With the cost so high for one to receive an education, students nowadays are struggling to keep themselves properly clothed and fed.
In the Fall of 2018, Palomar College opened the Anita and Stan Maag Food and Nutrition Center, a food pantry, in order to provide food to struggling students. By Spring of 2019 the Office of Student Affairs partnered with Palomar’s fashion department to bring students, Comets Closet. A clothing bank where students have access to free casual, business, and sportswear that have been donated.
The Director of Student Affairs, Sherry Titus, was an advocate for these students. She was a leading voice in implementing these programs at the college.
“Everything I see now, you put me back 35 years and that would have been me,” Titus said.
Titus was a first-generation college student. Her father left her 22-year-old mother with her three infant children. Her mother was able to get into a workforce development program, which allowed their family to get out of what Titus described as, “pretty severe poverty.”
Titus remembered how She would practice basketball in her brothers sneakers because they could not afford for her to have her own pair. It had even been surprising to her when she found out living off of food stamps and how when she wanted to go see a movie at the theater she would go out and mow lawns to earn money for a ticket was not normal for the average person.
As Titus grew up she decided she wanted to pursue her college education.
“I just knew I needed to go to college. I knew that college, just like I believe for most of our students here, is a way to improve on your life,” Titus said.
Although her mom was thrilled that Titus wanted to attend college, the question of how they were going to pay for it remained. Titus was unaware of FAFSA or any other avenues of financial aid; however, through the application process she discovered the possibilities. She was not only awarded financial aid, but also received academic and athletic scholarships throughout her college career.
Titus reflected, “My mom just really, really pushed us to be whoever we were and be okay with that,” she said adding her mother would say, “‘Whatever you want to do go do that. You do the best you can.’”
While attending college at Utah State University, she had to pass a fitness test to make the basketball team. She recalled that she had to run the distance in under 40 seconds. Her mom would stand at the kitchen window and wash dishes while timing Titus running around the block.
“I know she would be thinking, ‘under 40 seconds that is never going to happen even if you’re superwoman’… and I would run and she would look at the clock and say, ‘Looks like Sherry, you’re going to have to go about 10 seconds faster.’ But, it was probably more like 20 seconds faster,” Titus said. Titus ran around the house again and again, with her mother continually reminding her that she needed to go faster. She did this until she heard her mother say those words, “you made it.” Titus explained “I probably didn’t make it, but what she did was convince me that I could.”
Fast forward to 1981, when Titus began her career as a coach and higher education instructor. She coached at Utah State University for two years (1981-1983), and then Dixie State University for 12 (1983-1995). Titus coached sports such as basketball, volleyball and softball.
During her years coaching at Dixie State, Lisa Dall was one student that Titus left her thumb print on. Doll played volleyball and basketball from 1986-1987. She was also Titus’s neighbor at the time.
Reflecting back Dall recalled, “We worked very hard during practice, and one of the things that sticks out is that she would always encourage us to run as quick as you can, get to the finish line, and when you get to that finish line then you can rest. I still use that today in my own life.”
Dall considers Titus a great person and a true friend; stating that she holds a special place in her heart. Although they don’t talk often, Dall said when they do it’s like they have been keeping in touch all the time and they laugh about the college days.
“She is very caring. Cares about her teammates, cares about their education, cares about their well being, their family…I know if I needed anything I could call and I know she would be there,” Dall said.
While at Dixie State, Titus also became friends with Rose Odette, the administrative assistant in the athletics department at the time. She was drawn to Titus’s professionalism and positivity that she modeled throughout her career.
“It was her positive impact that she had on students. Everyone she met she was always very positive, and I will say out of all the years I worked at Dixie, she was probably one of the most professional people I have ever worked with. She was always striving to help everyone, especially students,” Odette said.
Odette and Titus have remained friends over the last 39 years and explained that they always catch up on birthdays and holidays despite not seeing each other since Titus moved to San Marcos in 1995, when she began at Palomar College as the women’s basketball coach.
Dr. George Boggs, the former Palomar Superintendent/President who interviewed Titus when she was applying said he was impressed with her enthusiasm and passion to help students succeed and recommended her for employment at Palomar College.
“I am proud that I was able to bring her to Palomar. She has gone on from being a faculty member to being an administrator in Student Services…The students really loved her for the work that she did to support them,” Boggs explained.
Upon her start at Palomar, basketball practice would begin at 7 a.m. and they had to be off the courts by 9 a.m., so students were not allowed to be late. However, a few students were consistently late. At first Titus decided to punish them for being late by having them come to practice one minute earlier the next day for every minute they were late.
But, this resulted in one student in particular struggling even more to make it to practice on time. The student then came to Titus because she felt that she had to quit the team. She came to discover that the student had to take the bus to practice every day and the bus was sometimes late.
“I had an epiphany right then, ‘how many of you ride the bus?’ three or four hands went up…so instead of worrying about practice and winning the game, what do I do? I started looking at the scheduling to see when I could run practice that ensures that the buses would get my kids here on time and get them off campus on time,” Titus said.
The adjustment in scheduling and mindset allowed for the student to stay on the team for two years, and ended up receiving a scholarship to a four year university. The student felt that her circumstances did not matter, but Titus saw that it did matter.
“When you drill down and you ask one more question and your willing to hear the answer and you’re also willing to figure out a different approach/solution…This is about our athletes staying in school and having an opportunity to earn a scholarship to go on…I love all those kids, I love all of their stories, I love their lives,” Titus explained.
Eventually, the Office of Student Affairs began looking for an interim Director, and Titus decided to apply, which ended up turning into a permanent position, which Titus noted, “I love every minute of it.” As a part of the director position she also became the Advisor of the Associated Student Government (ASG).
Evelyn Lucero was a foreign exchange student from Mexico who joined the ASG in 2010, where she became very close to Titus. Lucero explained that moving to the U.S. and learning a new culture away from her family was difficult, but Titus was always there helping her, supporting her, and pushing her to be her best.
“She helped me when I had to do homework that related to family members or some kind of interview, and if I couldn’t get to my family on time she would help me answer the questions…she was always there for everything, to me it was like a mom. I owe her a lot of how I am today,” Lucero said.
Today, Lucero is studying at Cal State Long Beach and pursuing her bachelor’s degree in computer science while also working full-time at the college.
For the last 29 years, a constant in Titus’s life has been her son, Weston Titus, who currently teaches health and kinesiology at Palomar College, following in his mother’s footsteps. He is currently studying for his doctorate and aspires to teach at a four-year university.
“Growing up was always an inspiration as I would probably have my mom as my role model, even though I am just about 30 now. I try to live my life as she demonstrated her life,” Weston said.
Weston explained that describing Titus in three words would be, loving, tenacious and caring. He feels that until people walk a day in her shoes they do not always know how stressful the job is, as his mom and everyone else in the Student Affairs Office do a good job of making it look easy.
“She puts in easily 60 hours a week in her office, many times she is the first one on campus and the last one off of campus. Today is actually our spring break, campus is closed down, and she went into work to make sure she is staying up on what she needs to get accomplished…She deserves a lot of credit for the work and the time she puts in on and off the clock,” Weston noted.
Today, Titus spends the little spare time she has at home with her two dogs, which she adopted from the shelter. She aspires to help every student that walks into her office. She feels that if they can help just one more student, then it is worth finding a way around any obstacle to help that one student stating:
“We wholeheartedly have to embrace every student and every situation as it presents itself in its most authentic way.”