Meet the students: Jorge Mandujano, Jr.

by Vicki Heisser  |   

Outdoor leadership student Jorge Mandujano, Jr. sat down with me to discuss his journey to Alaska, his experiences in the outdoor leadership program, and the people who’ve helped him become who he is today.

PWSC: Good morning, Jorge. Thank you for taking time to do this interview with me. Tell me, how did you first find out about PWSC’s Outdoor Leadership program?

Jorge: In 2017 I came to Valdez to work for Silver Bay Seafoods, LLC and during that time I found out the town had a college. I didn't think a lot about it at the time. I went back home to California and when I returned the following summer to work for Peter Pan Seafoods, I decided I was really going to look into the college and the outdoor leadership program.  I liked it, so I decided to stay and I started the program in January 2019.

PWSC: You say you liked the program, so you decided to stay. What was it about the program, or your interests in general, that motivated you stay?

Jorge: Well, I really started getting into outdoor activities in 2013. I started doing day hikes and backpacking trips near my hometown in the San Jose, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco Bay areas.

I was recovering mentally, psychologically, and physically from a car accident that could have left me paralyzed. I had fractured my spine and neck and was bedridden for six months. During my recovery, I was dealing with depression and anxiety. I was getting help from my friends who are pastors, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. They would take me out to have fun, enjoy life, and that's how I really got into outdoor recreation.

I started doing long treks and camping by myself. It was when I was in the outdoors that it just opened up my thinking. I realized how blessed I am. I am running. I am walking. After the accident, there was a huge possibility that I would walk with a limp and have a bad back for the rest of my life. I've got to be honest, I have no pain. I am completely 100 percent healed, and I credit that to my faith and my belief in God.

I like being in the outdoors because it reminds me, I am blessed. I value nature so much, because I connect nature with my spirituality. I connect nature with what I believe in God. Nature is alive and God is alive.

When I found out that PWSC had an outdoor leadership program, and it could lead to careers in the outdoors, I knew this was it.

I've pursued four different majors. I've tried jazz theory, film, childhood development, and environmental science studies. I took a year of each one of those programs, and they weren’t for me. I wanted to get into something with the outdoors with an emphasis in helping youth. I wanted to get into human services or outdoor therapeutic work.

PWSC: You say that other majors just weren’t for you, and that outdoor leadership has what you were looking for. I understand that you are taking some other classes and you're working toward a certification or two that interests you. Tell me more about that.

Jorge: I have a past growing up with some alcohol abuse and drug abuse. All that started when I lost my fiancé to cancer in 2009. It was really after my accident that I got lost in my depression and started abusing my prescription drugs and other illicit drugs. It was when I started asking and getting help that I was able to free myself from all that junk.

Recently I realized I could help people who are dealing with addiction. I know people went out of their way to help me. I want to give back.

I enrolled in this program here in Alaska called The Regional Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor Training (RADACT) Program. This program can help you get your foot in the door to be a substance abuse counselor, which leads into behavioral counseling. So I want to mix that with some outdoor leadership things, like wilderness therapy.

Alaska has a high rate of alcoholism and drug abuse. And there are programs out there where they take and provide patients counseling during a day hike or camping trip. They say, “All right, let's go camping or hiking and let's get outside.” You know, versus, “Let's just sit in a room and tell me about your life.” So that's what I want to do. That's one of my goals.

I want to give back and help those people that need that push to break that cycle of bad things in their lives. We all have walls, and when we are in nature, I have noticed that we put those walls down and don’t focus on hiding behind them. People open up a bit more and feel more comfortable in expressing themselves. When this happens, it allows some healing to take place.

PWSC: Giving back is very admirable. Was there someone in your life who helped you in the way you want to help others? Who was a mentor to you?

Jorge: I had a good circle of friends that were good mentors of mine. Some of them are psychologists and psychiatrists. They knew how to be my friend and guide me as well without telling me what to do.

PWSC: Knowing you want to give back, what do you think it takes to be a good mentor and good support for people?

Jorge: I think you have to be truthful with yourself in every aspect of your life. You

have to understand what love truly is and how to apply it and walk in it. God is love. You have to have knowledge, respect, patience and an eagerness to help others. You need to recognize when you need help, and when you need to give help, and you need to know and understand boundaries. If someone says yes, hear yes. If someone says no, hear no.