DSPS tutor turns learning disability into strength

Elina Nordin and Elina Nordin

Every morning, Dena Mark takes the two-minute walk from her apartment to Starbucks Coffee and buys a cup of black iced tea without sweetener and a blueberry muffin.

“They know my name and they know what I want,” she said. “They have my drink ready before I pay. It’s crazy!”

But Mark is not just one of Starbucks most devoted fans and she doesn’t just keep the blueberry business going.

She is the Outstanding Students of the Year in DSPS, the Disabled Student Program & Services department at City College.

“I am very honored to be one of the most outstanding students this year because there are a lot of students that are qualified,” said Mark, a liberal studies major.

“I’m a tutor for disabled students,” Mark said. “I help them out if they have papers to correct or if they have other problems.”

Mark has dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. However, her disabilities have never stopped her from doing what she wants to do including attending college.

It is also the reason why she ended up in Santa Barbara.

“My high school teachers told my parents right before I graduated that I don’t have the skills needed to go to college,” Mark said. “But my mom and I did some research and found out about Santa Barbara City College and its DSPS department. And here I am.”

In 2003 she moved to Isla Vista from the San Fernando Valley, and three years later she can’t imagine herself anywhere else.

“How are you supposed to focus when you see boats going by in your classroom?” said Mark. “That’s ridiculous!”

She said she has great plans for the future and hopes to graduate next year.

“I’m not sure what college I want to transfer to but I want to be a speech and language therapist,” Mark said.

She added it could take her awhile to get through all her schooling because of past hardships.

“But I think that everything happens for a reason and my disability is definitely not an excuse,” she added, “and that is what I tell the students I tutor.”

When Mark is working hard in class or as a DSPS tutor she said she enjoys hanging out with her best friend, spending time with her family or just relaxing. And, of course, visiting Starbucks.