Christina was born in Humboldt County but her family moved to Ukiah before she was a toddler, and stayed through High School. Christina loves people and was very social growing up, but always did well in school too. Even when attending Ukiah High, she knew she wanted to go to Mendocino College, because she wanted to save money on tuition, and since she was still only 17 her first semester, knew it would be a good transition period—a chance to mature and figure out what she wanted to do before going on to a four-year school.
While taking a high school class, one of her assignments was to choose a field of interest and interview a professional currently working in that field. Christina chose Catherine Indermill, Psychology Professor at Mendocino College and family friend. Catherine was instrumental in showing her some shortcuts to getting what she needed out of community college in order to go on to a four-year institution, such as taking AP courses while still in high school, and at community college, concentrating on courses that would be transferable.
Christina worked three different jobs while attending Mendocino College: childcare at the local Health Club, assisting in the Copy Center at the College, and doing as much babysitting as she could in order to save money.
Christina feels Mendocino College was a good stepping stone academically, and enabled her to figure out where she wanted to go professionally. Leaning toward either a psychology major or Physician Assistant program, Christina discovered her real passion was in the health and human services field. "I wanted to work with people, and become more involved as an advocate for those in need." Sue Blundell, Biology Professor at Mendocino College, was also instrumental in showing Christina a realistic viewpoint of both options and helping her make up her mind.
When asked if there was anyone special in her life that helped her achieve, Christina immediately says, "My Mom … She is so smart, helpful and organized and such a good role model to me. She has always supported me, not by telling me what goals I should have, but by helping me discover what I wanted to do … She asked me 'What jobcan you see yourself excited to get up and go to every day?'"
Besides her Mom (Anna Daugherty, Administrative Assistant in the Athletic Department at Mendocino College), Christina credits her father and grandmother for all their support. In fact, Christina moved in with her grandmother while she was attending Mendocino College. It was a win-win for both – Christina felt more independent and got to experience moving out of her parent's house, and her grandmother had her granddaughter close, very soon after losing her husband, Christina's grandfather.
When Christina finished up at Mendocino College, she moved to Santa Rosa to attend Sonoma State (SSU), moving into an apartment with her cousin. Christina has always been blessed with a strong family support system and knows how vital it can be. "Take advantage of your support system!" she says, even though she knows firsthand not everyone has that kind of support. In fact, that is the very thing that motivates her desire to continue working in the human service field—giving back to those who may not have that built-in family support, helping them develop skills while learning how to access their resources.
However, Christina knows no matter how much support you have, "It's still up to you … You have to take control of your own academic path. Don't listen to one opinion, make sure you do the research—don't rely on what others tell you—be proactive. You need to know yourself, which means recognizing your limits and always keeping your goals in mind."
Christina continued to work while attending SSU; one of the jobs was as a Respite Care Provider for a family with two autistic children, a family she stays in touch with today. This opportunity came out of a class in Autism Training and Intervention, where she became a Teacher Assistant and worked with children with autism and other developmental disabilities through the Lattice Educational Services. Though emotionally and physically taxing, it "gives you a perspective you wouldn't gain anywhere else." She learned to appreciate even the smallest achievements of these children, because what may seem small to us can be huge for them.
This job wasn't enough for Christina; she also worked at the mall, Americorp, and catered on the weekends to make ends meet. She also took advantage of her Greek heritage and applied for and received a scholarship from the Cephalioan Society, which helped pay her tuition.
After graduating from SSU with a B.A. in Psychology, Christina moved back in with her grandmother in Ukiah and started working for Redwood Children's Services, to gain experience and save money toward her goal of obtaining a Masters of Social Work. In 2009, she began attending Sacramento State, which included an internship through the Sacramento City Unified School District, working for the Healthy Start program.
In her second semester, Christina got married to her husband, Billy Offill, who is the head men's basketball coach at the college. Later that fall they welcomed their first child, William, to their young family! Christina discusses how she petitioned for a one year leave of absence from school so she could focus on her new baby. After CSUS granted her the leave, she moved back to Ukiah and began working at Redwood Children's Services again. This confirmed how important it is to build strong relationships with former employers. RCS later worked with Christina as she started attending school again, by helping her employ a job conversion, where she worked and also completed duties for her internship required by Sac State as part of the MSW program.
Returning to school to finish her master's was the biggest challenge of Christina's life. While working full time in Ukiah, once a week she had to commute three hours to Sacramento, attend six hours of school, and then commute three hours home. This ongoing struggle so many women experience between family and school/ career interests continues into the 21st Century, and in fact, became the subject of Christina's master thesis. "I incorporated my personal journey into my Master's Thesis—a qualitative study on mothers who have young children under six who are in Grad programs, and the difficulty balancing family priorities while obtaining the highest levels in education." She ended up interviewing 15 other young mothers, and found herself moved to tears by some of their stories.
Having Will changed her life forever, and though she took off a year to be with him, he also created an even stronger desire to persevere and succeed. "It's a constant motivation—a passion for wanting to work with children and families and help improve their lives. I've had such a wonderful support system from my own family, and now knowing that I can contribute to the health of other families in need fulfills my desire to give back. My husband, Billy was a huge help, without his support and flexibility I would have never been able to accomplish this goal. We really worked as a team. The way we work together is a huge factor in our success. My mother and grandmother are such strong ladies, and I want to be that strong role model for my children too. " Christina's grandmother passed away while she was finishing her degree, and "finishing my master's was for her too," she says.
When asked if she was ever afraid, she says, "I was afraid every time I moved away, or started something new. Every time I put myself in a vulnerable position—being the "new guy" again. When you're never the 'expert'—that nervousness can be a positive thing, because it keeps you humble and I don't want to lose that. I've learned the most from my mistakes—don't ever be afraid of making mistakes." Christina believes one of the secrets to success is: "Putting yourself in the position to fail—believing in yourself even if you have to fake it until it's real … advocating for yourself, learning how to sell yourself. You have to do it—no one is going to just hand it to you."
So how does she feel now after graduating last May? Christina answers, "It's been such a growing experience … I'm so much more appreciate of Will, and all the things I have in this life… I'm most grateful for my family, but also all the opportunities I didn't get because that led to the ones that turned out to be even better. I've learned to appreciate where you are."
To complete her success story, Christina is currently employed by the Ukiah Valley Medical Center as a social worker.
So what is next for Christina? "I want to have more kids, maybe two—I want a strong family like the one I was raised in. My next goal is to become licensed, I want to register and begin the process of gaining hours, and eventually attain my LCSW. I want to keep trying different avenues—maybe hospital social work, or private practice. I hope to work in various professional capacities in order to continue to learn and grow as a professional, a mother and a wife."
Christina Offill, Mendocino College Success Story
Date of interview: May 17, 2012
Written by Christine Mullis