Jerry Thurston

Story By: Karina Ornelas

Fresno City College instructor, Jerry Thurston, has a lot more to teach than just Interpersonal Communication. A full-time instructor since 2003, Thurston is impacting lives daily, much beyond the classroom.  Students and faculty know him as an advocate for the voiceless and one who is willing to help those in need.

“Mr. Thurston is an enthusiastic colleague and he cares a lot about his students.  His open minded and caring perspectives are positively contagious,” said Dan Scott, Co-chair of the Communication Arts Department.

Thurston said his experience teaching at FCC has been very positive for a number of reasons, but particularly because of his colleagues and students. What comes across from speaking to Thurston is that he sincerely cares about students and their academic progress. His caring goes much beyond giving his students the grades they deserve; he tries to ensure that every student understands the material.

Thurston lauds FCC’s diversity even with the difficulties it can sometimes bring. He feels at home teaching and helping students of all backgrounds and tries to convey that same sense of being welcome right back to them. “It’s a challenge trying to explain something to a woman over 50 who has been in the country for three years, and to a regular 18-year-old student in the same class,” he said.

The Westminster native made his way from the Orange County area to Fresno, and that’s a good thing it seems. Thurston’s continuous geographic movement somewhat mirrored his frequent academic major changes. He first attended Cypress College in Cypress, California, choosing to major in English Literature.

“I wanted to be a writer, I had a lot of passion for it, but I wasn’t very good,” Thurston said of his realization that he might not have been cut out for creative writing.

After his brief stint as an English Literature major, Thurston quit school to work. Waiting tables in a Visalia restaurant eventually led him to re-enroll in school in Fresno. Between 1989 and 1990, Thurston was a Telecommunications major at California State University of Fresno. He took an Interpersonal Communication class and immediately changed his major. “I was absolutely fascinated,” he said.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Communications in 1992, Laton Unified School District hired Thurston as the coordinator of a gang and drug prevention program. After four years in that job, Thurston confirmed what he already knew – that he wanted to work in a job helping people and impacting lives. He felt his job wasn’t providing enough opportunity to achieve this dream, so he decided to go back for his master’s degree in Communications, receiving it in 1999 from Fresno State.

With a bachelor’s and a master’s now under his belt, Thurston taught at a couple schools before teaching at FCC. He said his first time in front of a class full of students terrified him, but the experience made him realize that the rest of his life was for teaching.

Thurston says he is committed to promoting and advancing the college’s great diversity. He does so by being involved in many programs, including the Equivalency Committee to give new instructors who may be lacking some qualifications required by the state, a chance to teach. He has also served as a mentor to graduate students during their first semester of teaching at FCC.  Although the mentor program has been eliminated because of budget cuts, Thurston still makes himself available to new faculty who could benefit from his experience. Thurston considers the program important and highly beneficial.

Perhaps his most notable contribution on campus has been co-advising the Diversity Club since 2004. Thurston has been a strong supporter of the GLBTQ community, both on campus and in the city of Fresno. It is quite obvious that this is something he is passionate about and feels strongly for. His major concern is to prevent mistreatment of gay students on campus; he said his goal is to convince straight people everywhere to understand the senselessness of such cruelty to people because of their sexual orientation.

“Gay students are not Martians out to destroy the earth; they love, they breathe, they bleed,” he said. “I feel it’s my place as a straight person to do something.” To achieve his objectives, he started the (Straight Advocates For Equality) Safe Advocates for Equality, an organization that is made up of a diverse group of people who are committed to helping the GLBTQ community to attain their local, state and federal legal & constitutional rights. Thurston said he was prompted by the passage of Proposition 8 which took away the rights of gays to marry in the 2000 elections. He had been heartbroken and angry but channeled the anger into something helpful. Thurston, who is the president of S.A.F.E, said they are in the process of obtaining non-profit status.

Dan Scott, co-chair of the communication arts department, said Thurston has also been a key person in putting together the FCC Intramural Speech Competition held once in the fall semester and twice in the spring semester. “He is always willing to go the extra mile and do more than expected,” said Scott, who works alongside Thurston in putting it all together.

For Thurston, there are no plans to move up whatsoever, “I want to teach forever,” he said. He believes in the material he teaches, and hopes to get better at it by doing it for the next 18 to 20 years. Coming from difficult circumstances to getting to where he’s at, he appreciates everything and wants to help as many people in general as possible.

“Fresno City College has been good to me,” said Thurston. “One day I want them to say, ‘Man, I’m really glad we hired that guy’.”