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Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Challenging the community college stigma

Kayla Briët, an 18-year-old self-taught musician, aspiring filmmaker and student lives an extremely busy life, but shared the things that make up “K.A.I.A.,” her stage name.

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Kayla Briët, an 18-year-old student, musician, and filmmaker, is in her second year at Fullerton College in Orange County, California. Photo credit: Courtesy of Kayla Briët

Briët, now in her second year at Fullerton College, is formally declared as a computer science major because she has always loved the academic field of science and technology, but she is also eagerly pursuing her more artistic side with music and film.

Being a current STEM student, she also grew up on the AP and Honors track throughout her time at Cypress High School. She was even accepted into Cal Poly Pomona as well as UC schools to study computer science. With the help of Michael Matsuda, superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District, she strategically made the decision to attend community college first.

“She’s an incredibly talented young lady with a really bright future,” Matsuda said. “She wasn’t that aware of community college as an option and all the advantages that going to a community college has.”

While serving as a member on the Board of Trustees for the North Orange County Community College District, Matsuda met Briët at one of the board meetings she presented at while attending Cypress High School.

During that time, he invited her to present one of her award-winning original videos on water sustainability at the Partnership for 21st Century Learning conference in Fullerton in May 2014.

“Kayla is learning what a great option community college is… With someone like her capacity, they’re really going to value a student like that.” Matsuda said. He believes that she has a great story not only for community colleges but for high schools as well.

Briët believes there’s heavy pressure from peers to go to a university, even though for some the price tag is too high. Her parents offered to take out loans to help cover university expenses, but for her it didn’t feel right to put them through the hardships of debt for her education.

She said choosing to go to a community college before a university is one of the best decisions she’s made in her young life. She’s learned so much from everyone and feels safe with the genuine people that she’s surrounded by daily.

“[Community college] is definitely stigmatized. It’s so silly, but it’s real,” Briët said. “People believe that’s where the delinquents go, where the ‘no-gooders’ go, where people who failed go, and once I heard that, I said I have to go to community college now and prove them wrong.”

It doesn’t matter where you go; it’s what you do. You can accomplish anything if you just reach out to people and work hard.”

And that is the motto that Briët lives by and strives to inspire others with.

Her financial situation greatly contributed to her decision to start at a community college. She received the Osher Scholarship from the Fullerton College Foundation.

These financial opportunities made it possible for her to attend events and buy supplies to help her further her academic goals and professional career. It helped her with textbooks, camera gear and the opportunity to invest in creating and traveling more.

She believes there is so much support out there and says that finances are “totally a boundary.” All students need to do is ask questions and take advantage of the resources they’re surrounded by.

Jeannie Abutin-Mitsch, FC counselor for the Engage in STEM & CCPT Teacher Pathway Program and advisor for the Robotics team, has been involved with the school for many years and is currently Briët’s STEM counselor.

“Scholarships are an amazing opportunity for students. Not only is there financial support, but students are recognized in their field and that can lead to future internship/employment as well as expanding their professional network,” Abutin-Mitsch said.

Since Briët is a member of the STEM First Year Experience Cohort and Robotics team, she and Abutin-Mitsch have a close relationship. Briët ensured that her decision to apply for scholarships was definitely influenced by her STEM counselor.

“Kayla is an amazing student and I encouraged her to apply for any and all scholarships for which she is eligible,” Abutin-Mitsch said. “I told her that sponsors want to support and reward students who are driven and taking the right steps towards their future academic and career goals.”

Briët considers herself lucky to have maintained a trusted relationship with a counselor at FC, and contributes it largely to the tight-knit atmosphere available to community college students.

There is nothing like the relationship between a child and his or her parents, though.

Briët spoke about her parents with full admiration because of the life they’ve provided for her. They never wanted to shelter her from things and have always showered her with unconditional love.

Kids have their own spirit and personality, and Briët’s parents guided her through an educational process of right from wrong, and most importantly, they’ve always trusted her.

“My mom, she’s a boss,” she said and laughed. “Every time I feel stressed, I think about her and how lucky I am to have parents who inspire me to give back and help others in any way I can.”

Briët’s confidence can be seen in the way she presents herself to others, and she thanks her parents for the beauty they instilled in her.

She holds much pride in her heritage and ethnic background as well. Her father is of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Native American heritage, and their family is direct descendants of Chief Abram B. Burnett. In addition to that, her Chinese-speaking mother is not only Chinese, but also Dutch, Indonesian and French.

