By Augustine Ugalde
An unyielding desire to continue pursuing his teaching career has Robert John Arias back doing what he loves for the East Los Angeles College Social Sciences department.
Arias returned to teaching a full semester this fall less than a year after suffering a devastating stroke last Sept. 27. The effects of the stroke left Arias wheelchair bound and with limited movement on the left side of his body, but that has not discouraged him from his passion, teaching history.
“I taught a couple of classes this summer. I really wanted to be back. I feel best when I’m here. It’s my career. It’s what I really want to do in my life,” Arias said.
Arias said one of the driving forces behind his rapid return to teaching are the students of ELAC. He embraces the challenge of teaching the young people of this community and feels that there is untapped potential here.
“You can affect people positively here. You affect their potential and there is so much potential here. So often people have given up on them. I never want give up on these people,” Arias said.
His connection to ELAC students goes beyond the usual, teacher/student, mentor/mentee relationship. Arias considers himself part of the community of students, and part of the surrounding community overall, having lived in the area for most of his life.
Although his return to ELAC has been rapid, Arias still struggles in many aspects of life, both on, and off campus.
During the summer, Arias had not yet received a motorized wheelchair, making it necessary to have someone wheel him around campus and in the classroom; a situation that weighs heavily on him.
“I’ve become dependent on people and I feel burdensome, and I don’t want to be that,” Arias said.
Arias identifies the loss of his independence as the biggest and most devastating affect that the stroke has left him with. “I would like to be able to drive again. I would like to shower, and go to the restroom on my own and get in and out of a chair again,” Arias said.
His road to full recovery will be long and hard, but Arias has the will and determination to see this through, if not the patience.
“Most of the doctors talk about it in the context that it will take about two years. Everyone always tells you to be patient, but patience has never been on of my best virtues,” Arias said.
The UCLA and Claremont College graduate has worked hard all his life in pursuit of his educational goals, both personal and professional, but finds recovering from this stroke his biggest challenge.
I’ve always been a hard worker, and it’s always, to some extent, paid off, but I just haven’t seen it in regards to the stroke,” Arias said.
Arias is optimistic about his path to recovery and hopes one day to gain full usage of his left side and to walk again; a result that his doctors say is possible with a lot of hard work and therapy.
He also hopes to be well enough to walk down the aisle with his fiance one day. He is currently teaching four classes this semester and hopes to return to his normal workload of six classes next spring.