Off the beaten path: the story of Albert Ponce


Olivier Alata

Professor Albert Ponce, Portrait in the Diablo Room on Nov. 9, 2017 (Olivier Alata)

Olivier Alata, Staff member

College is when people spend most of their time trying to figure out who they really are and what they truly want to do with their lives. Some students have known since childhood what they aspire to be. For some, like Diablo Valley College professor Albert Ponce, finding their vocation takes a little longer.

Via email, Ponce wrote that growing up in a working poor, immigrant community in La Puente, California, his opportunities were limited if he wanted to stay out of the school-to-prison pipeline. He could either join the military or work in the low-wage sector of the economy. He dropped out of high school at 16, opting instead to work full time. 

“It was not a very good environment to learn,” said Ponce.

Although out of school, Ponce’s drive to understand the inequalities of the world led him to Chiapas, Mexico in 1999 where he spent a couple of weeks with indigenous communities learning about their experiences resisting the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“This was a pivotal moment that compelled me to learn more and to see how I could make an impact by educating others about the inequitable world we exist in and work towards building a better one,” said Ponce via email.

Upon his return he earned his GED diploma in 2001 and followed up by enrolling in his first community college course at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California in 2002.

Two years later, Ponce transferred with honors from Mt. San Antonio College to UC Berkeley in fall of 2005.

After receiving two bachelors degrees with distinction in political science and Chicano studies, Ponce went on to University of California Los Angeles to earn his doctorate in political science in the fall of 2007.

From 2007 to 2013, Ponce simultaneously studied and taught race, ethnicity, politics, and political theory in the departments of political science and Chicano studies at UCLA.

On Sept. 13, 2013, Ponce was awarded his Ph.D. in political science from UCLA and was offered the opportunity to come back to Northern California to teach.

“As I was completing my dissertation, I got the full-time position at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe for three years and now I’m here at DVC,” said Ponce.

Although he liked teaching at UCLA, Ponce finds something special about teaching at a community college.

“The most transformative professor I had, even after going to UCB, UCLA and building friendships over the years, was from community college,” said Ponce. “He really expanded the way I saw the world and that’s why I’m trying to do here with my students.”

According to Frank Ortega, professor of sociology at DVC, Ponce is a role model for not just students but also for his colleagues because he always wants to understand the world in order to help others understand what is happening.

Ponce’s primary goal as a teacher is to stimulate interest and curiosity in every student.

Part of how he does this is by setting his class up in a circle so everyone can learn from each other.

“Facing one another can help you realize that you have a lot in common with the person who has an opposing view. I think this is especially important in a political science class with the current political climate,” said Daniel Marquez, 25, a political economy major who is taking Ponce’s intro to political science class.

Ponce also allows his students to challenge themselves to be uncomfortable.

“This course consists of studying many white male philosophers. As a female of color, I was a little apprehensive about how engaged I would be with these philosophies. Due to how Dr. Ponce has framed the course, I have found myself nothing but fully engaged,” said Jasmine Aliakbar, a 19-year-old student majoring in political science who is taking Ponce’s political theory class.

Ponce’s dedication and passion for political science and his students are definitely something to be respected. Drive, determination and a passion that cannot be dimmed have allowed him to live out his dreams.

“Community college transformed my life,” said Ponce. “That’s why I wanted to come back and teach at this institution.”


Albert Ponce speaks at a DACA event at Diablo Valley College on Sept. 7, 2017. (Photo by Olivier Alata)
Albert Ponce speaks at a DACA event at Diablo Valley College on Sept. 7, 2017. (Photo by Olivier Alata)
Albert Ponce talks about white supremacy at the first Social Justice Lecture Series of the 2017-2018 academic year on Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Mahrukh Siddiqui/DVC Inquirer)