It was an unusual spring for graduates this year. But even without a public ceremony, when Faviola Nunez’s diploma arrived in the mail on July 13, the validation of all her hard work and sacrifices was not diminished one bit.
“It definitely hit harder when that piece of paper finally arrived in the mail,” said Nunez. “A lot of sacrifice, a lot, a lot.”
Nunez, who works part-time at Westminster PD as an animal control officer, now has a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills in political science. Her degree is significant on many levels.
“It took me forever to finish college … ever since I was 16, I’ve been working non-stop,” she said. “I’m first generation. My family, they don’t have a lot. I’ve paid for my education every step of the way.”
Her first job was at McDonald’s.
“Rule at my house was ‘You don’t get a cell phone unless you can pay for it,’” she said.
But she always had her sights set on a career in law enforcement. In 2013, she started working security. That was also the year she began attending Golden West College. Eventually she was working security full-time at an apartment complex, part-time security at Golden West while also attending the college as a full-time student, pursuing two associate degrees.
In March 2017, Nunez began working as a police aide in the records department at the WPD. She continued working part-time at Golden West but then graduated from the college that spring with a degree in criminal justice and one in political science.
“It’s just so important,” she said. “By understanding how the political system works, you really understand … that’s how your gas prices are decided, how your city budget’s decided. … While working at the police department, I realized a lot of the decisions are made at city council meetings, city budgets, they trickle down into law enforcement.”
In August of 2017, she started working in animal control at the WPD. And in the fall of that year, she started pursuing her bachelor’s degree in political science at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
She continued working part-time at Golden West and part-time for WPD’s animal control while going to school full-time.
“Summer sessions, winter sessions, just everything, non-stop,” she said.
She gives much credit to the WPD for giving her the flexibility to go to school full-time — both prior to and during the pandemic.
“I couldn’t have done it by myself — not at all,” she said.
She said the command staff and her sergeant have always been very understanding about adjusting her schedule to accommodate a school test or study time. And her co-workers have been equally helpful by switching shifts with her when she needed time to work on a term paper or something along those lines. When classes went to online-only because of COVID-19, the WPD was still able to work with her even through the scheduling changes necessitated by the pandemic at the agency.
“I was very thankful that my commander and my sergeant, they allowed me to break away for that 45 minutes for the day to attend my Zoom class,” she said.
It wasn’t unusual for her to go into a quiet room at the WPD for a virtual class, then put her laptop away and run out to a call involving her chasing a loose dog in the city.
She has enjoyed her time working in animal control.
“There’s not really a most common call,” she said. “Whether it be a noise complaint, a neighbor complaining about a neighborhood dog being off-leash, every single day’s different.”
She’s gaining a lot of valuable experience in conflict resolution and educating the public.
“In a sense, change the ideas of what animal control is … it’s a lot of education,” she said. “‘I know your dog bit somebody but hey I’m simply here for a rabies control report.’ … We’re here to help you and help the animals.”
Nunez said she’s also participated in several community events like the WPD Safety Day and National Night Out, where she’s gotten the chance to interact with and educate the public.
“You’re able to see people in a more organic way,” she said. “You really get to talk to the community. You explain to them what you do.”
Now that she’s graduated, she’s taking a much-needed breather — making up for lost time.
“This whole entire journey has been sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice,” she said. “Missing out on family time, missing out on friend time. You go from one thing to another. I think especially right now is a time to kind of take a deep breath.”
Ultimately she has her sights on the police academy and becoming a police officer, but for now, she’s enjoying her accomplishments.
“I’m the first female in my family to get a high school diploma. I’m the first to get one AA, nevertheless two AAs and I’m the first to get a BA,” she said.