Santa Monica College: A Community’s College

Celebrating 75 Years of Achievment graphic.Started as a small program in 1929, Santa Monica College is today considered one of the top ten community colleges in the country. Widely known for its extraordinary transfer success, SMC also has been a leader in shaping the look and feel of community colleges in California. SMC efforts in the 1940s created the model for combining technical education and general education into one enterprise. SMC advocacy in the 1980s helped gain community colleges full status as institutions of higher education. Today, SMC leadership is helping to guarantee all California community college students full and equal access. A full year of celebration is underway, starting with Celebrate America fireworks on July 3 and ending with graduation next June. You’re welcome to help celebrate!

The breadth of SMC’s curriculum today would stun the students of seventy-five years ago: genetics & molecular biology, marketing research & consumer behavior advanced scriptwriting, data structure with java, conflict resolution skills, perspective for animation & interactive design, bio-ethics & oracle programming, just to name a few of our recent class offerings.

75 Years of Innovation & Achievement

The Original Junior College Campus early 1930's“I’m very proud of this college,” says Dr. Piedad Robertson, President of Santa Monica College as she assesses the seventy-fifth anniversary of the opening of Santa Monica College in 1929. “Look at what we do. We serve not only the high school graduates but also the twenty-seven year olds, the returning students, the welfare recipients, the ones who simply say ‘Now it’s my time.’ It’s the role of the community college to serve everyone and that’s exactly what we do.”

Santa Monica College is a place where anyone can rejuvenate their academic career, a mission it shares with all community colleges. We provide the classrooms to give the single mother the ability to return to meaningful work and the laid off worker the high tech training he or she needs to get a good job. Although the community college was once viewed as merely the 13th and 14th year of high school, over the last seventy-five years SMC has become much more than that: the College is the gateway for first generation college students, the site for lifelong learning, a growing trend in education since the 1980s; and the place where the transformation of society into an information network is occurring: computer training and media technology are helping students keep pace with a world that is changing at a quicksilver pace. The World Way II Memorial Clock Tower 1958SMC is also a place of academic achievement: students transferring from SMC have continued their studies at such prestigious universities as Smith College, New York University, Stanford University, UCLA and USC, just to cite a few. The breadth of SMC’s curriculum today would stun the students of seventy-five years ago: genetics and molecular biology, marketing research and consumer behavior, advanced scriptwriting, data structure with java, conflict resolution skills, perspective for animation and interactive design, bio-ethics, and oracle programming, just to name a few of our recent class offerings. And while the terms ‘vocational schools,’ ‘technical colleges,’ ‘colleges,’ and ‘junior colleges’ have unfairly carried connotations of a second-class education, learning a skill, mastering a craft, and honing an art are things that a good two-year college should be able to provide to any student willing to learn. And Santa Monica College is such a place. And more.

“Santa Monica College educates the whole person,” said Kevin Starr at the library’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2002. “It’s one thing to be a sort of `great intellectual,’ say professional things, et cetera, and be absolutely oblivious to the practical necessities of life. On the other hand, it’s an equally bad situation to be so totally practical that you lack a sense of the speculative dimensions of life, the life of the imagination, the life of the spirit, the finer landscapes of human culture. The two-year community college program—and Santa Monica College, in particular—has stood for the continuity of knowledge. That knowledge, as we human beings encounter it, represents a continuity from the practical to the speculative and back again. It’s a circle. You can’t divide one from the other. That ideal of thinking well and doing well—the idea of understanding and doing as part of the same act is at the core of this institution. I think that’s extraordinarily important and represents a great high civic and educational ideal.”


Aerial View of Santa Monica College Mid 1950'sIt may be difficult to imagine the dimensions of the College when it opened its doors in 1929, especially given the 20,000-plus students and hundreds of faculty that swarm through the campus now: three classrooms on the second floor of Santa Monica High School, 153 students, and eight faculty members. There was something else that was significant about 1929 as well: while it was the bellwether year that rang out the Roaring Twenties and ushered in the Great Depression, it was also a landmark year for education in Southern California: ’29 was the year that UCLA, Loyola-Marymount University, and Santa Monica Junior College (as it was called then) were all established.

SMC was rocked out of its home by the Long Beach Earthquake of 1933: this won’t be the first time that a California temblor transforms the course of the College’s development. But it shouldn’t be cruelly omitted from the annals of history that while the College was located at Garfield Elementary, Joy Shiland Rutherford composed the college hymn: yes, believe it or not, there is such a creature as a Santa Monica College hymn! Dislocated by the earthquake, SMC was housed temporarily in a tent city with wood floors and canvas roofs – buckets were placed on the floor for leaks on rainy days and classes were simply canceled when it rained too hard (ah, those were the days). The tents at this campus (the campus was affectionately referred to as Splinterville) were eventually replaced by bungalows, but in 1940 the Santa Monica Board of Education, in a prescient move which assured the future of the College and conferred the status of real estate geniuses upon the Board’s collective heads, approved the purchase of a site along Pearl Street between 16th and 19th Streets for $26,400 at $1,650 an acre – now those were the days!

