REDDING, Calif.—At his lowest point after years of drug addiction, Sacramento native Rodolfo Saenz found himself “stranded and hopeless” in Redding five years ago.
“By the grace of God, I ended up at the Good News Rescue Mission and spent three years in the Men’s New Life Recovery Program,” he said. “It was a challenging time, but it brought me to the saving grace of God.”
When Saenz chose to put his faith in Jesus Christ, everything changed, he said. In his late 20s, his desire to finish his schooling returned. He enrolled in Simpson University’s ASPIRE adult degree-completion program, choosing organizational leadership as his major.
Saenz was one of 130 graduates to walk the stage Jan. 11 at Simpson University’s commencement ceremony for summer and fall graduates. He graduated with highest honors, inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda national honor society for the top 20 percent of his graduating class.
He is already putting his degree to work as the new manager of Adult and Graduate Studies at Simpson University. The job gives Saenz an opportunity to exercise practical skills as well as servant leadership – and to help other students in a program he found ideal for his educational needs.
“ASPIRE is practical; it is hands-on,” he said. “It produces results that students can use immediately. And the faculty are an invaluable resource.”
The program offers degrees in business management, liberal studies, psychology and organizational leadership. An online option is also available for psychology and organizational leadership. Programs can be completed in 12 to 16 months.
Saenz, 30, grew up in Sacramento, the youngest of four children. He describes his life before returning to college as “very inconsistent.” Drug addiction made it difficult to stay in school and hold down a job, so he drifted in and out of several colleges and worked in multiple industries, including restaurant, retail, real estate, customer service, and manual labor.
After his years working through addiction and growing in his newfound faith, Saenz found himself living in a more stable manner. “I can confidently say my life is a much more consistent journey,” he said. “I credit Jesus Christ above everything.”
When looking at options for completing his degree, Saenz said he found Simpson’s program very appealing. “The quick pace and cohort model made it an easy choice,” he said. “Further, the Christian roots and values were important to me. Simply praying before class and having professors share their faith was a huge plus. Christian higher education goes beyond the mind – it incorporates soul and spirit as well.”
His biggest challenge, as a student again at age 28, was disciplining himself each week to finish his work, Saenz said.
“It is too easy to say, ‘I will do that tomorrow,’ and ‘tomorrow’ never materializes,” he said. “Because of the fast pace, ASPIRE is not a ‘tomorrow’ program. It required immediate action every day. I am grateful for the lessons this taught me.”
The program also helped boost his confidence in what he is able to do.
“When I entered the program I had some doubts about my capabilities in higher education,” Saenz said. “But the ASPIRE program and amazing faculty helped me realize how wrong I was. After the first class, I knew my capabilities were far greater than I had realized.”
Learn more about the adult degree-completion program at simpsonu.edu/aspire.
Simpson University, founded in 1921, moved to Redding 30 years ago and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 25 majors in its traditional undergraduate program, the university has graduated more than 4,000 North State adults from its ASPIRE degree-completion program, and nearly 3,000 from its School of Education. It has a No. 8-ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership. Simpson University is recognized nationally by Colleges of Distinction.
Simpson has new athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team. The university is also working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements, and it is offering new scholarships.