Meet Aaron Byzak, Charter Member

Students have left MiraCosta College with myriad measures of success, including degrees, certificates and new skills needed to boost prospects for promotion at places of employment.

Then there's Aaron Byzak. He not only earned an associate of art degree at the college, but he also met his future wife Amanda at MiraCosta College. They got married at MiraCosta College. Their son, Adam, attended day care through the Child Development Center at MiraCosta College. They live just a couple blocks from MiraCosta College. And they get their exercise playing tennis at the MiraCosta College courts.

"I can't say enough about MiraCosta College," Byzak said. "My wife professed her love for me standing on a table in the cafeteria at MiraCosta College. I'll tell you what, if MiraCosta College was a four-year college, I wouldn't have gone anywhere else to earn my bachelor's and MBA."

Yet Byzak would be the first to tell you he didn't start out as college material. He attended Cal State San Marcos for a year after graduating from Carlsbad High School in 1995, but said he was academically unprepared. So he enrolled at Palomar College to become an emergency medical technician and then went to work for American Medical Response.

"The experience made me look at health care very differently," Byzak said.

Contributing to his changing views on health care was a heart condition that led to emergency surgery when he was 20. Because he was uninsured or covered through Medi-Cal most of his life, Byzak said his condition was never properly treated. It was only when he had a job that offered a good insurance plan that he was able to get proper treatment.

"I also saw how poorly we were treating the elderly folks at assisted living facilities," said Byzak,

But he could not affect change by being an EMT for a private ambulance company. He would need to understand politics and policy and get a firm grasp about how healthcare is run as a business.

His quest began at MiraCosta College. While working full time for AMR and serving as an intern for former state Sen. Bill Morrow, Byzak attended classes at the Oceanside Campus and earned his associate degree in political science. When Byzak graduated in 2003, Morrow hired him as his health policy adviser. Byzak left AMR and worked full time for Morrow while earning his bachelor's degree in social sciences from Chapman University. When he started his MBA program at UC Irvine in 2006, the Tri-City Healthcare District hired Byzak as an assistant public affairs officer. After earning his MBA in health care management and policy, he landed at UC San Diego, where he now works as director of government and community affairs for UC San Diego Health Sciences. His responsibilities include handling all legislative and community relations activities on behalf of UC San Diego Health Systems, UCSD School of Medicine and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences at UCSD.

He also founded Hazel's Army, a community-based advocacy group intended to give voice to those who have lost loved ones as the result of poor or improper care at assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. The group, which has successfully pushed for changes in state law, was named after Byzak's grandmother, Hazel Mensching, who died six days after tumbling from her wheelchair during a van tour operated by her assisted living facility.

Byzak has been presented with a 40 Under 40 Award by San Diego Metro Magazine, and in 2012 he was recognized with a Young Influentials Award from the San Diego Daily Transcript. In 2013, Byzak was chosen by San Diego Magazine as on of its 50 People to Watch.

Asked if he feels he has made a difference in reaching his goal of affecting change in the way health care is delivered, Byzak did not hesitate to answer. "Absolutely. I've gotten to work on a lot of cool stuff. Every day I go to work I get to advocate for health care policies that will allow us to more effectively take care of patients."

And MiraCosta College was where his quest began. And where his fondest memories are found.

"I met my wife my first day of school at MiraCosta in 2001," Byzak said. "She walked in the room and it was like the clouds parted and the lights shone down on her and I turned to my friend and said, `That's the girl I'm going to marry.'"

Amanda and Aaron were wed under the clock tower at the Oceanside Campus in 2005.

"We are such huge MiraCosta College fans," Byzak said, noting that his wife worked a while for Disabled Students Programs and Services at the Oceanside Campus after she graduated. "I was just up there recently to buy new MiraCosta College clothes to replace some old ones I had."

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