Splinterville - late 1930s and 40s.Although it would be another twelve years before the first building would open for students at the Pearl Street location, the College continued to grow during the interim. In 1945 the College changed its name to Santa Monica City College; this change reflected the inclusion of both Santa Monica Technical School and the adult education component of the Santa Monica Unified School District into the College. 1945 also marked the end of the World War Two, the G.I. Bill and an influx of veterans to universities and colleges all over the country, a trend that Santa Monica City College certainly wasn’t exempt from. One important landmark that marked that year was the establishment of CRW (the Community Radio Workshop), an effort to teach broadcasting to servicemen returning from the War. The Community Radio Workshop evolved into the College Radio Workshop; the station was languishing in a state of disrepair and neglect when the savvy Ruth Seymour became general manager in 1978 and transformed it into KCRW, possibly the most vibrant radio station in the entire National Public Network and a symbol of the College throughout Southern California and the nation.

The Original Junior College Campus early 1930'sThe first facility to open at the Pearl Street campus was Corsair Stadium in 1948 – this probably had more to do with the relative ease of constructing a football stadium than the educational priorities in post-World War Two America. Guided by the steady hand of Elmer Sandmeyer, president of SMCC from 1929 to 1953, a ground-breaking ceremony for the new campus finally occurred in 1950; two years later, the first building opened at the present site (at that time the address was 1815 Pearl) and the campus was dedicated on April 25, 1952. By the 1959-60 school year, enrollment had jumped to a tad over 10,000 and Santa Monica City College was starting to earn its reputation as a first-rate educational institution and prime transfer point to major four-year universities.


Student Pilot Recruits - circa World War IISanta Monica College dropped the “City” from its title in 1971, reflecting the fact that SMC was serving the westside Los Angeles area rather than simply Santa Monica. The Emeritus College opened in 1975; in an unrelated development, this also happened to be the year Corsair students elected the first male homecoming queen (who was aptly named Goldie Glitters), a choice that the football players did not find especially humorous. But the gridiron heroes had other things to cheer about: during the same era it was noted that SMC had matriculated more Playboy Centerfolds than any other college in the country, just one of the College’s many noteworthy distinctions. There were other signs that the times they were a-changing: enrollment was up to 16,502 in 1976 and SMC hired a new president in ’74: Dr. Richard Moore, an iconoclast who instigated active recruiting of minorities (minorities now constitute approximately 65% of SMC’s student body), and oversaw the splitting off of the College from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, leading to the creation of SMC’s own district, charter, and board. At last, the College was autonomous, its own distinct educational entity.

These Graduates joined the National Guard when the call came. They are left to right: Hudson, Keegan, Anderson, Miller, Gertskemper, Unidentified Hocheimer, Shell, and Coleman.In 1979 SMCC first earned the distinction of being the number-one transfer college for UCLA, a distinction it has held ever since. “We’ve always had a great reputation here,” says Tom Donner, SMC’s executive vice-president of business and administration. “We’ve always had the best students, the best faculty and the best employees,” adds Donner who has worked at the College since 1978. “I have friends who are professors at UCLA and they tell me that when they get a student from SMC they know that they will perform well in their class.” Success also brought more students to SMC (24,000 in 1989) and the College outgrew its campus. The Airport and Madison campuses were added in 1989 and 1990 respectively, and enrollment just kept burgeoning, hitting the 26,000 mark in 1994.

Women's Athletics Archery 1941In August of ’94, Dr. Moore left SMC to become president of the Community College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas; Tom Donner graciously served as interim president until the College hired its current president, Dr. Piedad Robertson, in May of 1995. Prior to Moore’s announcement, an earthquake rocked the greater Los Angeles area in January of 1994, dealing an especially severe blow to the Santa Monica area and virtually destroying the Science Building – once again, a temblor would have a major impact on the College. Partially funded by a $23 million grant from FEMA, the new science building opened in 1999. In September of 1998, the Academy of Entertainment and Technology opened at 1660 Stewart Street, a site purchased from the Gemological Institute of America for $8.8 million.

