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August 12, 2011 > Louise Leck goes to college

Louise Leck goes to college

By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By Courtesy of Louise Leck

Louise Leck's journey, as a re-entry college student, has been focused in the areas of Fremont and Silicon Valley. Leck, nee Orsetti, considers herself to be a Fremont native as she has lived here almost all of her life. A technical glitch may apply as she was born in Alameda, site of the nearest hospital at the time.

Leck's early years were on the Orsetti farm in the Centerville area where her family lived in one house. Grandparents and Aunt Anita completed the clan. Leck's grandfather, Giovanni Orsetti, purchased the farmland around 1935. Prior to that, he tried several ventures, including growing wine grapes, which failed due to Prohibition. Then an opportunity came to lease land in old Alvarado. His next step was the purchase of the Centerville land, now the site of Regan's Nursery.

When Leck was nine, she moved to "town" with her parents Bruno and Florence, fraternal twin brother, and older brother. Her parents had decided they needed to move into a larger house.

Leck's grandparents married in Italy and her father Bruno was born there. She recounts that her parents met at a picnic given by her mother's employer, the Oakland Farmers' Market. Her mother had moved to California from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Leck and husband Scott, a transplant from Toledo, Ohio, met through mutual friends. Coincidentally, both are twins: Scott's identical and she's fraternal.

After her graduation from high school, Leck took a job building integrated circuits at a laboratory in Silicon Valley. She says, "This was a really good gig for an 18-year-old."

The next step on her educational road was enrolling at Ohlone College where this enterprising young woman earned an AA degree. With degree in hand, she went back to Silicon Valley. This time, Leck learned a new skill, making mask designs. Several years later, although well compensated, she felt an urge to move on. The desire to learn had resurfaced.

The next move took her to DeAnza Valley College (now DeAnza Community College) where she earned a certificate in technical writing. Technical writing was a cinch for her, as she liked writing and was well versed in integrated circuits. She worked in this field for 22 years.

As the economy slowed, job uncertainty crept into her mind. Adding to the sluggish economy, a lack of a four-year college degree worried her. Weighing her options and discussing her dilemma with co-workers, one colleague suggested she enroll at Mills College.

After reflecting on this, she checked out Mills, a private institution, founded in the mid-19th century as a school for women. The undergraduate program is still limited to women but the graduate program opened to men a few years ago.

Before quitting her job, Leck and Scott carefully considered their financial situation. Whether they could live on one salary, was a major concern. After much evaluation, both realized they could live on the salary Scott earned in the geotechnical engineering field. Leck saw that they spent money on items they really did not need so she quit her job and college life began.

The beginning was a true "college shock." Leck felt like her life was nothing but study, study, study but then got into the groove. Originally she wanted to earn a degree in film, but this was not offered at Mills so she opted for English with an emphasis on literature. After a few classes, she realized how history is intertwined with classic literature. One of her favorite books, possibly her favorite, is Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, which triggered an interest in the early history of our country.

Another challenging subject was Shakespeare; she had always been intimidated by his writings. Soon Leck learned he coined many, many words in use today and, from his plays, readers could learn to understand themselves and know their world. In the Shakespeare course, she was introduced to a technique called "close reading," which requires students to take a few lines from one of the writings and then write two or three pages analyzing and describing those few lines. Leck liked the challenge of close reading, a process that requires critical thinking. She learned that Shakespeare's writing could be read on many levels. This "seasoned student" was very successful in the Shakespeare class, earning an A.

Another discovery Leck made was that professors wanted students to read and create thoughtful writings... to think about the subjects being taught. In high school, American literature basically involved accepting what the teacher wanted the students to learn; to interpret a particular piece of literature from the teacher's perspective. At Mills, the system was different. Leck stated, "As long as you can write plausible and convincing interpretations, you can succeed. There is more freedom to explain what your ideas are regarding the author's writing."

After two years at Mills, Leck graduated on May 14, 2011. At age 55, Leck had achieved a long term goal, a landmark for her. She feels her college years were worth it. But her journey is not complete. Leck is ready for the next challenge of job seeking and she is ready to take it on. After all, she survived college P.E. (Physical Education)!

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