Faculty Q&A with Rancho Mirage Campus Dean Rieko Decker
When asked about how she feels about her new title as Campus Dean of the Rancho Mirage campus of SJVC, Rieko Decker replies “It’s just a title.” Having worked in Career Services both at SJVC and previously at another academic institution, all that really matters to her is helping students find their path to a successful career and a happy life. She is always working to reach students and help them find their way. That is her life’s work and she loves it.
Rieko is the embodiment of what each student at SJVC can do because she was just like them and did it herself. (She just happens to have found the career she loves at SJVC!) Read her story here.
Q: Tell us a little about your background.
A: My Mom and Dad were born in Japan; my Dad is from Yokaichiba and my Mom is from Tokyo. They were the only ones from their respective families to immigrate to the US. so that makes my sister and I the first-born generation in the US. We grew up in Anaheim, California.
Q: Close to Disneyland?
A: So close we could see the fireworks every night!
Q: Wow. That must have been great as a kid.
A: Yeah it was fun. My sister and I also studied Karate. My Dad is the President of an international karate organization. Both my sister and I got our black belts, but my sister went on to be a nationally ranked professional competitor.
Q: Was karate good for discipline too?
A: Yes, it has all of those pieces ingrained in it, like being a good person and citizen, treating everyone with respect.
My parents also pushed us to get a good education too. But actually, I was not the best student. I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t great; my teachers said I “had a lot of potential if I would just put my mind to it.” But nothing ever sparked my interest. My parents understood that and supported my decision to start working first – my work ethic is one that comes from that foundation in karate.
Q: That’s really interesting, knowing where you ended up!
A: I think it’s a big part of why I ended up doing what I do. I’m just like an SJVC student; I was also one of those students who didn’t feel a four-year college was for me. I understand that traditional education isn’t for everybody. There is a weird perception that if you don’t go to a four-year college you’re not worth anything. It’s just not true. If you want a career, you can have it.
Q: What do you wish students knew before entering a program?
A: The soft skills are often missing. If you don’t know something, you just don’t know it; these nuances are missing from entering students, not for lack of education, but it just has not been taught to them yet. Knowing how to communicate in a professional, friendly but respectful way – are incredibly important. Being dedicated and showing up to work every day and doing a great job are things that employers want and need. It’s ingrained in everything we do, no matter what field. Most students come into SJVC generally very shy; but we work with them and they eventually blossom and thrive here.
I take opportunities to work with students on professionalism skills because they are not aware that I also had to start somewhere, just like them. I love to share with students an experience that I had: When I was at my first “real” job working as a Membership Associate for a healthcare union, I had to request reports from hospital HR staff on behalf of the union so that I could audit union dues payments each month. This communication was primarily done by email. There was this one woman who read an email I sent to her, and she replied with some friendly advice. In her email, she added a “P.S. I say this to you in my friendly, elderly Asian voice…just so you know, it is not professional to start an email with “Hey”.
I had no idea! No one had ever told me that, but I will never forget that lesson she taught me. I continued to learn soft skills on jobs after that and paid attention to advice given to me by mentors which helped promote me quickly through jobs at another college to the level of registrar and eventually a career services director role. I know from having worked in Career Services that all employers value professionalism.
Q: What’s different about being Campus Dean of Rancho Mirage?
A: The only difference is the title! I just see my job as supporting and helping students, although it can be quite different from my time in Career Services which is at the end of a student’s academic path.
For me it’s been a great journey switching gears and focusing more on the academic phase which has challenges because there can be a lot of roadblocks for our students. I work hard to maintain an open-door policy and to always be available to support students on their paths. I always love it when students achieve their goals and for each student, the goal is different. It is nice to know that you were there during their formative stage, watching them grow.
Q: Tell me about Rancho Mirage campus.
A: Well, for one we are newer and smaller, but that in my opinion is a good thing. Our faculty is amazing. They get to know each of our students and lift them up through skill competency which raises students’ confidence.
We are also growing! I think we are in the sweet spot; we are growing and have a lot of cool new things happening with our nursing program, but we’re still just small enough – close to 120 students – that I know every student.
There is also an awesome partnership between academics and career services and even between the programs as well: cross-training, doing projects and interacting together. Everyone is working with each other.
The medical programs are the most popular here. They’re primarily female, and because we’re in the Coachella Valley they are largely Hispanic. We also have students coming from San Diego and other outlying areas, up to even an hour’s drive away.
Q: What have you found challenging at Rancho Mirage?
A: The first real challenge I had was arriving just two months before the big COVID-19 shut down hit. I didn’t have long to adjust to being a Campus Dean when we quickly had to reorganize and move our students onto an online platform. As an institution, we had to share knowledge and best practices under the new circumstances. All the students came to pick up their books and we went online on March 16, 2020. We were back to normal class scheduling in July 2021. So far so good!
Students having the COVID-19 blues is a real thing, though so we are always focused on building a family-like support system here on campus.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about SJVC?
A: What I love most is that every single person on this campus is passionate about student success. Whatever department you work in, student success is the mind frame. It is unique; you don’t see that very often in a school because it takes a lot of hard work to create that kind of culture. I know our students and graduates realize what a value they get from that! I hope new entering students will explore our school and campus and come to get the benefit of our dedication to their success.
Our RN to BSN program is a Bachelors degree completion option for Registered Nurses.