Rolling Stone Magazine named SMC among “Ten of the Best” community colleges in the country in its October 1998 issue Although it is untrue that this designation had anything to do with the fact that John Densmore, the drummer for The Doors, was a student at the College in the 1960s and even played the snare drum in the Corsair marching band, it does bring up the subject of celebrity, and this being Los Angeles, the thespians lead the way in that category. Dustin Hoffman went to the College and the two-time Oscar winner displayed his loyalty to his alma mater by announcing a $24.8 million capital campaign for SMC in October of 1999 – he was also spotted guest-teaching one of the College’s acting classes in the Winter of 2004. The Semi-Annual Alpha vs. Beta Murder Ball Brawl 1942But Hoffman wasn’t the only major Hollywood star to attend SMC – the legendary James Dean also took classes at the College and even played for the Corsair baseball team in the early 1950s, although his near-sightedness kept him on the bench during most of the action. Sean Penn, winner of the Oscar for Best Actor in 2004 for his performance in “Mystic River,” also took a number of courses at SMC. And we mustn’t forget the current governor of California: shortly after moving to Southern California from his native Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger earned seventy-two units at SMC before moving on to success in Hollywood and Sacramento. As a matter of fact, the Governor spoke to his old SMC English professor, Dick Dodge, several times a week during last year’s Recall campaign. Dodge, who died last Halloween after teaching at the College for thirty-six years, also taught Dustin Hoffman, and Dean Martin’s son, Dino, who once brought his agent with him to class. There are other notable alumni as well, not all of them from the theatrical arena: Lenny Krazelburg, winner of two Olympic gold medals in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia; Walter Cunningham, who went on from SMC to become an astronaut on the Apollo 7 mission; Nathan Myhrvold, who started taking courses at the College while he was a sophomore at Santa Monica High School, and studied physics with Stephen Hawkings at Oxford University before becoming second-in-command at Microsoft and developing the Windows program; and Carl Okaka, who is currently a Rhodes Scholar after graduating from Stanford University.


Camera Club President - Carl Toothman, Vice-President - Chuck Wherry 
Secretary - Suzanne Pettinga, Treasurer - Les Churchill Members are - H. Anderson, R. Bailey, D. Collins, R La Joie, B. Nesbit, M. Weiss, M. Mayberry, J. Jane, G. Yamamoto, M. Gladstein, A. Webster, S. Jrell, L. Stonehill, C. Aaron, D. Volne, D. Pitti, C. Mortenson, B. Unger, W. Lockwood, F. Gabourie, G. Hall, S. Graham, D. Davis, C. Parson, J. Winscott, M. Gebghart, D. Comfort, E. Jackson, M. Bentley, C. Pitt, J. Hacker, J. Peha, S. Pickard, T. Penfield, M. Martin, G. Coon, A. Freed, J. Douglas, B. Lyberg, K. Hochohji, B. Moore, D. Hillman, M. McLean, G. DeLuna, J. Snyder, R. Woylen, R. Gorman, B. Grosjean, D. Schacht, D. Cutas, J. James, M. McHenry, C. Eurist, D. Friedman, R. Day, A. Refalo, L. Jones, J. Jossman, L. Stern, J. Ford, V. McCabe, A. GilbertThe last five years at the campus have seen the continued evolution of the best community college in the country. “This is a very good time for the College,” says Dr. Robertson, who served as an advisor on education both to Governor Schwarzenegger’s transition team and to Richard Riordan, the State’s Secretary of Education. “In the Fall of 2004, we’ll add back thousands of students and bring back many of the part-time instructors. Plus, we’ll be offering more courses than have ever been offered in the entire history of the College.” And, despite several bleak years for California’s economy, SMC has managed to forge ahead with a number of major projects. The Santa Monica Swim Center, an aquatic resource for the entire community, opened in July 2002; and a new campus at Santa Monica Airport – with four buildings on 10.4 acres – was purchased for $30 million (only $29,973,600 more than the purchase price of the Pearl Street site in 1940). The Administration Building moved off-campus to an 18,000-square-foot building at 2714 Pico, relieving some of the stress of over-crowding on the main campus. And the library was remodeled and expanded at a price of $23.6 million – at its opening ceremony, KCET personality and host of “California Gold” Huell Howser noted that a library is part “of the quintessential California dream, a dream of knowledge, learning, and advancement. A library is a place where ideas are percolating and where previous positions and stances are challenged. When I travel across the landscape of this state, I see lots of monuments, lots of marble, lots of grand edifices. But nothing demonstrates more clearly what a community believes in, stands for, and puts their faith in, than their schools, their museums, and their libraries. This new building is the heart and soul of this campus.” Faith in SMC has been repeatedly reflected by the generosity of the residents of Santa Monica: the latest demonstration of that faith occurred in March of 2002 when voters overwhelmingly approved a $160 million bond measure – Proposition U passed by a 70% vote, clearly a vote of confidence for the work the College has accomplished over the years.

