Working to make OCC inclusive

Vanessa Dominguez, Orange Coast College’s new director of Disabled Students Program and Services. Dominguez arrived on campus over the summer and is working to identify and assist students on campus with disabilities.

Orange Coast College’s new director of Disabled Students Programs and Services Vanessa Dominguez has her sights set on helping students who face challenges every day.

With her vast background working with disabled students — 22 years working with students who have various disabilities including 10 of those years in higher education — she is ready to offer assistance to the 1,200 students enrolled in the DSPS program.

 “I feel that Vanessa is a dynamic and motivated person. She brings a fantastic sense of energy to DSPS. The students in the DSPS program have a true advocate in her,” said Tere Vasquez, an administrative secretary in the program.

In addition to other responsibilities, Dominguez facilitates and provides diagnostic assessments for students with disabilities and screens to determine eligibility for support services. She also advocates for the disabled and other student populations with special needs.

 “Over the years I have observed that students who enroll in community colleges often come from first generation, low income, diverse backgrounds, and/or grew up in foster homes, are parents, English language learners, and/or veterans,” Dominquez said. “The combination of any of these experiences can add an additional barrier for students seeking access to education and/or start or continuation of their career. My hope is that I can contribute to the growth, educational and vocational pursuits of OCC students.”

Prior to coming to OCC, Dominguez was the director of Disability Support Services at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. There she centralized disability services throughout the greater Boston area for students, faculty and staff.  

Dominguez also spent eight years at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in various capacities, including supervisory and counseling/access specialist roles at the college’s Disability Resource Center.

“After years of counseling students, I found my niche in higher education, as I was able to make a difference in the lives of students with disabilities by assisting them achieve their goals,” she said.

In some ways Dominguez is back where she started. She began her educational career at California community college Cuesta College, then earned her degree from UC Berkeley. She earned a master’s degree in counseling, psychology and dance movement from Antioch College and is currently working toward her doctorate in higher education leadership and human resources studies at Colorado State University.

 As part of her dissertation for her doctorate, Dominguez said she is focusing on inclusive instruction and “ensuring that our campus is inclusive for all learners,” she said.

She said individuals with “invisible disabilities” such as psychological, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHS), and learning disabilities often may not know about the services DSPS offers and might not know they might qualify for services through the department.

“Nationally, the number of students presenting with psychological disabilities has been on the rise,” she said. “Veterans who may experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, or deployment-related health and mobility disabilities, may also qualify for DSPS services. I know DSPS will continue to outreach to our campus community, and I encourage anyone with questions about whether they might qualify for our services to stop by our office and meet with a team member.”

Dominguez’s future plans consist of providing her team with ongoing professional development to incorporate the best practices in the field of disability services when working with students, and filling positions that are currently vacant, such as a position in counseling, and two front desk positions.

Her background as a residential program manager and specialist will assist her in ensuring that construction projects at OCC — student housing, the student union complex, and OCC Planetarium — are inclusive by being accessible to the physically challenged community.

In her spare time, she and her husband enjoy riding bicycles, camping, hiking, kayaking, attending baseball games, and playing with their two dachshunds, Ruby and Bodie. And when she is not doing that, she is dancing — she is a classically-trained dancer having started when she was four. In addition, she was also a Pilates instructor for 16 years.

Dominguez, who started working at OCC over the summer, said she has been welcomed by everyone on campus.

“Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and friendly,” she said. “I am very happy to be a part of the OCC family.”

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