Believing in Merced College, engaging with its community and committing their professional lives to the college’s mission feels natural for sisters Myshel Pimentel and Keri Ortiz.

The Golden Valley High graduates grew up here as daughters of now retired Merced College English Professor Delores Cabezut-Ortiz. They both attended Merced College as students, and both served as Student Ag Ambassadors. Now, both are professors here.

“For us, family and work and community all go hand in hand,” said Pimentel, a liberal studies instructor.

The college is working to engage employees and help them find personal happiness in 2022-23. Ortiz and Pimentel, while working the past 15 years at the same place, on the same faculty, and briefly in the same building, know what it takes to find both.

“Neither of us planned to work here, but we gravitated to it,” said Ortiz, now an instructional designer at the college. “We had countless interactions with my mother, running into students at the grocery store, at the mall, everywhere. … We have such respect for the work Mom did here.”

Yes, they did both start as English instructors at the college. Ironically, Cabezut-Ortiz advised both of her daughters against it.

“It wasn’t because she didn’t enjoy it,” Pimentel said. “She just thought we should do something different.”

Their mother wanted to spare them the drudgery of carrying a briefcase filled with essays that needed grading—which for her included her own daughters’ papers.

Enter the red felt pen.

“Ugh,” Ortiz said, remembering vividly colored corrections. “My mom is an old-school grammarian. We now deal well with criticism and feedback.”

Cabezut-Ortiz started as a paraprofessional in the college writing lab in 1974, and even served as interim dean at one point, before retiring in 2011. When her daughters followed in her footsteps, she advised them to “be good employees and respect the work everyone does there.”

As a result, Cabezut-Ortiz said, “I think they’re happy in their jobs and love the college every bit as much as I do.”

The sisters embraced the college from the start. Pimentel was waiting to hear about a job at Stanislaus State and Ortiz considered pursuing a Ph.D. at UC Merced before accepting their jobs at Merced College.

“Being here is definitely a choice,” said Pimentel, who occupies her mother’s old office in the Bill and Dorothy Bizzini Interdisciplinary Academic Center. “I love it and have no regrets.”

The sisters are also daughters of Carlos “Pancho” Ortiz, who runs the family cattle ranch. They grew up doing all the physical and dirty work with the animals right alongside their parents.

“We still do,” Keri Ortiz said.

They spent so much spare time participating in 4-H and FFA that they both earned ag business degrees at the college. They eventually gravitated to English and teaching as undergrads.

Pimentel, who has an Ed.D. from Stanislaus State, was hired full time by Merced College in 2006; Ortiz started as adjunct faculty that same year, and was hired full time in 2011.

“It’s true the college has always been part of our lives,” said Ortiz, who occupies the office next to her mother’s old one in the Trident Innovation Center. “We don’t know any other way.”

The sisters now work on opposite sides of the campus. Most people don’t even know they’re related.

“But there are times when I walk across campus to see Keri and we’re wearing the same outfit,” Pimentel said, and then laughed. “Maybe I am glad we’re not in the same building.”

They typically underplay their family connection to give each other professional space. Still, being sisters came in handy during the long isolation of the pandemic. They live 40 minutes apart, but could call each other any time.

“We had each other’s support during COVID,” Pimentel said. “Not everyone had that.”

Now back on campus, they’ve worked hard to be present, attending college events or participating in campus forums.

They’ve also recommitted themselves to leadership on campus. Pimentel serves as a curriculum chair, a program review coordinator and the student learning outcomes coordinator, and is currently co-chair for the institutional master plan committee.

Ortiz served as co-lead in the English Department for five years. Back in 2020, she coordinated three days of Canvas training for faculty right before the school moved to online teaching when the pandemic began. She was a faculty coach, and now coordinates the faculty support coaching program. When some in-person classes resumed in Fall 2021, she was eager to return to campus.

“I love working at Merced College,” said Ortiz, who is completing her Ed.D. through the University of Colorado-Denver. “There is a really good community of people who care about what they’re doing. I enjoy coming to work.”

Ortiz also said the new responsibilities she has in instructional design have allowed her to engage with faculty she’d never known before.

“Has it given me a second wind?” Ortiz said. “Yes, I would agree with that.”

It takes work to stay upbeat and remain connected, but Pimentel is undaunted.

“Are there days when nothing goes my way?” Pimentel said. “Yes, but I’m in this career for the long haul. Happiness is a choice. Choosing to be engaged and positive is not always easy. In the long run, this is my career. It’s my responsibility to help make this a happier place.”