The Library - caption: mankind can be heard... the lessons of the past reviewed... or a plan for the future be created...But in the final analysis the achievements of a college must be measured on the effect the institution has had on its students, and in this regard SMC is one resounding success story. The College has transferred countless students to major universities, including such educational institutions as UC Berkeley, Smith College, New York University, and Stanford University. Yes, the College remains the number-one transfer point to UCLA, but it is also the number-one transfer college to USC, Pepperdine and Loyola-Marymount University as well. And countless students have found their path here, their particular enthusiasm, a focus that will provide a livelihood for them as well as a source of nourishment for their intellect and their soul. If that sounds like an claim that lacks credibility, just listen to the evidence: “I just love the Academy of Entertainment and Technology!” says Angela Buitendacht, who relocated to Southern California from South Africa to study at SMC. It’s like my family, and I know all the lecturers and everybody else. It’s amazing to be around people who have such fire.” Or Mike Walecka: “I didn’t get into any of the big schools right out of high school, but I heard SMC has the best transfer rate to UCLA. That’s where I’m headed.” Or Christine Cortez, a first-generation college student: “My education is going to mean nothing but opportunity for me. No one else in the family has gone to college, and because of that, they’ve had to struggle.”

As SMC maintains its dedication to meeting the expectations of its students, its growth remains a dynamic process. Dr. Robertson has instigated a stunning array of partnerships in the greater Santa Monica community: art and culture programs have been set up between SMC, UCLA and the Los Angeles Opera; the College’s nursing program has instituted partnerships with Cedra Sinai, Kaiser Permante, and UCLA Medical Center; the early childhood education program has a partnership going with Easter Seals and a dozen local providers; and SMC had dozens of internship programs with a wide array of businesses and institutions, including the White House. 75th Anniversary cake image.SMC’s Emeritus College is virtually a second home for thousands of senior citizens, providing life-long learning opportunities in diverse fields. The Emeritus College (long housed at a site adjacent to the City’s Second Street parking structure) recently moved into a new 24,000-square-foot building in downtown Santa Monica. Currently under construction on the main campus is a new theatre arts building; up next will be a new liberal arts building – construction for this $18.96 million project began in the spring of 2004. If those 153 students and eight faculty members from the Class of 1929 could magically return and visit the campus now, they’d be astounded at what has grown from those second floor classrooms down at Santa Monica High School. “I basically serve as a representative of the College,” says Dr. Robertson. “I represent the College to the State legislature, to the Governor, and to prospective students. And I could not do that unless I truly believed in this College. We’ve accomplished a lot here in the last seventy-five years. We have such a strong faculty. The quality of our faculty assures the quality of the education we’re providing to our students. We have a wonderful staff – our senior staff is the best that there is. Our classified staff actually asked to be part of the graduation ceremony. So now they are up there, sitting on the stage when the students receive their diplomas. That shows you how much they believe in the mission of the College. Seventy-five years is definitely something worth celebrating.”

In 1972 SMC first earned the distinction of being the number-one transfer college for UCLA, a distinction it has held ever since.

1929 Santa Monica Junior College starts fall classes with 153 students and 8 faculty. Dr. Ralph Hopkins Bush is the first Director, serving until 1939.
1937 Santa Monica Technical School is established at 2200 Virginia Avenue.
1939 Dr. Elmer Sandmeyer is appointed as the first President, serving until 1953.
1940 Most of the Pearl Street campus is purchased for $1,650 an acre.
1945 College is reborn as Santa Monica City College, incorporating all three divisions: technical, general education, and adult education. College is leader in State in forming this model of the community college.
1952 Classes begin at new Pearl Street campus.
1953 Dr. Wade Thomas is appointed as the second President, serving until 1972.
1969 Technical school moves to main campus. The Virginia Avenue site was sold to the City of Santa Monica in 1974 and is now Virginia Avenue Park.
1971 College is renamed Santa Monica College to better compete with the newly opened West Los Angeles College. Since 1929, about two-thirds of SMC students have been from Los Angeles.
1974 Dr. Richard Moore is appointed as the first Superintendent and the fifth President, serving until 1994. (Dr. Donald Click and Dr. Alfred Artuso served briefly prior to Dr. Moore.)
1975 The Emeritus College program for older adults begins.
1982 College becomes wholly autonomous, with the separate election of the Board of Trustees. Prior to 1970, the College was operated as a program of the School District. In 1970, the College District was formed, with the School Board sitting as the College Board of Trustees until 1982.
1986 California students may now attend any community college, regardless of residence.
1995 Dr. Piedad Robertson is appointed and currently serves as the third Superintendent and seventh President. (Dr. Thomas Donner served as the interim Superintendent/ President prior to Dr. Robertson.)
1998 Academy of Entertainment & Technology campus opens.
2001 College acquires 10.4 acre site near Santa Monica Airport.
2004 College enters 75th year, with about 320 full-time faculty, about 700 part-time faculty, and serving over 30,000 students each semester.

