Eleanor Schrader is a design, architecture and art historian and expert who has a large and loyal following for her lectures, classes & worldwide tours. And this summer her illustrated design lecture series will continue at SMC Community Ed with a topic that is somewhat new to her audiences: “Treasures of Asian Decorative Arts.” This is scheduled for July 14.

Typically, she lectures and leads tours on European and American design, but the twist on this lecture is that she wants to show cross-cultural influences.

“I’m particularly interested in highlighting Asian influences on Western culture,” Schrader says. “In the 1660s, Chinese emissaries came to Louis XIV’s court, and the French fell in love with Asian art and design. They’d never seen anything like it.”

Even after World War II, she said, the West has been fascinated with Asian design and art. For example, she said, Western culture tended to flesh out the female body, but Asians depicted the human figure in a flat way. Westerners were also intrigued by Asians’ use of lacquer.

Eleanor will explore the rich aesthetics of Asian design within the cultural histories in which they were created. She says her audience will find out about the decorative arts of China, Japan, India, and Korea, and the richness and variety of materials and techniques used by the artists and craftspeople.

Schrader has been giving design lectures at SMC Community Ed for two years, and for five years before that at SMC.

She is an award-winning educator, lecturer, writer, and historical design consultant. She lectures worldwide on the history of furniture, decorative arts, architecture, and interiors and leads art and architecture tours throughout the world.

She has been named a Distinguished Instructor at UCLA Extension, where she teaches history of architecture, interior design, furniture, and decorative arts. She is also Professor Emeritus of Art and Architectural History at SMC.

Her design tours, most recently through Meetup.com, have gone to such destinations as the Stahl House, Guasti Villa, and the Fenyes Mansion in Pasadena.

Eleanor Schrader with tour group at the Queen Mary in Long Beach

She has done graduate work in fine and decorative arts at Sotheby’s Institute in London and New York and has served as a Design Review Commissioner for the City of Beverly Hills. She hosted a radio show on Voice America Internet radio called “Dishing the Dirt on Design.” She has served on the Board of Directors of the Beverly Hills Historical Society, Beverly Hills Heritage, the Malibu Adamson House Foundation, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House Foundation, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the John Lautner Foundation.

Eleanor Schrader will present the lecture “Treasures of Asian Decorative Arts” on July 14.

By Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education

We’re excited to announce the three finalists for our Fourth Annual Photo Contest — and YOU get the opportunity to choose the winner by voting at this link to your ballot. Voting continues until noon Tuesday, June 5, with the winner and runners-up announced shortly thereafter.

David Clancy’s “Rude Boy Rose”

Once again we are so pleased to have received 150 submissions this year, and we thank all 34 participants for sharing with us their best visions in their worlds. As we launch into public voting for the winning photo, we ask our faithful readers to make this a blowout year for us in participating in the voting process and let us know what you would like to see on the cover for our Fall 2018 catalog.

Catalina Munoz Mejia’s “Plateau Point”

Aside from from being showcased as the cover photo, the winning image will be featured on social media and our marketing and public relations materials.

Hai Vu’s “Mural Overlooking People in Crosswalk”

Voting on the submissions went through two panels of judges to reach the Final 3. And because of both the quantity and quality of these wonderful photos, it was a very difficult task. But we believe that our community’s participation in selecting the winner and two runners-up is the most important element of the Photo Contest and, as always, the support and participation of our public has been the greatest motivation for our program. Thank you so much and please show your love for us by going to this link and vote!

For questions on the voting process, please do not hesitate to contact us at commed@smc.edu.

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