrilled at the success of our dance teacher certificate program that Roberta Wolin-Tupas created and leads,” said Dance Department Chair Douglas. “Roberta’s combination of expertise, patience and dedication is the recipe for her success. The SMC Dance Department is pleased to see this pathway to success starting with our teaching dance at SMASH to teaching over 580 fifth grade students for the entire Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.”

Roberta Wolin-Tupas

Wolin-Tupas, a professional in the field of dance for over 40 years, has a B.A. in Literature from Reed College and M.A. in Choreography and Performance from UCLA. From 1999 to 2007, she was Producer of Marian Scott’s Spirit Dances series and was nominated for two Lester Horton Awards for Outstanding Production.

She is co-artistic director of R Dance Company and has created a large body of original, critically acclaimed modern dance works. Her choreography has been presented at Bergamot Station, Broad Stage, Highway Performance Space, Miles Playhouse, UCLA, Wilshire Ebell, California Choreographers Festival, Brand Library Modern Dance Series, and L.A. Open Festival.

Roberta Wolin-Tupas with Robert Whidbee performing with R Dance Co.

She served as co-artistic director of SMC’s Synapse Dance Theater and has presented choreography at American College Dance Association festivals. She was a faculty member at California State University, Los Angeles for 15 years and continues to teach at Glendale College, as well as SMC.

Wolin-Tupas said she is proud of her SMC students who completed their internships at SMASH. “They all do amazing and creative work with the children,” she said, “which include dance improvisations to stories, poems, songs and more. I couldn’t be happier.”

Roberta Wolin-Tupas will teach Beginning Modern Dance at SMC Community Education starting Jan. 2.

Watercolor painting instructor Tony Tran epitomizes the immigrant success story – and then some. Fleeing with his family at the age of 11 from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in a harrowing escape, Tran and his family landed six weeks later in a small town in Northern Indiana where they would start a new life.

Tran would go on to adjust quickly to life in America, be chosen as the Valedictorian of his high school, and earn a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and Art History at Stanford University and a Master of Architecture degree at UCLA. He is now an architect, planner, artist, illustrator and teacher. He also plays the violin and performs in orchestra concerts with his son Thllan, also a violinist.

The following is an Tony’s account of his life as a refugee from childhood to now. You can also read an account by Tony’s parents of life in Vietnam, their escape from Vietnam and subsequent arrival in Indiana.

By Tony Tran

When my family arrived in the U.S. in the summer of 1975, we started our new lives in the small town of Mishawaka, Indiana. This quiet, suburban town in the Midwest had a totally different character from my former hometown in Viet Nam, Saigon, which was a bustling, noisy place full of energy and excitement. I was 11 years old, my brother Phong, 10, and our sister Thao, 3.

Tony Tran as a baby with his parents in Banmethuot, a small community in the Vietnam (1965).

Being 11 was a pivotal age and a critical factor in my development and experience of living in the new county. I was old enough to still remember a lot of Viet Nam, and retain its culture and language, but young enough to be able to assimilate and adapt to my new society without many problems.

Not surprisingly, learning English was a big concern at first. My brother Phong and I took English classes with a tutor during the summer of 1975 before starting school. I started 6th grade that fall. I was the only Vietnamese kid in school, so I learned English quickly. That first winter was very severe, with record breaking snows and blizzards – quite a shock for us coming from the tropical, humid climate of South-east Asia. I remember how hard it was for us to wake up early to go catch the school bus when it was freezing cold and still dark outside, and how happy we were on some mornings finding out on the radio that school was closed due to snow conditions.

Socially, my adolescent teen age years had its share of ups and downs, some of which were normal and typical for all confused teenagers all around the world, while others were compounded by the fact that I was from Viet Nam, and therefore “different” at the onset, no matter how hard I tried to become “American.”

Academically, I did quite well, eventually becoming valedictorian for my high school class. Television, books and movies also helped in my smooth transition, as did my interest in popular music. When I was 16 years old, I attended a powerful, 4 hour long Bruce Springsteen rock concert at Notre Dame University in South Bend. That inspiring concert has been one of the central moments of my life, and I have remained a life-long fan of this artist’s work.

My experience was largely determined by my age, and where we lived in the U.S. Since there were so few Vietnamese people in Indiana at that time, I went through a period of very rapid assimilation and Americanization during my middle school and high school years.

