Student Feature: How Perseverance and Determination Leads to Open Doors with Athena Nino

“I’ve spiritually grown with Coastline too and it’s made me feel more––I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just a school that I feel very special to. They make me feel included. They make me feel seen and heard. I just feel very lucky to have found Coastline. They’ve helped me grow in many ways.”

Athena Nino shows off her Coastline pride in Coastline a coastlien branded sweatshirt and sweatpants
Athena Nino shows off her Dolphin pride in a Coastline branded sweatshirt and sweatpants.
(Image provided by Athena Nino)

This week on the blog we are spotlighting upcoming graduate Athena Nino! After a hiatus in 2012, Athena returned to Coastline in 2020 where she will be graduating with her AA degrees in Sociology and Psychology at the end of the month. Looking ahead, Athena hopes to pursue an online bachelor’s degree in Psychology and has been accepted to Cal State San Francisco, Channel Islands, and is also currently awaiting a decision from Cal State Long Beach.

Throughout her journey, Athena’s committed mindset, steadfast dedication, and perseverance to achieve her goal of higher education have been pivotal to getting to her destination. Her story shows the importance and impact of having access to the right resources while in pursuit of a higher education, and she models an encouraging reminder that no matter how long the distance is to your destination, it’s never too late to get there.

Explore Psychology @ Coastline


Athena’s passion for education has been a mindset that’s grown in her since childhood. “…Throughout my whole entirety, from kindergarten to eighth grade,” she says, “it was just implemented in my brain that education was key, and it had to be priority in life.”

Her schooling started at a private catholic school in Santa Ana where her father was also an alumnus and she found it important that she follow in his footsteps in obtaining a college education after high school. “I always found my dad to be my role model when it came to education because he was also in the military. He always knew that education has to be the foundation of our lives. With education, that leads to a whole slew of doors opening for you.”

While education’s importance was emphasized, her father was also a model for the fun that can be found in education. “I never saw education as something that had to be a serious thing to look towards. He always made it seem like you can have fun while learning, especially if you’re learning things that are interesting to you.”

She carried these core values with her throughout her younger education, but once she hit high school, the cultural shift was a shock to her. She was going from being enrolled in a K-8th private catholic school to a public high school where the discipline was much more lax than what she had grown accustomed to in her younger years. While she had fun and enjoyed high school, she says she at times had too much fun, which led her to attend different high schools. “…After being in a private school for so long, it led me to going into a public school where it was just like, 'Here’s a whole new world for you. You’re a high schooler now.' And it was just a lot.”

This period was especially hard for her to navigate as her mother was going through a second divorce, but she knew she needed to keep going to get to where her father was. “I kept that, and I kept chugging along in school. Then I was pregnant with my daughter at 18 and had her at 19. That’s when I realized I needed to stop. I have my daughter and I need to look into our future and see what that’s gonna' look like.”

Fall 2023 Coastline Graduate Athena Nino poses for a selfie in a graduation cap
Fall 2023 Coastline College graduate Athena Nino.
(Image provided by Athena Nino)

Journey to Coastline

With this renewed vision for her future, she knew that to make it look the way she imagined it, she needed to keep pursuing her higher education. During that time, her husband had just gone into the military, and she discovered Coastline’s online military spouse program through a resource she received from one of his officers, which sounded great to her. “I said that is awesome. I want to do that. I have a baby and I want to get my higher education started.” She explains. “So, I started at Coastline as a military spouse in 2012, and then I stopped because it was a lot with having a brand-new baby in a city I didn’t know and wasn’t familiar with. And we were young, we didn’t know anybody, and then he got deployed.”

She notes that she took a “long hiatus” over the next couple of years, but by 2020, she was ready to begin pursuing her degree again. “I thought to myself, 'Okay, my daughter is older, I’ve been working this whole time. I still have credits at Coastline that I can still add to that. I need to crack down on this degree and I need to keep going.' So, I didn’t give up. I still kept going.”

Explore Military Programs @ Coastline

Support and Resources from Coastline

Coastline’s Basic Needs and Mental Health Services have been integral to Athena’s journey since her return and left the deepest imprint on her. She says they’ve had her back through hard times and have been there for her when she needed it most. With Basic Needs services, she’s able to graduate on time due to the financial help she received with paying for classes, and the food pantry was an important resource for her and her daughter.

“A deep imprint is when someone feeds you - and they [Coastline] have their food pantry.” She says. “They have helped me make so many meals for my daughter, it’s not even funny. I’ve gone over there for some pantry distributions, it was amazing. I have to be grateful for someone who feeds me and my daughter.”