Provided by Kayla Briët Photo credit: Courtesy of Kayla Briët

Being multiracial, Briët says that she identifies with each culture individually. She grew up dancing and performing with her dad and eating dim sum with her mom.

Although she speaks primarily English, she understands Mandarin, speaks a little French, and also understands the Anishinaabe language, the traditional dialect of her Native American heritage.

“Every one has their own journey, and you take from each thing that you learn, and it just shapes who you are. There is no regret… education [can be] so personal,” Briët said. I think it’s so important to have those diverse experiences that set you apart because you have a story to tell. You never know whom it could inspire.”

She possesses such a positive outlook on life at a young age that it can be hard for one to imagine the grandiose possibilities that her future holds. She takes every experience as an opportunity for purpose and meaning, and she feels that expressive art is a way to help educate and inform others of the creative possibilities that are available.

When Briët began talking about her art, she was just as passionate in sharing her artistic side as she is about every thing else she already discussed.

Her mom always played the piano in the house and it inspired her to start playing at 10 years old. In addition to the piano, Briët also plays the guitar, ukulele, synth keyboards and a Chinese instrument called the Guzheng zither.

In her YouTube videos, she is seen using a “loop pedal,” a tool that allows her to explore musical dimensions by looping different sounds and creating instrumental beats.

With the art of music, Briët feels that it’s her own world to explore and get lost in by creating something and expressing herself. She said, “It gives us confidence to share our own voice through our passions, whether it’s through art, music, writing, coding and mathematics… Every one has that potential.”

Briët briefly described a monumental moment in her life that she experienced at 13.

“My uncle gave me a hand-me-down, old-school, swivel-neck Macintosh computer that had Garage Band on it,” she shared. “I learned how to record, layer, mix and essentially produce music, and I fell in love.”

She started exploring the art of filmmaking when she was in high school and convinced her parents to buy her a DSLR camera so she can start making educational films for the science department at her school.

“I want to tie in art, music and storytelling through the perfect medium of film,” Briët said.

Her passion and talent for filmmaking has given her many life-changing opportunities.

Briët was part of the 14 teams and finalists selected out of 2,500 submissions for the first-ever White House Film Festival in February 2014. She was invited to present her film, “STAY CURIOUS: Technology in the Classroom!” and had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama.

Kayla Briët was one of 14 finalists in the first-ever White House Film Festival and had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama in February 2014. Photo credit: Courtesy of Kayla Briët

“His presence is so powerful. His smile is ‘so-Obama,’ so cool, and his mannerisms, he’s so polite and charismatic and warm,” she said in response to meeting the president at The White House.

This was the moment Briët knew she wanted to pursue film and make an impact.

Just recently, Briët returned from a conference in New York City called The Future of Storytelling. She described this experience as humbling being the youngest “Youth Fellow” winner there. It gave her the opportunity to meet influential people such as Disney animator Glen Keane and former Vice President of the United States Al Gore on an all-expenses-paid trip.

Being a full-time student whilst pursuing all of her dreams definitely keeps her busy, but one might wonder how an 18-year-old finds the time to do anything else.

“I never like to complain, but it’s not easy!” Briët said. “Even if you are super passionate about what you’re doing, it does get tough. I just try to take care of myself as best I can.”

She explained that it’s all a learning process. Just like anything else in life, people have to experience something to understand and grow from it. Many people don’t see the personal struggles that come with consistent hard work. It’s a battle, though, and it’s a challenge to keep up with creative energy, but Briët is constantly pushing herself and is somewhat driven by her fear.

Although she identifies as a pop culture nerd and has a video game guilty pleasure, Briët doesn’t think about what’s going to happen next. She doesn’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow. She’s taking it step-by-step and focusing on the beauty of creating art and following her passions.

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Poster provided by Kayla Briët showcasing the different festivals she has been a part of as well as some stills of her work. Photo credit: Courtesy of Kayla Briët

She continues to win awards and honors for the films she creates and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Her artistic creativity knows no bounds and her ability to inspire can be heartwarming to witness.

Kayla Briët is a prime example of the motto she strongly lives by, “It’s not where you go; it’s what you do,” and for now, one can only imagine the places she’ll go as she continues to pursue her goals lovingly and passionately.

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