Home Away From Home
From Home Schooling to PCC
Imagine, the day before your 14thbirthday. You’re getting ready for your party, making your cake, counting to make sure you have the right number of candles to light so when you blow them out all in one breath, your wishes will come true. Then, you head off to your first class… your first college class… at Pasadena City College.
Welcome to the life of Belle Philibosian. One of the youngest students to ever attend PCC. Belle and her sister, Scarlett, who started PCC a few years later at a “solid 14 years old”, took a few minutes to share about their very early, but impactful PCC experience that took them from home schooling to their dream careers.
Mom and Dad, Shirley and ______ Philibosian, were not employed outside the home when Belle and Scarlett were still in their formative years at home. So, both parents participated in teaching the sisters by using text books loaned to them from their cousins who attended private school. Their parents felt that home schooling was the form of education best suited for individual progress.
Home schooling classes were six days a week, all year round. Even so, there would be one month per year when the entire family would head off on a camping trip. And even then, school went with them. On these camping trips, studies would reflect their outdoor environment.
It was these trips that caused both Belle and Scarlett to fall in love with the sciences.
“Mom had taken a number of classes at PCC – photography and woodworking. She also took concrete construction. We had a house that was in a continuous state of ‘fixing’”, said Belle. “Mom was also encouraging me to take a photography class when I was almost 14 and I wasn’t all that interested. But, I was interested in creative writing. I ended up enrolling in Freshman English as a pre-requisite for creative writing. Mom and Dad still read everything I wrote. I welcomed their help because I was still a good five years younger than everyone else in my class, so it gave me a little more confidence in later classes. I also took classes just because I was interested in them, like acting and drama. At that point, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career yet, but at the time, I wanted to be a writer.”
The idea of being a writer was a place-holder for Belle until she enrolled in her first geology class. “I took a geology class from Jerry Lewis, (like the musician), when I was 15 and it changed my life,” she recalled. “He was a dynamic instructor, told all kinds of stories and was very funny.” “Because growing up we had visited a lot of national parks on our camping trips, I had a lot of geological experiences, although no technical details at the time. I love puzzles and geology is a lot like putting together a puzzle, trying to figure out what happened in the past.” I didn’t actually decide to go into geology until I was registering for the national merit scholars test. I was 17 and had already been attending PCC for three years. When I had to fill out the form to determine which college to send my results to, I thought about all the courses I had taken and realized that I had the most fun, by far, in geology and on the field trips. It was an epiphany. I wrote down geology as my major for the first time, and right then I decided CalTech was my first choice for a four-year college.”
Belle was accepted to CalTech at age 17. “PCC professors Bruce Carter and Martha House had connections with CalTech and they both helped me. All of my PCC courses transferred to CalTech. I suspect I would not have been admitted to CalTech without my PCC experience. Mom and Dad had given me all A’s in my home schooling experience, and my PCC grades had substance. At CalTech all admitted students have had AP courses or had taken college courses somewhere else. It would have been difficult to gain admission without having taken college courses.”
Belle completed her Bachelor’s in Geology at CalTech and went on to the University of Oregon to finish her Master’s degree, then returned to CalTech again for Ph.D.
Scarlett Philibosian matriculated to PCC just as Belle was leaving PCC. There was no expectation to follow in Belle’s footsteps by attending PCC, “but I could see she got a lot out of it, life-wise and emotionally.” She explained, “When I was 12, I remember reading the PCC catalog and circling the classes I wanted to take. I was a solid 14 when I attended PCC; late in the game in my family,” she laughed. Like Belle, she took an entry level college English class first. But, unlike Belle, she knew she wanted the sciences right off the bat.
“Rusty Fiori was definitely the standout instructor for me at PCC. He taught a lot of different classes. We had a Baja trip and a summer program. That’s where I learned about field biology. I was also a dedicated volunteer at the LA Zoo. A field trip to Canada changed my mind from wanting to be a veterinarian to wanting to do field biology. I went to PCC for four years, so by the time I applied to a four-year college, I was looking at colleges with strong wildlife programs.”
“I attended UC- Davis and could have graduated in two years, but I had been so directed in my studies for so long, I knew I might never be in college again, so I took an extra year just to take things that were interesting to me. I took economics, tractor driving, distilled spirits and ballet.”
Scarlett graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Conservation Biology. She spent several years on projects as a field biologist which gave her the opportunity to live in eight states, travel the country and study a wide variety of animals. Looking to settle down with a partner and get more permanent assignments, she decided to attend the University of Oregon to focus on environmental planning. She graduated with a Master’s in Community and Regional Planning.
Thinking of attending PCC after being home schooled?
Belle and Scarlett shared a little advice for students who are planning to attend PCC after being home schooled, especially for those students who will be the youngest in the class.
“PCC is a great low stakes opportunity to either learn subject you’re weak in or to try out something just to see if you like it. It’s a very safe and nurturing environment, Belle said, “If a home schooled student wants to eventually attend a UC school, then take advantage of getting transfer credits at PCC. It can only help you, as a child, to prepare you for what the experience will be like at a large four-year campus.
“I never told any of my teachers I was 14. That might be significant in how I interacted with my classmates. You will want to get the same experience as other students, so I would say don’t tell people that you’re so much younger than anyone else. When you’re hanging out with people older than you are, they don’t think anything about it unless you tell them differently.”
Scarlett recalls the day she had to “spill the beans” and let her teacher know her age. “It was my first English class and the assignment was to write about something that happened when you were 12. So, I wrote about the Columbine School shooting that had happened just two years earlier. My instructor thought I misunderstood the assignment, so I had to tell her my age.”
Even Mom (Shirley) joined in on the advice, “If a parent is home schooling or even if your children are in the school system and there’s an area where they can’t fully deliver, PCC is a great option for offering additional teaching in those areas.”
Scarlett added, “For instance, home schooling couldn’t offer Chemistry lab, so I took Chem 22 with Christine Bilicki. She was full of energy 100% of the time, a very sharp teacher!”
“We were very picky about our teachers. We would attend the first day of class of every section of a class to pick out the instructor we wanted in future semesters.” We called it “crashing” a class. That gave us an idea of what classes we would take.”
Being picky paid off. Scarlett Philibosian is now an FERC License Coordinator with the Eugene Water & Electric Board in Eugene, Oregon and Dr. Belle Philibosian is a Research Geologist at the Earthquake Science Center with the U.S. Department of the Interior in Menlo Park, CA.