Alumni Spotlight

Susan Ortiz ’04
Counselor/Therapist
Koreatown Youth and Community Center

Major: Sociology [At the time Ortiz attended Whittier College, social work, anthropology, and sociology were a unified academic department. Majors regularly took courses across the three disciplines.]

Activities: Anthropology Club (president)

What first attracted you to Whittier College? I came to Whittier as a transfer student. After high school, I attended a large state university for one year, then moved back to LA and enrolled at a junior college to finish my general education courses. I left the state university because I felt it was too big and didn’t give me any one-on-one attention. While I attended the junior college, I began to look at smaller schools to transfer to – private or not. I was in my career counselor’s office and she had a variety of catalogs for different colleges. I picked the one for Whittier because it was a plain catalog with no pictures. Most catalogs have pictures of schools in front, but the one for Whittier was just plain and beige. It was out of the ordinary and I started flipping through it and thought, “Let me go check out this campus,” and so I came and I really liked it. The buildings, the small school setting - it was a combination of those things. I visited Whittier’s website, which looked different from what it looks like now, and applied as a transfer student.

Why did you choose to study sociology? I have always [been drawn] to the theoretical approaches of social behavior, culture, and social policy. I also liked that as a sociology major, I would be able to take classes in social work and anthropology.

Describe your experience at Whittier College. What was your favorite study spot? I did not live on campus. I commuted throughout the week. My favorite spots to study were where you could eat. I used to study a lot at The Spot, but I did most of my studying in Wardman Library. When I came to campus, I really tried to study the whole day because of my commute.

What was your favorite class? My favorite class was the one that Iyam taught as a pair. It was called "Life in Minority Environments" paired with a class called "Immigrants and Refugees."  He taught this class in my very first semester with another professor. They involved social work and anthropology together. The cultural anthropology part of it included refugees, urban life, and other interesting things. These paired classes were my favorite classes for sure, and they were the first classes I took here.

Did you intern or have a job while at Whittier College? Where, and what was that experience like? For my first year and a half at Whittier College, I worked at a school in West LA as an afterschool teacher. The experience correlated with my studies of human behavior and children at the time, which I believe helped me in my interactions with students and teachers. After that, I found on campus jobs at Wardman Library (when it was just a bungalow because it was being renovated) and in the Campus Safety office.

What was your first job after Whittier? What are you currently up to? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? My first full-time job after Whittier was working as a YMCA preschool teacher. I later became a recreational coordinator and residential counselor for an agency called AVIVA Children and Family Services for four years with at-risk adolescent girls in a residential treatment center. I then worked at an agency called Taller San Jose as a case manager, helping low-income clients between the ages of 18-28 complete a skilled vocational training program so they can find jobs in the community. I recently became a counselor/therapist for a non-profit organization called Koreatown Youth and Community Center.

I found that Whittier was a school that not only gave me a great education, but also really made me become more involved in the community. Whittier provided me with an education that really enhanced my thinking skills and made graduate school much easier. The professors at Whittier are supportive and come from diverse backgrounds, which is essential in a liberal arts school.

Finish this sentence: I am a ‘Poet for Life’ because… Whittier College taught me to believe in myself and my abilities as a person.

-Are you a graduate of the Department of Anthropology and want to share your story? Contact the Office of Communications at therock@whittier.edu.