The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Business student Paraprofessional of the Year

Standing behind the front desk, Vanessa Zamora answers the phone.

She sits back down to schedule an appointment while assisting incoming students.

Standing back up again, Zamora looks at the clock that has just struck 11 a.m. She then stares at the packed lounge occupied by students.

“It’s a busy day today,” she says with a smile. “I’ll take my lunch at another time.”

Zamora, like many other students who work on campus, is more than just a student assistant or an employee. She is a paraprofessional at the Center on Disabilities.

Located in Bayramian Hall at the west end of campus, the Center on Disabilities is a versatile department that dedicates itself in supporting students’ academic, personal and career success. It also has a structured program assisting student employees in developing skills essential in the workplace and after graduation.

“We don’t call our paraprofessionals student assistants,” the center’s associate director Jodi Johnson said. “These aren’t students we send on the run for coffee. We are treating them as incoming professionals who will become professionals in whatever field they go to. They can use these skills wherever they go.”

Johnson added that 20 to 25 paraprofessionals are hired every semester. They then are taught how to interact with students, how to be at the same level with students, not stand over them and how to always put the student first.

The program is dedicated to providing students the skills needed to become a paraprofessional. Within the department, there are four areas of training and students who want to become paraprofessionals have to be proficient in at least two of them – a task that takes about one year to complete.

The four training areas include front desk, which requires paraprofessionals to answer phone calls, schedule appointments and help students; alternate format, which requires using the Braille and transferring books into tape format; alternate testing, a form of testing where students can take their tests at the center, rather than in a classroom, in sound-proof rooms where they are being proctored; and lastly, conference/training, a huge conference that takes place at the Hilton and Marriott hotels where vendors from all over the nation come to exhibit their technology developed for people with numerous disabilities.

Zamora, who has front desk, alternate testing and conference/training experience, says the hardest of the four is alternate format.

“One summer I was hired to work with the alternate format and we transferred a math book into Braille for one of the students we serve,” said the 21-year-old business major, who has been working at the center for three years. “It’s the hardest of the four as it requires a lot of accuracy and attention.”

According to Johnson, who started working at the Center on Disabilities in 1984 as a student assistant, the paraprofessionals are trained to communicate well and work as a team. They are taught how to deal with and understand people.

“Not everyone is made to sit in front of the computer,” Johnson said. “We help the paraprofessionals identify their abilities to find what area they are best suited for and once they are trained in the two areas, they are more able to take charge.”

After three years of training in different areas, Zamora finds herself learning something new everyday. While she has never worked in such an environment before, her job has helped her better understand the importance of working alongside people with disabilities.

Some people with disabilities find their disability to be something negative, Zamora explains. However, she has learned to work with such frustrated students through her training and comprehends the importance of patience.

“You have to go through a process of understanding everything and every step,” Zamora said. “It’s always scary at first, but once you learn how to work with students, answer their questions and help them out, they leave the office with the biggest smile.”

Undoubtedly, it is her compassion and will to always put the students first that gained Zamora the Paraprofessional of the Year Award.

After receiving her star trophy in April, Zamora gave a speech where she thanked her “second family,” staff members and fellow paraprofessionals, for the accessibility and teamwork. Although she was shocked when she heard her name being called for the award, Zamora says she’s really honored.

“I guess I won because I never say no,” Zamora said with a smile. “I stay longer than I have to. I’ll do anything to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to go that extra mile.”

Paraprofessionals like Zamora have used the program as a resource to get involved in campus activities. Not only can they take courses through the leadership institute, but they can also be involved in activities that the center puts on throughout the year. During that time period, paraprofessionals work closely with their supervisors, so if they fall behind in training, they are given numerous other opportunities to complete the program.

According to Zamora, her training has helped her social life immensely. Her once shy character has dissolved, creating an approachable individual who is able to communicate effectively. Not only has she learned how to be comfortable working with people, but Zamora also has a new found perspective on people – with or without disabilities.

The inviting atmosphere of the Center on Disabilities, the training, the students, the life-long relationships and friendships she has created through her work is an experience Zamora says she will never forget when she moves on to pursue a career in business after graduation.

“Seeing students on a regular basis is a true joy for me,” Zamora said enthusiastically. “Some of the students that come in here have it twice as hard and when I look at their smiling faces, it makes a huge difference in my day and my life.”

More to Discover