SMC’s Two Honor Societies
Promote Service & Volunteering

Phi Theta Kappa group image.Earlier this year, students from the Santa Monica College chapter of Phi Theta Kappa came out to volunteer for the Children’s Literacy Festival for preschoolers and youngsters held at SMC. That was only one of a myriad of community service projects local members of the national community college honor society are involved in each year.

“We do things like tutor kids at John Adams Middle School, help out in soup kitchens, hold an annual blood drive, things like that,” explained Ray Emanuel, economics student and President of SMC’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter.

“Every semester they do a blood drive,” added Jean Gorgie, an English instructor who works with 300 SMC Phi Theta Kappa volunteers. Students also helped out with the dedication of the new campus library and sponsored a black-tie art auction at the Bel Air Country Club. Proceeds for the event went to SMC to help make up for state cutbacks in community college funding.

This type of volunteer work is par for the course not only with Phi Theta Kappa, but also with the state’s community college honor society, Alpha Gamma Sigma.

Phi Theta Kappa group image.“The heart of the matter is serving the community, which means volunteering at events both on campus and off,” agreed John Quevedo, a math professor and advisor for Alpha Gamma Sigma, the national honor society’s sister organization at the state level.

Alpha Gamma Sigma students do a regular beach cleanup session, pack lunch bags for the homeless and conduct five and 10-kilometer runs to raise money for Heal the Bay to help local water quality.

The two honor societies have different requirements for volunteering efforts and community service, but share high-academic standing as a prerequisite for membership: in both cases, students must achieve a 3.0 or higher. Both stress leadership skills, maintaining the highest level of scholastic achievement, and community service. Alpha Gamma Sigma makes community service a requirement in order to receive a transcript notation that shows the student was in the honor society.

Phi Theta Kappa inductee.The two honor societies have earned impressive reputations for helping out in the community.

“We usually receive 250 to 300 applications. Of those about 200 students give at least 20 hours a semester of volunteer community service—enough to earn a transcript notation,” said Alpha Gamma Sigma’s Quevedo.

Phi Theta Kappa’s Gorgie said her organization is especially important for preparing students for their futures. “I’ve had students in the honor society who’ve come to me about personality conflicts with other members, but working these problems out reflects what they will encounter in the work force and it’s good for them to practice that,” she said.

She also points out how the badge of joining the honor society gives students something to strive for. One of her students, who was once in danger of flunking out, worked hard and is now a member of the Phi Theta Kappa. It was all the result of hard work and lots of tutoring, she said. “I love seeing the success stories. That’s the reason I teach.”

A “One-Stop” Start for New Students

SMC’s new Welcome Center will help new students get started with their Fall studies. The Center offers academic counseling, enrollment, financial aid, and a place to pay your fees all in one place! The Welcome Center is located in Cayton 110 (near the Student Cafeteria) and will operate this Summer from June 28 through September 10. The Welcome Center team of SMC professionals will answer your questions, help you choose your classes, and get you enrolled. It’s a great new way to start college!

For an Easy, Affordable Move
into American Culture…

Fall 2004 Offers International Students
a Great Beginning to Their College Careers!

Two students study at table.Santa Monica College is #1 in transfers to UCLA and the University of California. Many international students choose Santa Monica College to begin their college careers because of SMC’s transfer success, high quality teaching, and low cost.

Intensive ESL at Santa Monica College will help you make real progress in college. This program offers a strong plan to help students improve their skills in speaking, reading, listening, and writing English. For admission requirements and more information, you can contact SMC’s International Education Center on the main campus, or call Darryl-Keith Ogata, Director of International Programs, at (310) 434-4159. For information on the web, go to


English — Intensive ESL

Students in classroom.20 hours a week of English instruction in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Classes are provided at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. This is the best program to help you improve your TOEFL scores in a short time! Students can begin the academic program at Santa Monica College from any level. Classes begin August 30, 2004. Tuition is $1,500.

Galina Inzhakova“Coming to a new country, it’s better to start small… SMC really helped! Intensive ESL is like a little community—you spend a lot of time with other students and the teachers are right there taking care of you!”
—Galina Inzhakova, now at UCLA in Fine Arts