After our family moved to San Diego, California, and I began university at Stanford and later in graduate school at UCLA, I started to rediscover and explore my Vietnamese roots. The fact that there is a large Vietnamese community in California – indeed, the largest outside Viet Nam – helped me in the process of reclaiming my native heritage. Probably being more mature also had something to do with it. My rediscovery of my Vietnamese roots came full circle when I came back to Viet Nam to marry my wife Trang (Emily).

After attending Stanford and UCLA where I earned a Master’s degree in Architecture, I began to work at the firm of Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners (MRY) based in Santa Monica, in 1990. One of my favorite local buildings is the Santa Monica Public Library, designed by MRY. Currently I am Project Architect at the firm of Egan Simon Architecture (ESA) in Playa del Rey, working on diverse interesting projects, many of which are in the public sector including affordable housing for families, housing for seniors and the homeless, and several projects for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

A watercolor painting of St. Monica’s Church in Santa Monica, by Tony Tran. 

I am lucky to have been able to find a career that combines several of my passions – drawing, illustration, art, history, urban design, travel, work cultures, the environment. In 2006, I successfully became a licensed architect in California, and afterwards, joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA). My younger brother and sister have also achieved successful, fulfilling lives and careers in their adopted homeland. Phong attended UC Berkeley and worked for the Red Cross in India. He is now working at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Thao has followed her interest in fashion design and is now co-partner of a highly regarded firm based in Los Angeles.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had such a rich, cross-cultural experience. Psychologically and emotionally, I am now comfortable being both Vietnamese and American, and can easily switch back and forth between these spheres. In December 2006, we took our 7- year old son Thilan back on a memorable trip to all 3 regions in Viet Nam (North, Central and South), and in October 2007, I took him to his first rock concert – performed by Bruce Springsteen. So I hope that my son would also learn to appreciate and be able to put his unique, diverse background to positive and meaningful. I wonder how similar or typical my family’s refugee experience has been compared to those other immigrants of our generation.

November 10, 2007, updated on December 3, 2017
Tony Tran, AIA


Watercolor painting instructor Tony Tran epitomizes the immigrant success story – and then some. Fleeing with his family at the age of 11 from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in a harrowing escape, Tran and his family landed six weeks later in a small town in Northern Indiana where they would start a new life.

Tran would go on to adjust quickly to life in America, be chosen as the Valedictorian of his high school, and earn a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and Art History at Stanford University and a Master of Architecture degree at UCLA. He is now an architect, planner, artist, illustrator and teacher. He also plays the violin and performs in orchestra concerts with his son Thllan, also a violinist.

The following is an account by Tony’s parents of life in Vietnam, their escape from Vietnam and subsequent arrival in Indiana. In the account, Tony Tran is referred to by his Vietnamese name, Duy Hung (or Hung).

By Ton Tran and Binh Nhung Tran

Reflecting on the past 30 years away from the country, we cannot ignore the milestones that have punctuated our lives, from earlier events occurring in a small town in Central Vietnam, to our arrival in Indiana and subsequently California in the USA.


In 1965, Dr. Ton was serving as Chief Surgeon at the Military Hospital in Ban Me Thuot (BMT), a town in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, where he was also responsible for the surgery department at the Civilian Hospital. On a beautiful Sunday in the spring of that year, the weather was quite crisp in Dalat, the famous vacationing town about 300 km from Saigon. Binh Nhung and our 15-month old son Duy Hung were cuddled up on a bench outside the hotel with the baby’s grandmother who had visited them from Saigon. The plan was for Dr. Ton to meet everyone in Dalat for the week-end and then take the little family back to BMT. On the expected day, however, Ton could not come. His trip was delayed by a few days. Imagine our shock upon learning the horrendous news! The most nightmarish carnage had occurred at the site of the only night club in this highland town. Attacking with two grenades, a youth had infiltrated into the establishment on a suicide operation. It was the longest two days of their lives for Dr Ton and Dr Thuyen, the two young surgeons in town, who had to work with limited resources in a small hospital in attempting to save as many victims as possible.

While in Banmethuot, visiting a small community in the Highlands, with Binh Nhung and Ton holding Duy Hung (1965).

