Sandra Diaz, former nursing instructor at De Anza College, died at 66 from COVID-19 in late January.
Diaz grew up in Gilroy, graduated from Mission and De Anza College and got her master’s at San Jose State University. She came back to De Anza in 2017 as a nursing instructor.
Marlayna McNeil, 54-year-old RN and former student of Diaz, said she was thorough and made sure students learned from their mistakes.
“She was open to feedback from us [and] we were open to feedback from her,” McNeil said. “She also had a sense of humor and would make little comments to get us to smile and lighten up.”
McNeil said Diaz’s story inspired her to become a nurse.
“The thing that inspired me is her story about starting nursing school later in life,” she said. “It made me feel that, if she can do it, so can I.”
Sherri Cozzens, assistant director of the nursing program, said Diaz cared for her career and students.
“Sandra just gave and gave until she had nothing much to give anymore,” Cozzens said. “She was so compassionate, empathetic and she really wanted everyone to not only succeed but to be happy.”
When Diaz went to the hospital, she only thought about her students and how they are going to graduate if she was not there to help them, her daughter Shay Gutierrez said.
“In her darkest hour, in the time of distress, she wasn’t even thinking about herself,” Gutierrez said. “That just shows her heart and who she really was.”
Diaz was also a caretaker in her free time. She enjoyed gardening and collecting seashells on the beach, Gutierrez added.
“She loved to plant vegetables,” Gutierrez said. “She loved spending her spring, fall and winter breaks from teaching in Indiana [and] loved the slow pace.”
Diaz was scheduled to receive her tenure in March and the college will award it posthumously. The nursing program is planning a special event to celebrate Diaz’s memory.