Derek Parker completes his degree and starts a new program at Sac State

Derek Parker ’10 (Career and Technical Studies) had two problems. Sacramento State helped solve both.

First, he was running an adult education paramedic program at the Sacramento school district’s Old Marshall School, a program he had built up from a single EMT class, and the program couldn’t be accredited unless its director had a bachelor’s degree. So Parker, who had left Sonoma State years earlier before graduating, enrolled in Sacramento State’s Bachelor of Science in Career and Technical Studies (BSCTS) program, one of several degree completion programs run through the College of Continuing Education (CCE).

Then funding for the program suddenly dried up.

“I had put all this work into creating this paramedic program that I believed in,” said Parker, who is also the battalion chief for the Sacramento Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) division. “I’ve got students who are in the program. I’ve got a whole slew of students who want to get into the program. I can’t just let this thing go.”

He contacted Jill Matsueda, director of academic programs with CCE, to see what could be done. The college was receptive, the school district signed off on a transfer, and, in 2009, the CSU’s first and still only paramedic program was born.

“We went to Sac State first, and they jumped on it,” Parker said.

Today, the paramedic program has made a tremendous impact on the fire department where Parker works: He estimates around 20 percent of the department’s employees have gone through it.

Parker’s path to a degree, and a job as a battalion chief, has been a little circuitous. After graduating from Merced High School in 1994, he enrolled at Sonoma State and played football there until the university cut the program in 1996. When he left school and prepared to enter the workforce, his grandmother suggested firefighting.

The entry level position in the industry was as a firefighter/paramedic, so Parker went to paramedic school and got a job with a local ambulance company.

“It’s the closest thing I could find to sport competition. When you’re addressing a sick patient, you have a limited amount of time, so there’s a little bit of pressure,” he said. “Can I complete all these tasks in a short period of time for the betterment of the patient? That’s what drives me. Pushing myself. I’m competing against myself.”

As a battalion chief for the EMS division, Parker is responsible for all of the division’s day-to-day operations. That means overseeing the individuals who work on ambulances, handling EMT and paramedic certification, ensuring that ambulances and other vehicles are in good working condition, and managing the budget. He also still responds to fires, and spends much of his time during the summer on incident management teams working to contain the state’s now-prevalent wildfires.

In addition to the project management skills he uses regularly in his current job, the BSCTS program included students from a wide variety of career backgrounds, something Parker says gave him a broader perspective he continues to find useful. For example, meeting people in the culinary industry provided insight that can come in handy when responding to a grease fire or other emergency at a restaurant. Interacting with students from a law enforcement background allowed him to better understand their perspective on emergency situations.

“You always think your kingdom is the most important kingdom, and I realized that it’s a neighborhood, not a kingdom,” he said.

A photo of Derek Parker, in uniform, at a Sacramento fire station
Derek Parker earned his bachelor’s degree from Sacramento State while at the same time starting the University’s paramedic program. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

With the paramedic program, Parker has taught close to 500 paramedic students who since have found jobs at fire departments, ambulance companies, hospitals and other employers throughout California and beyond. Students in the program receive hands-on learning experiences in a variety of areas, including advanced training in life support and terrorism preparedness, and leave with 30 units of academic credit.

Students in the paramedic program consistently rank higher than the national average when taking the National Registry Exam, a cognitive test required for paramedic certification.

The University runs two cohorts of paramedic program students each academic year, with 40 students admitted to the fall 2018 cohort and another 40 admitted to the spring 2019 cohort. According to the latest data from CCE, 90 percent of paramedic students became licensed after completing the program, and nearly the same number were employed within six months of graduation.

“Derek saw the untapped potential for Sacramento State to offer a paramedic program,” Matsueda said. “Traditionally, these programs are offered at the community colleges and from private providers, but Derek saw the potential for a level of quality and professionalism that would come with the academic oversight of University faculty.”

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Once an ESL student, recent graduate begins her career as ESL teacher at Sac State

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Hannan Hawari MA ’17 (TESOL) grew up speaking Arabic, was placed in an English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom at an early age, and received early lessons about the importance of how not knowing a language can be a barrier to opportunity.

“I felt that barrier when I was younger and when I was growing up,” she says. “A lot of times, when I was with my mom, she wouldn’t have the right words to negotiate something on the phone, or ask about something at the store. It seemed like language was a very powerful tool.”

Today, she’s helping international students in Sacramento State’s English Language Institute (ELI) overcome that barrier, serving as an instructor and teaching American Language and Culture. ELI, run through Sacramento State’s College of Continuing Education, offers several programs throughout the year to help international students become stronger English speakers and learn about American culture to prepare them for study at a four-year college or university in the United States – often Sacramento State. Hawari also has spent time leading ELI’s Conversation Clubs, weekly meet-ups where ELI students can practice their language skills with Sac State students.

“Language is very powerful,” she says. “I feel like I’m giving them another tool. A powerful tool.”

Hawari grew up loving reading, writing, and school. A Stockton native, she earned her undergraduate degree in English literature at nearby University of the Pacific before enrolling at Sacramento State for her master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) – combining her lifelong passion for learning with her first-hand knowledge of the power of language.

She came to Sacramento State for the same reason many others do: access and opportunity. The University was nearby, affordable, and allowed her the flexibility to continue working. Plus, her brother already was at Sac State as an undergraduate. But the campus quickly became much more than a place to get a degree.

“I felt like (Sac State) was the place where I truly grew. There are a lot of services for students as well as a strong, inclusive community,” Hawari says. “It seemed to be a very diverse campus. There were a lot of people I felt were like me, who had the same struggle, and were first-generation college students. There seemed to be a real acceptance of that on this campus and it felt like a good environment to be in.”

Working at the University Writing Center and as an instructor for a first-year composition course provided her with real-world experience tutoring and teaching. She also worked off campus at a private learning center in Stockton and as an intern with ELI, where she also volunteered with Conversation Club.

“That was a wonderful program that helped me build my knowledge of how to teach ESL speaking and listening skills,” Hawari says. “It gave me valuable practice in classroom management and standing in front of the class.”

She ultimately was hired to teach summer courses with ELI and hopes to continue in the fall. Longer term, she plans to continue working with adult ESL students, perhaps at the K-12 level, or perhaps even abroad: Her bigger goal is to return to her parents’ home, Palestine, to teach English.

In the meantime, Hawari is cherishing the opportunity to share both her experience with the power of language and her passion for teaching and learning with students from across the globe.

“I feel like I’m a part of them because I’m kind of that in between where I’m not really American, I’m not really Arab,” she says. “I understand the struggle of coming to a different place and having to feel like a foreigner. They have their own culture and they’re excited to share it, but at the same time they’re excited to learn so much more about American culture. I just love the idea of teaching and being part of their language experience.”