Earlier on that evening, Ton had been invited to dinner with other physicians and close friends at the residence of Mr. and Mrs.V. G. Nghia. Their home was a familiar gathering spot for health professionals during their military service in BMT. Mrs. Nghia was an excellent cook who frequently served French and Vietnamese delicacies to the group of friends, many of whom were away from their families. After dinner, everyone had planned to go to the night club to listen to a special music program being performed that evening. However, while sipping tea, Ton received a call to go to the Civilian hospital for an emergency case. The patient turned out to have stomach perforation and needed to have an operation.

When he finished the case, around 9:00 PM, there was a huge detonation in the town, and immediately after, the hospital was inundated by an endless stream of ambulances, private cars and all sorts of vehicles transporting wounded people. Loads of casualties were carried in, and people arrived from all over town to inquire on the whereabouts of friends and acquaintances. This was the first time such devastation had occurred in the town. Bodies in all states of injuries were laid in every available space. Ton worked without respite for two days, taking only a few bites of food here and there. He did not have time to shave, staying at the hospital all through that period. Dr Thuyen, the other surgeon, operated in the adjoining room under the same conditions.

Dr N. H. Tin, Director of the Military Hospital, and other medical staff were also called in to help. Dr. Hien and Dr. Phac from the Medicine department worked hard to accommodate the newly admitted victims. All the rooms were utilized to capacity. Patients in stable condition were transferred to other units or discharged to save the place for more critical cases. Dr. T. T. Niem, Director at the Civilian Hospital, was much distressed by the circumstances. Even so, he managed to do the triage of the civilian patients, and graciously provided food for the physicians and staff who worked without rest. The most serious cases—especially the penetrating head wounds and eye perforations due to shrapnel—were transported to Cong Hoa General Hospital in Saigon by helicopter. Many persons suffering severe wounds expired before ever reaching the hospital. Sadly, a military physician who worked in the military unit nearby was severely wounded at the chest, and in spite of intense resuscitation and transfusion, expired shortly after. Among the civilian victims that we knew, the son of a coffee plantation owner died on the spot. A friend known from high school, Major D. C. Thanh, suffered an opened wound on the abdomen from a piece of grenade. Another classmate, Captain N. D. Tam, had a knee crushed almost completely. Both were operated that night by Dr. Ton. Ten years later, during a class reunion at Mr. Thanh’s home, the two friends were still grateful to Ton for having saved their lives. There were so many casualties in that little town that the repercussions lingered for a long time after the tragic event.

In front of the operating room of the Ban Me Thuot Military Hospital, Dr. Ton (3rd from left) standing next to Dr, Thuyen (1963).

After the work was over, Dr Ton needed to take a few days off, and finally joined his family in Dalat. Dr. Thuyen covered the hospital during his leave, as he has done on other occasions.

If we did not experience these harsh situations, we would not have been able to appreciate the full value of life. If something had happened to the physicians in that town, who would take care of the patients and residents in the community? How could a 14, 15 year-old youth commit such a far reaching act of violence? What was the motive behind these acts of terrorism? There were many components of the powerful will factor that we cannot understand—similar to what is going in Iraq nowadays.

It is amazing that we still remember these cases after 40 years, like a movie playing backward. In 1967, Ton was transferred to the Cong Hoa Central Military Hospital where he worked in General Surgery with Dr. T. M. Tien, Department Head. Three years later, he was selected as a Pediatrics faculty member of the Saigon University Medical School. For post-graduate training, he got a fellowship to study Pediatric Neurology at the Children’s Medical Center of Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas, Texas. Back in Saigon in 1973, Ton worked at the Children’s Hospital (Benh vien Nhi Dong) until 1975.

Those were all important milestones in our life—but the most important one was leaving Vietnam in a critical time of history.


During the last days before the Fall of Saigon, there were many plans for our family to leave the city. Yet, none seemed to work, until April 28, 1975 when there was a phone call from a relative in the family. This nephew was accepted by his American co-workers to be air-lifted from the city’s Tan Son Nhut airport along with his “immediate family.” Needless to say, Ton had to look like his father as much as possible, and Binh Nhung, as his mother. This was the only way to escape.

On that morning, we rushed to the airport, carrying two small suitcases for the whole family. By this time, our family has grown to include two sons, Hung (11) and Phong (10), and a daughter, Thao (3 ½). Among the items we brought were a lot of cash money in case we needed to pave the way.

