Petra Mansfield commutes 75 miles, one way, to take classes leading to her master’s of social work degree at Cal State Monterey Bay. 

That may seem like a long trip…until you consider the obstacles Mansfield has already overcome in pursuit of her education.

The mother of six grown children, Mansfield, 59, lives with her husband in San Ardo, a small town in south Monterey County. She works for theKinship Center, a non-profit adoption, foster care and relative care agency.

Raised in a rural village in Mexico, Mansfield had little exposure to formal education until after coming to the U.S. as a teenager.

“I was fascinated by the English language and wanted to learn it. Television was good for me. I used to watch the ‘I Love Lucy’ shows. I liked Lucy’s enthusiasm and her comedy, and her husband was Hispanic, and I could identify with that,” Mansfield said.

“Learning to speak the language wasn’t enough. I wanted to learn to read. But because I never went to school in Mexico, it was challenging. The dictionary was my best friend. I would read a definition
of one word and in that definition, I found other words I had to look up,” she said.

Eventually, she earned her GED, and began her pursuit of a degree at Hartnell College. She acknowledges it was intimidating at first, but she found plenty of helpful staff and faculty, first at Hartnell and then at Cal State Monterey Bay, to keep her going.

“I believe this school really means what it says when it comes to empowering students and the mission statement. I like how they focus on diversity and ethics. We (the graduates) really carry that with us,” Mansfield said.

She is on track to receive her MSW in May and she plans to continue to work on issues she sees in her community.

“My goal is to be able to provide support to families in South County. There are a lot of mental health issues, gang issues,” she said. “You see people coming from Mexico in search of a better life. Often the parents have to work 10-12 hours a day out in the fields, and who is babysitting the children then? What kind of care are they getting?”

– James Tinney

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