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Francisco Gallegos found his future thanks to the Grossmont College Earth Sciences Department. “It changed everything for me,” said the 28-year-old Alpine resident who had already secured a trio of associate degrees at Cuyamaca College but enrolled at Grossmont for a general education course or two needed to transfer to San Diego State University. 


Gallegos today is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in geography with an emphasis in environmental sustainability and policy in the fall of 2022. He’s also working as a tutor at Grossmont College’s Geography Department and manages the Biology Department greenhouse at SDSU.


His journey hasn’t come without its challenges. Holding dual citizenship from Mexico and the United States, Gallegos grew up in Tecate and woke up well before dawn daily to get a ride to school from his father, who commuted daily across the border. “We got in line at the border crossing at 4 in the morning, I’d get dropped off at school at 6, I’d stay with relatives after school until my dad got off work and could pick me up, we’d head home, often very late at night, and then do it again the next day,” he said.


It was worth the inconvenience. Gallegos graduated from Granite Hills High School and enrolled at Cuyamaca College en route to what he thought would be a career in horticulture. Gallegos earned associate degrees in landscape technology, Greenhouse technology, and horticulture – and was working as an arborist when he decided to go back to school for a bachelor’s degree at San Diego State University. First, though, he enrolled at Grossmont College for a couple general education requirements needed to transfer. One of them was Geography 120. 


“That opened the door to where I am today,” he said. “It set me down a path to an entirely different yet related world in the field of geography.”


Geography 120 was followed by physical geography, then human geography, and finally, a geographic information science lab course. He enrolled at San Diego State in the spring of 2021 and completed a summer internship with a nonprofit as an ecological restoration biologist intern. His job: identifying various species of vegetation and plotting them via GIS as part of a larger effort to develop strategies in restoring wildlands. 


“Francisco is an inspiring example of a simple fact: in spite of the nearly two-year campus closure due to Covid at Grossmont College, the ‘college experience/ didn’t close,” said geography instructor Tim Cliffe. “Instead, amazing students continued to be produced at Grossmont, and they continued to grow and to bond and to lay the basis for an exciting future, just like we’ve always done at this amazing institution. The era of Covid may be temporary, but Francisco is already transforming my discipline permanently for the better.”


Indeed, Gallegos embodies why Grossmont College for years has been the leading community college in the nation when it comes to the number of students transferring to San Diego State University. The Earth Sciences Department is among the reasons. It offers a smorgasbord of courses ranging from geographic information systems to meteorology, oceanography, human and cultural geography, and more.


“The support I received from Grossmont College, specifically from the Earth Sciences Department, has been amazing,” he said. “People like Tim Cliffe have been remarkable advocates and have helped me tremendously along my path.”