We stood in a long line in order to have our papers processed. When our turn came, it was late in the day. All the full planes departing safely to land at Subic Bay in the Philippines had already gone. The airport was crowded by people of all categories. We waited anxiously inside the bowling room, along the alleys where people sat or lay down haphazardly. The restrooms had been flooded by many days of over-usage.

That night, time went by slowly. Now and then, we listened to several distant gunshots and artillery salvoes. Suddenly, we heard a call: “Everybody to the trench!” Adults and children rushed from the bowling room into the ditch outside just as the airport was rocked by a tremendous, deafening explosion. Boom! As we covered our heads in the foul-smelling ditch, we thought that the world is crumbling around us. The airport had been severely damaged by artillery shelling. Many people were wounded and some were killed.

On April 29th, the last day before the fall of Saigon, the morning was very bleak. The large C-130 commercial planes were no longer able to land on the unusable runway. A dead silence weighed on all who remained on the premises. Staying was like jumping into the fire-pit. Should we go back home, or stay and wait for the unknown? Half of the people around us left to try other escape routes, by land or sea. We decided to persevere and stay together as a family on the spot, facing destiny, hoping to be rescued by helicopters. While waiting, as the excruciating hours passed by, we saw looters holding sacks lolling around, looking for foods and staples to take from the pantry shelves and storage areas.

As the sun began fading in the tense atmosphere, we suddenly heard the sound of revolving propellers, gradually getting louder—the helicopters appeared on the horizon. Everybody rejoiced at the thought of being rescued soon. We were happy to welcome the saviors after two long days of agonized waiting. However, our jubilation turned to dismay when many shots were fired from the ground up at the helicopters. “They are coming!” we thought. The truth was that some 100 South Vietnamese army paratroopers wanted to be air-lifted first, before the civilians. Anyway, the matter was settled by the American squadron calling for reinforcements: a contingent of U.S. Marines soon arrived to surround and disarm the insurgents. After two more hours had passed in order to control the situation, we were finally allowed to board the huge “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter at sunset. Not knowing what to take and what to leave behind, since each one can only bring a small suitcase, many persons had abandoned their luggage, which was thrown all over the runway, opened with contents strewn on the wayside. We had to run to the chopper, our children staying closely by us, shielding our faces from the whipping gusts blown by the helicopter propellers. As the sun set on that unforgettable day, the laden craft rose and made its way to the Pacific Ocean. We looked out of the open helicopter hatch to catch a last view of our beloved city, not knowing if we would ever return, while flames from fire arms glowed on the darkening sky.

We landed on a big helicopter carrier of the U.S. 7th fleet stationed off the coast. Everyone was relieved after taking a shower and resting for the first time after 48 hours. However, at midnight, there was an order to transfer all of the evacuees to a merchant ship via swaying barges. For security reasons, the operation was carried in complete darkness. When it was time for us to be hauled up the cargo ship, we heard warnings from those already aboard, such as: “Don’t climb up here. There is no more room! ” and “We want to go home.” We had to handle little Thao to an assisting military staff person on a narrow ladder on the side of the ship, before we could totter up this ladder ourselves to reach the deck. One by one, the family was pulled aboard the ship with our belongings, minus a suitcase that contained all our important documents and diplomas, along with clothes. This loss cost us many hours of worries and efforts to find ways to validate our credentials later when looking for jobs in the U.S.A., when applying to the Board of Medical Examiners and the Board of Pharmacy.

We waited for departure, but the ship carrying 8,000 people was anchored in one place. It rained all day on the 30th. When we did move in the next days, at some point, we thought that the vessel was returning to Viet Nam. We stayed seven days in our little corner on the crowded deck, in rain and shine, as the merchant ship made its journey through the Philippines toward Guam. When the ship swayed, all the drainages from the makeshift toilets converged to our side of the boat.   A long line was formed at meal times, for rice sprinkled with bits of canned tuna fish. For breakfast, we received our first-ever samples of General Mills’ Lucky Charms and Cheerios cereal, in little colorful boxes. Under the stars, somebody played the harmonica, while on the lower deck, a dead body was returned to the sea. Previous disagreements were also terminated this way, by eliminating the opponent.