During difficult periods, she found Coastline’s free therapy sessions to be invaluable. “Having that person to check in on you and ask how you’re doing, if you need anything during stressful, finals time, or even just stressful personal days and you just need to talk to someone - that helped me immensely through some tough times.” She explains. “Just talking to someone that they had available who was kind - not them just asking, ‘So how are you feeling today?’ - No, they’re genuine. They know what they’re doing. Briana and Justin in the counseling department are amazing.”

Athena recently accepted the Virginia Mitchell Memorial Scholarship at Coastline’s Spring 2024 Scholarship Ceremony and will graduate with two degrees on May 31st, two things she says she wouldn’t be able to say she’s doing if those services hadn’t been available for her.

Coastline College Veterans Services Coordinator Tom Boscamp and scholarship recipient Athena Nino at the 2024 Coastline College Scholarship Recognition Ceremony
Coastline College Veterans Services Coordinator Tom Boscamp and scholarship recipient Athena Nino at the 2024 Coastline College Scholarship Recognition Ceremony.
(Image provided by Coastline College)

“I have all these things to show my daughter. I wanted her to be the reason I can show that first and foremost you can’t give up, because if you keep going, if you have that drive, that mindset, that motivation, and determination, you can get whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it,” she says. “…I wanted to be that example to my daughter and friends who think that it’s too late when it’s not, and it’s in the blink of an eye…I finished getting my credits for two degrees, I didn’t just go for one this time. I was like, 'no, I had a hiatus. I could do two degrees at the same time.’ And that’s exactly what I did.”

While taking a particularly difficult statistics course, Coastline’s tutoring services were particularly useful for her, along with having a professor who made her feel comfortable with asking for help. “That’s important, if you have a professor who says, ‘Hey, I have these times open for you to ask anything you want, any help you need on this week’s assignments just hit me up.’” She says. “If I didn’t have that comfort with the professor, I would not have passed, and I probably wouldn’t have been graduating. So that was really, really important because without that class I would not be graduating yet.”

She’s found that the resources she’s received were conducive to her success, which she says is pivotal to college students. “You know with college people needing guidance, we don’t have that guidebook on how to maneuver on these different aspects of our life, especially while going to school and we’re growing up without our parents. It’s like ‘How do we do all this?’ They [Coastline] literally have it all for you.”

Experiencing how impactful these kinds of resources can be in times of need has influenced Athena’s own growth, fostering her desire to learn how to pay it forward. “…I’ve been graciously given so much. I feel empathy towards a lot of other people. I’ve spiritually grown with Coastline too and it’s made me feel more - I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just a school that I feel very special to. They make me feel included. They make me feel seen and heard. I just feel very lucky to have found Coastline.” She says. “They’ve helped me grow in many ways. They definitely have made me want to continue school. I have no reason to want to stop school. It wasn’t an experience that led me at the end to feel, 'Okay, I’m done. That’s it. I’m good.' No, I want to continue. I want to get those degrees and walk and keep getting more.”

Athena Nino lays down in a patch of grass for a relaxing selfie
Athena Nino.
(Image provided by Athena Nino)

Future Plans and Goals

When Athena walks across the commencement stage at the end of the month, she will have A.A. degrees in Sociology and Psychology, and will go on to pursue her bachelor’s in Psychology. Her inspiration to study this field stems from her own childhood experiences. She was negatively impacted by the social work system as a child and found that the resources given to her family hurt more than helped. “I feel like by me being in a field where I’m going to do something that I know about, you know, I’ve been there - I can relate to people in that field that I can potentially help, and I want to be that change in the field that I’ve never seen. I want to help families.”

Her main goal is to become a counselor for young adults, or in an outpatient/inpatient psychiatry ward. Though her personal experience informs her passion for this kind of work, she endeavors to become educated beyond her own experiences, and have the knowledge and resources to support how she helps others. “I want to understand why people do what they do and help them and navigate for them just like that’s helped me with the resources I’ve reached out for. I think that’s needed more now than ever in the world. I just want to help people because I’ve known what it feels like to not be helped.”

graduate spotlight graphic congratulating Athena Nino
Congratulations Athena Nino, 2024 Coastline Graduate!

Advice to Students

For students currently on the path to pursuing their degrees, Athena offers these words of encouragement: “Don’t give up. Always use your voice because no one else is going to speak up for you, and just keep swimming.”

Apply @ Coastline

Related Posts

Student Feature: Communication, Teamwork, and Victory in Cybersecurity with Precious Webb

Student Feature: Self Investment & Rewriting Your Narrative with Paul Vandervort

Student Feature: Honoring Growth, Change, and Self-Validation with Adriana De La Rosa

Student Feature: Discovering a Passion for Advocacy with Lexi Thicksten