COD’s Academic Angels

COD Foundation’s Academic Angels Partners with Leadership Coachella Valley to Foster the Next Generation of Leaders

For the first time in history, the College of the Desert Foundation’s Academic Angels are partnering with Leadership Coachella Valley to mentor a select group of COD students and develop their personal and professional skills while building strong relationships with dynamic community leaders.

Learning to Lead is a newly created program designed to offer these knowledgeable and dedicated students the unique opportunity to participate in Leadership Coachella Valley’s 10-month leadership program, giving them real-world application and perspective into the issues our region is facing today and well into the future.

Kicking off the pilot program are four COD students chosen from 37 competitive applicants who will have their enrollment fees paid for as well as be awarded a $1,000 scholarship upon completion of the course. Financial support and guidance will come from the Academic Angels Committee, a group of committed volunteers who for 36 years have supported the COD Foundation’s fundraising efforts in securing financial support to enhance educational opportunities for all students.

Once a month, from September through June, the Learning to Lead students will attend an all-day seminar presented by Leadership Coachella Valley. The format includes a combination of presentations, panel discussions and hands-on visits to locales relevant to the day’s theme. Valley experts will share their insights and views while interacting with participants during lively and topical discussions.

Chair of the Academic Angels Committee Marge Dodge confirms “supporting students has always been our first priority. Education is the great equalizer of our society and once someone has an education, they can achieve their goals and can become a good citizen of the world. Launching this program with a renowned organization like Leadership Coachella Valley is tremendously meaningful to us.”

The Academic Angels is made up of prominent men and women who serve as goodwill ambassadors and assist the COD Foundation in financial support efforts in pursuit of its goal – to enhance educational opportunities for all students. In recent years, the Academic Angels have gifted up to 66 scholarships per year and, since its original inception as the COD Foundation Auxillary in 1985, the group has given nearly $500,000. “Scholarship recipients often send notes of gratitude thanking members for their generosity and sharing personal experiences and future goals,” shares Dodge. “It’s impossible not to be effected by the hope and inspiration that our group is giving to these very worthy scholars. Our small contribution opens up their world of possibilities and changes their lives.”

President of Leadership Coachella Valley’s Board of Directors, Shawn Abramowitz, is thrilled with the new alliance. “Collaborative efforts build long-lasting relationships and friendships, and we believe we have found the right partner in the COD Foundation,” he says. “Our vision is to ensure the Leadership programming is continually evolving. By including COD students, we know we are adding a new dynamic to our program which tells our members we are committed to bringing them fresh and relevant content.”

The College of the Desert Learning to Lead participants will grow in awareness and understanding of the issues and challenges facing their community. Through networking opportunities, they will also gain valuable contacts and become more invested in making their community a better place to live and work. Most importantly, these distinguished leaders of tomorrow will make important discoveries that will help them to uncover their passion in life and expand their prospects toward a future career path. As the program began in September, the college’s first four students are already Learning to Lead

Learning to Lead Selected Students The Academic Angels selection committee poured over 37 applications to select four tremendously talented COD Students who shared their diverse backgrounds, life experiences and what they most hoped to gain from such an incredible experience as just part of the application process.

The students selected for the 2021-2022 program are:

Dakota De La Torre is a COD student athlete on the women’s basketball team who was selected as one of 116 women named to the 2020 California Community College Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Academic All-State Team. After graduation, she plans to transfer to a four-year college and pursue a career as a women’s basketball coach utilizing the power of sports in the valley for social and economic change. By participating in the Learning to Lead program she “hopes to gain a better understanding of the areas needing change in the Coachella Valley and develop the skills to change them.”

Vanessa Mejia is attending COD on her way to pursuing a career as a physical therapist. She personally deals with early onset osteoarthritis and by age 15 she had started physical therapy to ease her pain. In her chosen profession, she hopes to share this relief with others. Her goal in participating in Learning to Lead is “to improve myself academically and mentally by gaining a meaningful experience for working with the community.” She currently volunteers at FIND Food Bank distributing food.

Sergio R. Munoz was a troubled youth and spent seven years of his life in a correctional facility before turning his life around through education. Now his goal is to become an at-risk youth counselor and mentor. Sergio says, “I expect to use my leadership experience by being adaptable. I have come to learn that a leader is not simply someone in charge or in control. A true leader is not influenced by their ego and has a willingness to take a supportive role when necessary to achieve the goals of the group or institution.” He is a member of Alas Con Futuro, a student club at COD that facilitates information for undocumented students.

Christa Paredes is earning her Associates in Sociology in Spring 2022 with sights set on attending CSU in the fall. Her ultimate career goal is to run a nonprofit organization that uplifts the citizens of the Coachella Valley. She believes Learning to Lead “will allow me to gain knowledge of programs that are available and issues facing our citizens, as well as the knowledge and experience to become the leader of a program that our community truly needs. I am determined to educate children and their parents that (education and their) success is achievable regardless of their socioeconomic status to inspire them to pursue their ultimate dream career.

We wish these students well and look forward to discovering how they will use their Learning to Lead skills in their future careers.

To support COD’s most deserving students, please email Catherine Abbott, Executive Director at

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