We arrived in Guam Island at 6AM on May 7th, and stayed at the Orote refugee camp to have our identification papers processed. To this date, we still have the little 1974 notebook with our Alien numbers recorded as an A followed by the same string of six digits for everyone in the family. Only the last two digits were different. In that notebook were also inscribed the addresses and phone numbers of contacts in the U.S. written by family members before we left, as well as the locations of new friends encountered at the camp. We sat on the lawn, filling out long surveys from behavioral scientists for use in later studies. Days were spent waiting at meal lines in 95 degree heat, while Binh Nhung cared for little Thao who got severe diarrhea, and Ton volunteered at the first aid station. Little did we know that Guam Island was the honeymoon site for many Japanese vacationers at the time.

After four days, we were moved to the more “upscale” Asan Annex, where Hung and Phong could explore marine life at the seashore, and watch outdoor movies in the evening. Twelve days later, we were transferred to Anderson airbase camp, in preparation to depart for the U.S.

On May 26, 1975, we boarded the Pan Am 707 to Honolulu, thanks to the Catholic Charities which processed all our papers. Our first landing in California, was in El Toro, 40 miles from Los Angeles; then, a bus drove us to Camp Pendleton in Southern California. During that drive, many passengers wished that they could take a detour and visit Disneyland! We were distributed jackets with linings for protection from the cold weather. In early June, it was cold at night under the tent in the mountains. The food from the mess line was plentiful, with oranges and apples as options for each meal.

The children attended English classes during the day, reading on the history of California and America. Although life was bearable, all we wanted at that juncture was to get out of the camp. One by one, camp residents left to join their sponsors’ families. We were very happy to receive a sponsorship notification from Ton’s nephew Khiet Dao and his family living in Mishawaka, Indiana.

On June 10, 1975, 40 days after leaving Saigon, we boarded a United Airlines jet bound for Chicago, and then transferred to South Bend, a medium-sized town in Indiana with a population of 130,000. Khiet welcomed us at the airport in South Bend, and then drove us to their townhouse in Mishawaka, the twin-city named after an Indian princess. His wife Hang, and children Charles and Cynthia were staying in one room, leaving the other room for our family. The first night in the Carriage House complex marked the end of our six-week voyage around half the globe across the Pacific Ocean and half of the U.S. We have reached the most crucial milestone in our lives. From then on, the future was in our hands.

Our story was only one among thousands in history and related to war. Another striking episode was experienced by one of our physician friends. Along with a dozen people on a small boat, he left the country with his son. During the most dangerous and harrowing journey imaginable, all perished except three. Our friend hung onto a board for survival, without food or water for several days. Nothing could be more unbearable than seeing your child dying helplessly in front of your eyes. Another classmate’s son lost his sight during the ordeal due to lack of medical care. We learned that thousands of “boat people” perished on the seas during their escape. To reach the shore safely was a miracle in many cases.

For our family, that very first voyage out of our native country was also the most important event in our lives. Viet Nam is the destination of our next planned family trip to revisit the country and witness its major changes over this time.

Recorded from memory by Ton Tran and Binh Nhung Tran, San Diego, February 10, 2006

(Next blog entry: Tony Tran adjusts to life in America.)

By Michelle King, Director of Career & Contract Education

With Thanksgiving just two days away, it’s a good time to reflect on Community Education’s year thus far – and pause to give thanks to:

1. Our dedicated students who look to our program semester after semester for their lifelong learning needs.

2. Our wonderful instructors who have stayed with us through thick and thin, and weathered this year’s tremendous challenges.

We are thankful for our dedicated instructors and students, in this case Ed Mangus with a photography student.

3. Our incredible Program Coordinator. Alice Meyering, whose perseverance in the face of adversities ensured our program continues for our beloved community.

4. Our new programs, such as 3D printing, continue to succeed and to be valued by our students.

5. The continued support of the Dean of Workforce and Economic Development Patricia G. Ramos, Ed.D.

Patricia G. Ramos

6. Our community partners, AUMT, Ed2Go and SimpliLearn, whose partnership has allowed us to expand career-training opportunities.

7. Our Web Designer, PJ Abode, who has taken a personal interest in renewed efforts to promote Ed2Go, our online class offerings. His dedication to this goal has paid off handsomely in record registration numbers.

8. Our bright and energetic student workers who help us operate effectively.

9. Our Vice President of Academic Affairs Georgia Lorenz, who listens to our requests and makes efforts to strengthen and support the program.

10. The SMC Board of Trustees, whose members consistently express their appreciation of Community Ed and who actively promote “Lifelong Learning” throughout the community.