Employee Giving Spotlight

Dan Lara

Dan Lara serves as the OCCC Vice President of Academic Affairs. Dan and his department seek educational opportunities and pathways for OCCC students that equip them for success through their life’s path. Dan shared with me part of his path and why he donates monthly through the Employee Giving campaign. 


I was born in Fresno, CA and lived there until I was about four years old so I cannot really count that as my home. Where I grew up was in Flagstaff, AZ all the way through high school. 

Dan Lara, Dean of Academics and Workforce

I began my college life not as a science major, but as a theater major. Now if you know any theater majors, you may be aware that they tend not to be the most scientifically/ mathematically savvy folks out there, and I certainly fell into this category. Consequently, math and science have never come easy for me. I had to work at it. A lot. Still, I persevered due to an infatuation with marine sciences. Imagine a desert rat loving the ocean! Well, that was short-lived due to sea sickness.

About eight weeks into my college life, there was a minor incident in a chemistry class that I was taking, involving some smoke, a bit of fire, and some minor structural damage. The result of all of this was — after a short meeting with the Dean of Students and 40 hours of college service to the Science department to repaint walls and replace ceiling panels — I switched my major to chemistry and environmental science. 

Suddenly I had to take a whole lot of math and science to complete my degree (See above: “math & science have never come easy for me…”).

I had always thought that I was too stupid to be good at math and science since I couldn’t just look at a problem and get the answer. But here I was, taking more math than I ever thought, and I couldn’t see the point. “I’m never going to learn this stuff,” I thought to myself. 

In college I had a math instructor who was a mumbler. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had a mumbler for a teacher, but this was one of those guys who you were never quite sure what he was saying because he was always mumbling something “mathy” to himself in an absolute monotone. I hated it. Couple this with the fact that he never actually lectured to the class, but instead spent the entire class period lecturing to the board and writing microscopic equations so that only the front row of the class could read them. It was so bad that to this day, if I saw the guy walking toward me on the street, I wouldn’t recognize him, but if I were walking behind him, I would recognize the bald spot on the back of his head. I mean it, the guy never looked at the class.

And so there I was, about two semesters into college — furiously scribbling down notes, straining to hear what the guy was saying because I couldn’t read his writing, thinking that I was too stupid to do it even if I could hear the guy — when I had an epiphany, of sorts. The guy had just finished mumbling about linear equations, and he moved just enough so that his left shoulder revealed the last thing he had be writing when — a miracle happened. It was like the clouds parted, light shined down, I heard celestial music and I UNDERSTOOD WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT!!! For the very first time in my life, I realized that I wasn’t stupid, and that I could do this stuff if I worked at it…

….That epiphany lasted all of about five seconds, and then the light turned off, the voices stopped singing, and the clouds came rolling back in, and I was lost again. But you know what? It didn’t matter. Because once I had that initial belief in myself, that I could do it if I worked at it, I was able to get through the next three and a half years of often grueling science and mathematics. And this is the promise I made to my students: No matter who you are, or what negative experiences you’ve had with science or mathematics in the past, if you try, and I mean really work at it, sooner or later the cosmic tumblers will click into place and you’ll get it. And while things might not always stay clear for you, while you might not always get it, after it clicks for the first time, something magical will happen for you, and you will realize that with continued hard work and perseverance, you’ll make it through. And I’ll be there alongside you in this journey – because I get it.

After college, I moved back to Flagstaff: without a job and looking forward to moving back into my parents’ home. My father taught at a community college. It was through one of his colleagues that I heard of a temporary position in developmental math. My first day as a new teacher went very, very badly. By the third week, I couldn’t imagine anything else. Seeing a student discover that “aha” moment made every challenge worthwhile.

I taught at the University of New Mexico and the University of Arizona in Yuma waiting for a full time position in administration. It was in Yuma that I met my wife. Fortunately, she moved with me to Mohave Community College – Lake Havasu City Campus and finally to OCCC.

Because of the way I came through education, it is more of a calling than a job: to help the institution achieve its mission. I have heard it said that “Not just being poor but living in areas blighted by poverty can mean a shorter life span and a stolen future for many people.” Education is the antidote creating opportunities.

To my colleagues, if you are already donating to through Employee Giving, give a little more. If you are not donating, even a little is like pixie dust. It creates miracles.

For more information about the Employee Giving campaign, contact the Foundation at foundation@oregoncoast.edu or contact Joy Gutknecht to set up an easy payroll deduction. Thank you.