DSPS Alumni at Work: Cassandra Mullens Illustrates a Path to Success
Welcome to DSPS Alumni at Work, where we celebrate former SDCCD students and highlight how their partnership with Disability Support Programs and Services helped pave successful employment pathways. Today, we share an interview with Miramar College alum Cassandra Mullens.
A Welcoming Transition Point
When reflecting on her decision to pursue higher education after graduating from Mount Carmel High School in 2016, Mullens described Miramar as “a flexible and welcoming transition point from high school life to university life." Seeking to develop her skills as a character designer and illustrator, Mullens pursued her associate’s degree in Studio Arts for Transfer, honing her skills in life drawing, painting, ceramics, and woodwork. Spending most of her time in the Art and Visual Studies building, she found guidance in professors Jessica McCambley and Joshua Eggleton.
“[They] provided helpful feedback and encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone when it came to the style and methods of my pieces,” she said.
Keeping a Steady Pace
As a student on the Autism spectrum, Mullens’ difficulty processing vast quantities of information and multiple steps given at once often resulted in overwhelm and overstimulation.
“This also affected my manual dexterity and spatial perception, making drawing proportionally a major challenge,” she said.
With support from Miramar College DSPS, Mullens accessed a wealth of resources and accommodations to achieve a rhythm that worked for her.
“The high-tech center provided a quiet, steady-paced environment where I could improve my focus on tasks and time management,” she said, while “the use of a DSPS recorder helped me retain information and discern how to concisely take notes.”
Mullens also expressed gratitude for the individualized support she received from DSPS staff, who were not only invested in her academic journey but also in her successful transition into the workforce. She credits her counselor Kandice Brandt with providing “invaluable advice and encouragement throughout my entire time at Miramar, which contributed greatly to my academic success” as well as WorkAbility III Vocational Specialist Rusty Krumm, who “went above and beyond to help develop my interview skills and resume."
More Than Capable
After her time at Miramar, Mullens continued her studies at San Diego State University, where she graduated summa cum laude in May 2023 with a bachelor's degree in Applied Arts and Sciences with an emphasis in Multimedia. She is currently working as an assistant graphic designer for Little Fish Comic Book Studio, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children and teens how to create their own comics. Her role involves creating illustrations for social media advertisements and assisting in teaching comic workshops.
“I am very fortunate to have continued to receive guidance from SDSU’s alumni services and the Department of Rehabilitation,” said Mullens. “They have helped to direct my area of focus in graphic design companies to apply for and which aspects of my experience as an artist to emphasize in my resume and portfolio.”
In her role at Little Fish, Mullens embraces every opportunity to innovate.
“For each new project I’m given, a million and one ideas sprout into my head. It’s incredibly satisfying to see how the illustrations I draft on paper take on a new life when digital coloring and text is applied. Sometimes it’s a one-to-one transfer of the original sketch while other times I discover a new element or color combination that works even better."
As for navigating some of the common workplace barriers autistic employees face, Mullens knows exactly what she needs: "So long as I receive patient and clear instructions one-on-one and have access to a small-scale setting to produce my art, I’m more than capable of thriving."
Words of Wisdom
We asked Mullens for any words of wisdom she might provide to prospective SDCCD students with disabilities looking to further their education and employment prospects.
"Self-advocacy and reaching out is the key to ensuring that you can get the accommodations to help you thrive in the classroom," she said. "Every student with disabilities deserves to have a strong support system that builds them up so they can cultivate their talents and succeed in their fields."
Mullens also emphasized the need for increased opportunities in the arts specifically, noting the many instances where she and her college counselors had to “dig for those.”
On a broader accessibility level, Mullens (whose disability prohibits her from driving) advocates for low-cost subsidized ride services to help reduce the stress and unpredictability associated with public transportation.
Never Stop Fighting
As Mullens works toward becoming a character designer with an emphasis in creature design, she’s also partnering with another non-profit to develop entrepreneurial skills, sell her art, and create her own studio. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books (zoology, paleontology, mythology and animation) and dabbles in baking - chocolate chip cookies are her specialty!
In closing, Mullens wants readers to know that she tries to live life in accordance with this E.E Cummings passage from “A Poet’s Advice to Students”:
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.
DSPS is in your corner, Cassandra! (Though we strive alongside alumni like you to create a different kind of world with fewer battles to fight and more cookies to bake!)
If you are a SDCCD student with a disability looking for academic and/or vocational support please visit DSPS to learn about the programs we offer!