Dr. Victor Jaime: Paving the Way for Academic SuccessBy Gary Redfern
Facing almost impossible odds, a former college student appeals to re-enter a specialized health program from which he already was twice dismissed for poor academic performance. With a limited number of students admitted each semester, college officials for good reason cast a wary eye on someone who has not performed well in the past. However, the would-be student has one final shot – an in-person appeal.
At many institutions that plea might be made to a counselor or administrator. At Imperial Valley College those striving to get ahead often have the ear of the college president, Dr. Victor Jaime.
“I told him ‘You have already attempted this program two times. Tell me why I should make this tremendous exception.’ He talked about his youth, his drug issues, his party issues. He was by then in a career where he needed this. He assured me – convinced me – to give him one more chance,” Jaime explains in thoughtful detail as if the young man had just left the room. “At graduation he said to me ‘I want you to know it was so important to me to see you here in the audience because you gave me one more chance. You believed in me.’ ”
If anyone ever asks Victor Jaime why he became an educator and why he spent all his years at Imperial Valley College, a community college, when a man of his talent certainly could have gone on to a prestigious university, he will relate just such a story.
“When you see these kinds of experiences, whatever way you touch these students, it tells you why you are in this field,” says Jaime, seated at his office conference table on a warm January afternoon during the bustling first week of the spring 2013 semester.
An Imperial Valley native, Jaime, 55, was named president by the college board in April 2012, a promotion that could be viewed as the crowning achievement in a 30-plus year career beginning when he was hired as a part-time counselor at IVC in 1980. While proud of his record, Jaime does not see it that way. He sees his mission the same as it was that first day on the job so long ago.
“My whole goal was to be a counselor and have direct contact with students,” Jaime says, explaining that when he considered moving to administration he was hesitant because of the misconception that administrators lose day-to-day involvement with students. “My fear of going into administration has been allayed. Your contact with students is what you make it. Students know who I am. The faculty and the staff know. That’s important.”
To maintain those relationships Jaime notes he regularly walks the campus and gets to know everyone from the maintenance staff to students to the faculty. Keeping that connection continues the tradition of a man he describes as his mentor, Dr. Hector Lopez, former vice president of student services.
“He was always challenging you and supporting your growth, your commitment to student success and disadvantaged students,” Jaime says of the man whose job he would later hold.
The challenge to excel came earlier in life, though. Looking back on his own academic career, which includes an associate degree from IVC in 1977, a bachelor’s degree in social science with an emphasis in psychology from the University of California, Irvine, in 1980, a master’s in counseling from San Diego State University, San Diego Campus, in 1985, and a doctorate in education from Northern Arizona University in 1999, Jaime recalls the role his family played in motivating him. His parents, Victor and Katie Jaime, wanted him to be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. Their blue-collar roots were no impediment.
“My father, who died 10 years ago, was director of maintenance and transportation for El Centro schools. But he started as a mechanic. He taught me auto mechanics because he wanted me to learn those trades, but not as a career. He wanted me to go to school,” Jaime says.
Meanwhile, he describes his maternal grandfather, Larry Gonzalez, as “a very intelligent man,” who, despite having only completed third-grade, understood the value of education and took special interest in his grandson’s academic pursuits.
“Before I graduated from IVC in 1977 he told me he wanted me to put on my cap and gown. I said I would graduate in two weeks and you’ll be there, but he said you never know. And he had a new watch. He took it off and gave it to me,” Jaime recalls.
His grandfather never did see him graduate, drowning accidentally on a boating trip just days before the graduation day.
“He became the catalyst in my belief that success lies in the individual who pursues his or her dreams to the fullest regardless of how difficult the journey. It’s how you see yourself,” Jaime says.
Jaime moved up fast after taking that part-time counseling position in 1980 and quickly caught the eye of Lopez, then the vice president of student services. Becoming a full-time counselor the next year he worked with disadvantaged students as director of the educational talent search program. But it was federally funded under a competitive grant that had to be earned every four years. That wasn’t enough stability for a family man. He had married his wife, Caroline, a teacher, and by 1985 the couple was expecting their first child.
Jaime was already nearing completion of his master’s, which he would receive that year, when Lopez pushed him further.
“There was an opportunity to apply for director of financial aid. I hesitated, but not too long. We had twins coming,” Jaime smiles, recalling how Lopez’s influence coupled with pragmatic needs moved his career along.
His decision looked even better when the job was upgraded to a dean’s position. It seemed he had found his comfort zone.
“I had worked with disadvantaged students, and financial aid is one of their barriers,” he says of how he reconciled moving from direct counseling. “I did that job for 14 years.”
