Creating Pathways/Abriendo Caminos marches on

The former head of the Creating Pathways/Abriendo Caminos program left his position at Pierce and transferred to Los Angeles Valley College.

Program Specialist Raffi Kahwajian said he ran the grant-funded program that cost approximately a few million dollars that was spread out over five years. The program may be extended to an additional six years possibly ending in fall 2021.

Kahwajian said Creating Pathways/Abriendo Caminos funds are shared with Pierce and College of the Canyons and provides transfer support for a small group of students who major in engineering, nursing, business, or graphic design.

However, to qualify, students either have to identify as Hispanic, come from a low-income background or be a first-generation college student, according to Kahwajian.

“We select students once a year to start in the fall,” Kahwajian said. “Then, once a student is accepted they would receive mentoring, tutoring and would be able to borrow electronics and books from a lending library.”

Kahwajian said it was rewarding to see students be able to reduce their financial barriers by being able to borrow needed material and receive constant support.

He said there have been 44 students in the program over the last two years.

However, he said he left Pierce because Abriendo Caminos is limited, and at some point, it will end.

“As an employee, I would always have to be on the lookout for some other program I can get involved with in order to stay with community colleges,” Kahwajian said. “So I had an opportunity at Valley and therefore, I took it.”

At Valley, he is now involved in adult education and said it is a step into a permanent job.

“At Valley, it’s going to be more about helping people get jobs and strengthening the workforce,” Kahwajian said. “I actually get to see students being able to get employed.”

Instructor Special Assignment, Specially-Funded Programs Grants Michael Williams said Kahwajian is heaven-sent.

“He is determined to help the students, such as getting them into the program and providing them with the right skills for employment,” Williams said. “Also, he is building up the academic skills by providing tutoring.”

Lead Mentor Axel Cortes said without Kahwajian, Creating Pathways/Abriendo Caminos would not happen at Pierce because he recruited about 95 percent of the students who are in the program.

Cortes said Kahwajian taught him that the way a person leading an organization or a company runs it the way you will feel like in the company.  

“Kahwajian created an open environment for us to communicate, express ourselves and collaborate with each other,” Cortes said. “So this is probably one of the best environments I’ve ever worked in.”

Jeremy Argueta, a marketing major, has been with Creating Pathways for a couple of months and is now at California State University Northridge said the program helped guide him through college, acted as mentors to him and got him an internship.

“They helped me navigate through my classes such as figuring out what classes I needed to take,” Argueta said. “Also, they were like, ‘Hey, you need to do this or don’t forget to do your CSUN application.’ So, they were there whenever I needed to talk to someone.”

Cortes said the most important part to him is showing the students how to do things the right way.

“It’s about knowing how to guide them and connecting them to the right people, in the right resources,” Cortes said. “We are here to advocate for them.”