Meet California State Guard Master Sgt. Vanessa Elias

Story by U.S. Army Sgt Marla Ogden
California Military Department Public Affairs

Jan. 17, 2024

Los Alamitos, Calif.Discovery ChalleNGe Academy, part of the California Military Department's trio of alternative high school residential programs under the National Guard Bureau's Youth and Community Programs, offers a well-organized setting for youth facing challenges affecting their academic success.

Serving as Commandant of the program, California State Guard Master Sgt. Vanessa Elias oversees the academy's flow of operations to ensure cadets gain the necessary skills to lead a healthy and productive lifestyle.

"The cadets all have contributing factors for why they weren't attending school, and for the most part, everybody needs that high school diploma to get a job, said Elias. “We do a lot of the groundwork here at DCA to help build that foundation."

Throughout their time in the academy, cadets work with mentors to provide additional support during their journey toward self-discipline and academic success.

"When they’re here on the ground for the five-and-a-half-month program, they’re constantly speaking to their mentors," she said. "They kind of give them that ongoing motivation, and it’s a different, or added, perspective than what their family give them or what we give them."

Alongside their mentors, instructors actively contribute to molding the cadets, playing a pivotal role in their development.

“Our teachers from the San Joaquin County Office of Education are just amazing with how they run their classrooms, how they connect with students and how involved they are," Elias said. "They just enhance it all.”

Elias explained that upon completing the 22-week residential program, cadets continue to benefit from the robust support system, ensuring the momentum of their positive trajectory.

“After the 5-month program, they still have a 12-month post-residential program where they work with their mentor to get back in school, get jobs, go to college, or join the military,” she said. “After they leave us, they’re positively placed somewhere after meeting all the core components of our program.”

The constant collaboration among the cadre, instructors, case managers, and mentors ensures that cadets receive the maximum benefit from DCA.

“We’re able to see the progress of the graduate and assess their progress, or maybe not so much progress, and then we adjust the resources they need," she said.

"At the end of the day, they have that foundation; they have the basis of what they need to succeed and move forward," Elias said. “Here, we’re not changing lives, we're transforming them.”