Lopez, however, had no intention of allowing his able protégé to remain unchallenged.
“He said ‘You need to pursue your doctorate.’ I asked him ‘Why would I want to do that?’ He said ‘We need leaders here in the Valley.’ He kind of wore me down. I entered the doctorate program of Northern Arizona University (held) at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego,” Jaime says.
The first step was earning an educational specialist degree, which he received in 1993. Several more years of intense work followed. Jaime’s doctoral regimen included spending several summers attending sessions at the main NAU campus in Flagstaff, Ariz., doing research and finally writing his doctoral dissertation, which is now contained in a thick book with a distinguished black cover that he still keeps within arm’s reach. It was quite a burden for a husband and wife raising young twins, Stephen and Jennifer, and a third child, Matthew, born in 1995.
As is his persistent optimistic way, Jaime found an unexpected upside to the grueling schedule.
“I did four summers of study at NAU in Flagstaff during the IVC summer break. Because my wife is a teacher she too was off so we brought the kids and got to have some vacations,” Jaime remembers.
Doctorate finally in hand in 1999, he was able to put the grueling schedule of work and study behind him. Then Lopez challenged him again.
“About three months after I earned my doctorate, Dr. Lopez decided to retire. He wanted me to succeed him as vice president of student services,” Jaime explains, adding that he did not resist and his mentor’s confidence in him was vindicated when he was chosen for the position.
“Student services provides all the programs and services students get here: admissions, financial aid, counseling, special programs for disadvantaged students, and grant programs for the disabled. We help them get here and help them succeed once they do,” he says.
Jaime put in 12 years in student services. When the former president announced his retirement effective at the end of the 2010-11 academic year, Jaime was named his interim replacement in July 2011. Never forgetting the value of mentor Lopez’s prodding, he applied for the job and now seems to have been an obvious choice.
Jaime admits being college president was not a career goal; instead it is having the passion to work directly with students and have a positive impact on their futures. Though the job titles have changed over the last three decades, his mission has not, though his position allows him to expand it.
“I was the first in my family to graduate from college. It was important to pursue those dreams, not only for me, but as a role model for my family and the community,” he says, harkening Lopez’s vision for him.
He and wife Caroline, a third-grade teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in El Centro, certainly are seeing those dreams fulfilled in their own family. Son Stephen is a registered nurse at El Centro Regional Medical Center and graduate of the IVC nursing program, earning a bachelor’s degree from the nursing program at San Diego State University, Imperial Valley Campus, in Calexico. Jennifer received a degree in interior design from Fresno State University and also attended IVC. Jaime proudly notes that when the economic downturn slowed the demand for interior designers, his daughter adapted and now does marketing for the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.
Both older children are married, and Stephen and his wife have three children whose smiling faces beam from framed photographs on a credenza in their grandfather’s office.
Younger son Matthew is a junior at Imperial High School, plays in the school band and is running for class president. His father describes him as a bright young man, but one who likely will follow at least one family tradition.
“IVC has been a starting point for our kids. He (Matthew) realizes this is a good starting point,” Jaime says. “I like people to know this is a viable option.”
The family is active at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Imperial where Jaime is a Eucharistic minister and Matthew is a Mass commentator who also helped re-start the church youth group.
Besides seeing the IVC enrollment more than double from just under 3000 in 1980 to almost 8000 today, Jaime explains the mission of the community college is changing from one where some students could attend, sometimes over long periods, without getting a degree, to one exclusively goal orientated.
“Now the state is looking at limiting the number of units a student can have (through their academic career) at a community college,” Jaime says, adding, “The biggest change I have seen is more accountability in student success. It’s quantified now. What I (also) have seen here is a spiral effect of economic issues that ebb and flow. The challenge seems every five years you go through a period of growth and then a period of decline.”
He is encouraged by having more coordination with universities, including a program that allows students to do their first two years at IVC and the next two at San Diego State without having to transfer.
“Those are the kind of partnerships we have to look at to serve students,” he says.
For him personally, being a college president means “we need to know the impact we can have. The part I like best is going out there on campus and having a student know who I am. All I can do is pave the way so a student can be successful. I’m here to serve the students. I take calls and e-mails from students at home because I know that had it not been for those people I looked up to, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Displayed most prominently on his office wall are two degrees: one his doctorate and the other his associate’s from IVC. They’re bookends that remind him of where he came from and where his dreams, his hard work, his family and his mentors took him.
“Please don’t downgrade any type of higher education,” Jaime insists. “I know I would not have been successful if I had not gone here first.”