It’s the end of an era. After more than 40 years as an ESL instructional aide at MiraCosta College, Sue Otis is calling it quits.
“I’m 80 years old,” said Otis, whose tenure with MiraCosta ends in August with the completion of summer classes at the Community Learning Center. “It’s time for me to move on.”
She leaves behind more than her share of admirers.
“In the 40-plus years Sue Otis has been part of the MiraCosta family, she has served numerous noncredit ESL teachers as an instructional aide and likely thousands of students,” said ESL Instructor Kristi Reyes. “Sue is a friendly, warm person who makes students – most of whom are experiencing their first schooling in the United States – feel comfortable.”
Born in Okinawa, Japan, Otis attended a beauty college in Tokyo after high school, then opened her own studio in 1962. After marrying a U.S. Marine based in Japan and giving birth to two daughters, she sold her business and moved with her family to Oceanside in 1968. Following a brief detour to Pennsylvania, the family returned to Oceanside in 1973.
That’s when Otis began taking ESL classes at MiraCosta College.
“I just wanted to learn English,” she said. In her mid-30s, she enrolled in for-credit college classes, declared a major in accounting, and graduated with an associate degree in 1976. She also was awarded a MiraCosta Medal of Honor.
“It was very hard,” Otis recalled. “My English was still not so good. At home I’m busy ironing and cooking and listening to tapes from my class and doing my homework.”
Determined to help others who were following a similar path, Otis began working as an instructional aide for the ESL program in 1977 while also running her own hairstyling business. She sold the business in 2001 and began teaching yoga in Encinitas but kept working as an instructional aide.
“I love to work with ESL students because I know how important it is to learn English to be successful in this country,” she said. “I was at same place as the ESL students are right now. I was able to have a successful life here, and I couldn't have done it if I hadn't known enough English language, which I learned at MiraCosta.”
The changes over the years have been many. Jimmy Carter was in the White House. The average home cost less than $50,000. The average annual income was $15,000. And gas would cost you 65 cents a gallon.
“We didn’t have a computer at all,” Otis said. “In my accounting classes, we did everything with pencil. Nobody heard of a cell phone.”
But Otis is a quick learner. She was an aide for one of the college’s first offerings of the ESL Digital Storytelling class, and in 2008 she put together a digital story titled “Little Samurai” recounting the early life of her great grandfather’s story.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the determination of students taking ESL classes at MiraCosta College. “ESL students have busy lives,” Otis said. “They are working, maybe raising a family, and they still have the time to come to class. They keep me humble.”
Although she’ll be gone from MiraCosta, Otis has more than enough to keep herself busy. She plans to work in her garden, do some traveling, and spend a lot of time with family. And she will continue to exercise and practice yoga daily.
And MiraCosta College will always remain a part of her.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this college,” she said. “I have a great appreciation for MiraCosta. I’ve been here for half of my life. It has greatly impacted me, and it has greatly impacted the lives of so many students over the years.”