A photo of Dr. Amy AvelarWhen she looks at her students, Dr. Amy Avelar sees herself. 
Avelar, a chemistry professor and the department's chair, has been teaching at San Bernardino Valley College for more than a decade, but she first stepped foot on campus as a student.  
Back then, "I never imagined I would be back as a professor," Avelar said. "I was just trying to make it each semester and juggle family and adult responsibilities. When I reflect back, I know that it was my professors here at SBVC who made the difference. Their belief in me when I sometimes doubted was instrumental in completing my degrees. There was even a time in graduate school when I wanted to quit, but they — Dr. Susan Bangasser and Dr. John Stanskas, among others — would tell me to continue, that I was almost done." 
The path to SBVC wasn't easy for Avelar. The oldest of ten children, the San Bernardino native grew up poor, and was a teen mom who worked in a fast food restaurant. As a first-generation college student, "I know the odds were not in my favor, but that didn't make me stop," she said. "I didn't allow the naysayers to convince me I should stop." 
She completed her studies at SBVC in about six years, graduating with an associate's degree in chemistry, and then transferred to the University of California Riverside, where she earned a bachelor's degree and doctorate in chemistry. Through teaching, Avelar said she's found that "helping others understand chemistry is very rewarding. There is something about seeing others understand a difficult subject that makes one's day." 
Avelar is married, with three sons and two granddaughters. Her favorite thing about working at SBVC is the students, as she knows firsthand how going to college can change so many people's lives for the better. 
"I get to be a small part of making that difference," Avelar said. "I sometimes see students from the intro level courses, then our first and second year college level courses, and continue on to transfer programs, medical school, PA programs, dental school, and pharmacy school. One former student has even come back to work as a counselor for us." 
Last spring, Avelar's talents were rewarded as she was honored with the Outstanding Professor Award during the 24th Annual Spotlighting Our Success ceremony. Her colleagues praised her for the hard work she puts in as the California Teacher Association's lead negotiator, department chair, and member of the Accreditation Committee, District Assembly, and Academic Senate. 
"I felt humbled and grateful," she said. "I believe in what I do and try to make long- lasting and positive changes for our college, students, and community."