Rhea Hollis taught first grade, then third grade at Oak Manor School, and later worked as a counselor at Eagle Peak Middle School. She was a dean/counselor at Ukiah High School before accepting her present position at Mendocino College in January 2010.
Hollis says she enjoys working with adult students because "they really want to be here; they are excited to be learning."
While studying for her BA in Spanish at U.C. Davis, Hollis lived in Costa Rica for 6 months, an experience which helped her become bilingual. At Humboldt State University, she earned a multiple subject credential, which allows her to teach at the elementary school level, and she later earned a master's degree in counseling from Sonoma State University.
Hollis says that when she got her teaching credential, she did not necessarily anticipate working with students who have disabilities. However, as an elementary school teacher, she found that many of her students had needs that went way beyond learning reading, writing, and math. Some were barely surviving personal challenges. She decided to study school counseling, "to help students get what they need, so they can learn."
Although she has only been at Mendocino College one year, she has witnessed a disturbing statewide trend: her budget was cut 60% and she lost three staff members during that time. "While the budget crisis has affected everyone," she says, "those with disabilities have lost even more than others." Hollis is concerned about troubled students, especially those with mental health issues, having to wait longer for counseling appointments when they are upset. "Our funds were reduced at the state level," she notes, "not by Mendocino College."
Hollis is passionate about assisting students to become advocates for themselves. She says the best part of her job is the intake meeting with new students, when she informs them about the accommodations available to assist them with their disabilities. "Their shoulders go down, and they give a sigh of relief," she says. "At that point, I get the sense that I am really helping; that they are on their way to getting the support they need to be successful college students."
Besides teaching and counseling, Hollis has worked in other fields. She smiles as she remembers her first job, as a housekeeper at the Benbow Inn near Garberville. "I was a high school freshman," she explains, "and I worked with a neighbor who was two years older. "We cleaned rooms and put chocolates on pillows. "I wore a pink dress with a white apron - a really horrible uniform," she laughs.
When she graduated from U.C. Davis, Hollis was hired as a corporate insurance underwriter. "Levi Strauss was one of my accounts," she says, "with a ten million dollar umbrella insurance policy." She only stayed in that position for one year, "long enough to learn I hated it," she says. "The best thing I did at that time was volunteer at the Boys and Girls club, teaching reading on Tuesday nights, and I finally realized this was what I wanted to do with my life." She got her teaching credential and has been in public education ever since.
Hollis is married to Ukiah native, Jonah Walsh, and the couple have a young daughter. Besides spending time with her family, Hollis enjoys backpacking and hot yoga.