Degree deferred for decades becomes reality for veteran COC graduate

Daniel Andrade
Daniel Andrade

News release 

For 25 years, one of the biggest hurdles standing between Daniel Andrade and a college degree was his math anxiety. 

But with the help of the College of the Canyons Academic Accommodation Center and the Veterans Affairs program, Andrade was able to complete the remaining two math classes he needed to earn an associate degree in real estate.  

“It still hasn’t hit me,” Andrade, who graduated on June 2, said in a statement released by COC. “I went to pick up my cap and gown and get a little bit emotional when I see it. I have been trying to get my degree for over 25 years.” 

As a high school student-athlete, Andrade could get around his math anxiety by taking developmental classes and relying on a tutor.  

However, once on the wrestling team at Moorpark College, Andrade found he could not pass the math assessment.  

“I kept procrastinating,” said Andrade. “I could do all the other courses, but something about the math just paralyzed me, so I kept putting it off.” 

But when Andrade got injured from wrestling, he gave up entirely.  

“When you get seriously injured it’s very discouraging,” said Andrade. “I just did some odd jobs to keep me financially afloat.” 

In 1998, Andrade enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton as a special operations instructor. In 2002, he was mobilized in response to 9/11. 

During a military operation, enemy fire sent Andrade flying through a building.  

“I basically destroyed my right knee,” said Andrade, who was honorably discharged in 2003 as a result of his disabling injuries.  

During his six years of military service, Andrade sustained three concussions, which left him with a traumatic brain injury. His injury only exacerbated his math anxiety.  

“One side of your brain will just shut off,” said Andrade, who has trouble with memory retention and concentration. “I guess that’s just me for math. I am confident in many other aspects, but when it comes to school, I am kind of handicapped.”  

Upon his return to civilian life, Andrade and his family of three moved to Santa Clarita in 2005 and he earned his real estate license in 2009.  

Andrade, who works full-time as a housing solutions case manager for Mercy House, says his passion for real estate stems from his personal experience with homelessness.  

But despite experiencing success as a Realtor, thoughts of his unfinished college degree lingered in the back of his mind.   

“At first I thought the money and the success from real estate will fill that void in my heart, but I always wanted to be an instructor,” said Andrade. “That was my mission in life.” 

Once Andrade learned that COC had a real estate associate degree program, he knew it was time to finish what he started.  

Andrade enrolled at COC in 2008 to complete the required math courses for the degree.  

Upon learning about the college’s Veterans Affairs program, Andrade met with Jesse Vera, an adjunct veterans counselor, to create an educational plan to help him pass the remaining math courses.  

“It is no secret that many veterans struggle with transitioning from military to civilian life,” Vera said in the release. “Daniel understood the value of seeking assistance and actively reached out to the college’s faculty and staff to help him navigate his educational journey.” 

After passing the Math 100 liberal arts course in fall 2021, Andrade had one math class left to face, Business 201: Principles of Accounting.  

Previously, Andrade had enrolled and dropped out of the course three times. 

“I just couldn’t do it,” said Andrade. “I would end up dropping the class two weeks later.” 

Once classes were held online during the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrade gave the course another shot.  

But the father of two found it difficult to commute from his job in Ventura to his home in Camarillo during rush hour to make it in time for his OnlineLIVE class. 

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Andrade.  

Deflated and with his two daughters in tow, Andrade sought the help of his AAC counselor,  Stephanie Lee. 

The AAC works to provide students with disabilities with an intellectually stimulating environment that encourages them to reach their full potential.  

“I told her I was trying my best,” said Andrade. “She closed the door I and I basically broke down. I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I need to move on with my life and finally complete this degree. I am going to be 85 years old talking about how I have two classes left.'” 

Andrade recalled how Lee brought out a notepad, rolled up her sleeves, and spent two hours with him figuring out a new path forward.  

“She heard me,” Andrade said. “She knew I was severely traumatized from active duty and she said, ‘I will walk with you every step of the way. I will do whatever I can.’” 

Lee suggested he enroll in a 100% online class that would allow him to complete coursework on his own time, at his own pace.  

“I thought, ‘Where were these classes all my life?’” said Andrade.  

In December 2022, Andrade finally passed the math course.  

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Andrade. “I was overwhelmed with emotion.” 

Lee says she feels honored that Andrade placed his trust in her as a counselor.  

“Daniel stands out to me as one of the most hard-working and persistent students I have ever worked with,” Lee said in the release. “He was always very respectful and took whatever guidance I had to offer to heart. I am truly very proud of Daniel’s accomplishments. He worked so hard and finally accomplished his goal.” 

Vera says that Andrade’s grit and determination were undoubtedly influenced by his military experience.  

“Yet, what truly set Daniel apart was his remarkable ability to seek assistance when he needed it,” said Vera. “It brings me a lot of joy to see Daniel accomplish his goals, especially with the help of our campus community, because we all get to share in his accomplishments.” 

Now with an associate degree to his name, Andrade is looking forward to perhaps one day teaching at COC as a real estate instructor. 

Andrade’s advice to anyone struggling to pass a specific course is to ask for help.  

“Just be open and be honest,” said Andrade. “You have to set up a support system. This can’t be done alone.” 

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