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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

A tradition of families thrives on the Bakersfield campus

November 17, 2015
SJVC's Mary Phillips, Russell Grimes and Tanya Phoenix
It is ‘all in the family’ for cousins Russell, Mary and Tanya at the Bakersfield campus.

It is not at all unusual to see multiple generations of family members walk through SJVC doors and leave months later with a certificate or degree. It is a little more unusual to see multiple family members working at the same campus. But that is exactly what SJVC Bakersfield has been enjoying for the last couple of years.

General Education instructor, Russell Grimes has worked evenings at the campus for 15-years. A couple of years ago he encouraged his cousin, Mary Phillips to apply for a teaching position. “We are a close family, and Mary and my wife (Madelyn) are like buddies and talk daily on the phone,” says Russell.

As a SJVC Medical Assisting program graduate, Mary worked several years in the medical field before she had the opportunity to teach Medical Assisting to adults. From there she enjoyed instructional and student intervention positions in the public school system.  Mary earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2010.

In 2013 Mary had just completed her Masters in Psychology, specializing in Organizational Leadership, and was eager to explore the versatility of her education. “I always had a love for psychology, and my heart was really in teaching adult education,” says Mary. SJVC was a perfect fit.

The two cousins were happy for each other’s work success. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to both Russell and Mary when their cousin, Tanya Phoenix decided to come to work at the same campus as an Admissions Advisor. “Tanya was here one or two months before I knew she had come on board!” says Mary, who bumped into her cousin in the hallway one day.

All three are pretty excited to see a friendly family face every now and then on the job, although their schedules make those sightings a bit rare.

Russell teaches full-time during the day for the Kern County High School District, where he also coached for many years. He and Mary might pop into each others’ classroom every now and then, and Tanya sees them both occasionally when she is taking potential students and their families on tour of the campus.

They are always there to support and encourage each other. “It’s not really what is said…it’s a look, a smile, a hug in the hallway,” says Tanya.

The cousins create a nice energy on campus that reinforces the family culture that SJVC thrives on.

“Russell is the oldest, and I remember going to his college football games,” says Tanya. “Mary is younger than I am and lived next door to my grandparents. We played with all our other cousins in the backyard. There was a tree we could climb, and one of the branches was perfect for pretending we were horseback riding,” she laughs.

“Family members working together stay together,” observes Jeaneal Davis, Veterinary Assisting Program Director. “Mary, Tanya and Russell are first cousins and have been outstanding long-term SJVC employees.”

“It’s kind of a fun deal for me,” says Russell, “because I’m older than them, and it’s comforting to see my cousins strive and accomplish good things in a field where you know you’re helping others. And that’s a good feeling.”

As a family they share and reflect on their traditions.

“I share a similar work ethic with my cousins,” says Mary. “We come from a family of education: teachers and principals, so it was like we were born to work at SJVC.”

These three are visual examples to their students of what a strong work ethic can create in life. “We were taught that no matter what you choose to be in life, be the best,” says Tanya. “We strive towards that every day.”

Family members want the best for each other. If they are experiencing something good, something important that will benefit their life; they want those closest to them to have the chance for the same kind of experience.

“Over the past few years I have seen fathers and sons enrolled in the Industrial Technology and HVAC programs,” says Mary. “I’ve seen mothers and daughters in Therapeutic Massage, and couples and siblings in the CAMA (Clinical and Administrative Medical Assisting) programs. Family members inspire other family members to get an education at SJVC.”

Mary is very familiar with this family trend, as she and her Aunt Roxanne enrolled in and graduated from the Bakersfield campus MA program in 1987.

As the success of family-shared education continues to impact so many lives, San Joaquin Valley College will strengthen its ‘we are family’ culture.