ESL student returns to SBCC as professor after over 30 years


Ryan Cullom

Juan Carrera-Espinoza combines two solutions in a chemistry lab on Tuesday, Aug. 30, in the Physical Science Building on City College’s East Campus. Carrera-Espinoza started at City College taking non-credit courses in chemistry as a student and is now a full-time instructor.


Juan Carrera-Espinoza, the newest full time chemistry instructor at City College, works quietly in his office with classical music audible outside the open door. After more than 30 years, he is back to where his journey began.

Carrera-Espinoza, who now holds a doctorate in chemistry and a post-doctorate in research, started at City College in the late 1980s as an ­­English as a second language student.

Professor Raeanne Napoleon, who had a hand in hiring him, describes him as “approachable, kind, and extremely calming.”

Juan Carrera-Espinoza stands in a chemistry lab on Tuesday, Aug. 30, in the Physical Science building on City College’s East Campus.
Ryan Cullom
Juan Carrera-Espinoza stands in a chemistry lab on Tuesday, Aug. 30, in the Physical Science building on City College’s East Campus.

“He has a real impact on students and faculty,” she said.

Carrera-Espinoza said he is happy to be in his position.

“I don’t have to think twice about coming to work. Our students are excellent.”

Carrera-Espinoza, who said he has always enjoyed math and science, left City College after completing associate degrees in mathematics and physics. He continued his education at the University of Kansas and received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, followed by his doctorate.

He then went to Taiwan to complete a postdoctoral position in research in the physics department at the National Taiwan University in Taipei City.

Carrera-Espinoza’s said his favorite part of Taiwan was how different the language and culture was. It was in Taiwan where he met his wife Liping, and they remained there for about three years.

Shortly after moving back to Santa Barbara to be closer to his family, he became a teaching assistant at the Wake Campus, for continuing education for five years. He assisted with the GED and bilingual GED program, and there discovered his favorite part of teaching—the contact with students.

“Motivating them, instigating the thought that they can do it,” Carrera-Espinoza said.

It was Dean Marilynn Spaventa who first reached out and asked him to be a tutor for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Program, or STEM, at City College. Carrera-Espinoza was timid and shy at first, but took the position and remained in that role for about two years.

Napoleon remembers being impressed the first time meeting him in the STEM Center and thinking to herself, “overqualified.”

Until he came along they just could not find the right fit for the position and it remained open for three years, Napoleon said.

“Juan represents students better than anyone…he was one. I think students can see themselves in him,” she said. “He is really walking the walk. He is the whole package.”

Carrera-Espinoza added that Napoleon gave him the final push he needed to apply.

“Good people will always give you a break if you show them that you work hard,” Carrera-Espinoza said.

“Just go with it when life comes at you. You have to be positive. Life has so many detours…as long as you work hard. Work work. People will see that. You have to see the silver lining, you have to be positive.”

Correction:  An earlier version of this article misstated where Juan Carerra-Espinoza earned his bachelor’s degree. Carerra-Espinoza attended the University of Kansas not the University of Kentucky. The Channels regrets this error.