Q&A with Hanford Campus Dean Krysten Schweighart
How did you get started in education?
I didn’t have the greatest start to life. I came from a little town and my family had a lot of problems. So, I knew what I didn’t want and that I needed to do something different with my life.
I found SJVC and it turned into an incredible launching pad. I enrolled in the Pharmacy Technology program and as soon as I graduated I went straight to work at my externship site, which was awesome. SJVC was the foundation of everything I have done since then. One of SJVC’s values is giving our students the tools to be lifelong learners. SJVC did that for me; I ended up going back to school and got three more degrees. Some people say that you get bit by the lovebug for education when you go to SJVC and that happened to me.
Then, as soon as I qualified to teach, I was teaching. I went from teaching to being the lead in that department. I was the student center coordinator. Then I was the faculty coach on two different campuses—Bakersfield and Fresno. From there, I became the academic dean in Fresno and now the campus dean in Hanford. I have had multiple positions with the company and it all started with being a student.
What motivated you to choose SJVC in particular?
I was raised that you find a man and they will take care of you. I did that at 18 because that was all I knew. When my son was 8 months old and we were really struggling, I thought that was not the life I wanted for him. I knew that I needed to do something different and I needed to do it fast. I searched for programs online and I came across SJVC. It was at the top of the list.
I filled out the form online and the advisor called me. She was so nice and not judgmental at all. She said that she could help me and I met with her one time and was sold. It was just the fact of being able to walk in and feel like someone really cared about me. I had never had that before. I felt like she really cared about my success.
Ever since the day I walked in the door, there has been so much support. The amount of focus that gets put on student success here is amazing. Every student at SJVC is here to better their life. And the stories they have told me of what so many of them have been through in their lives, it is absolutely inspiring. That’s why I come to work everyday.
What has been your favorite part of being an academic dean?
My favorite part has been developing the faculty. If you develop a strong, supportive faculty member, you touch hundreds, even thousands of students’ lives. That’s my favorite part of my job.
Did it occur to you as an academic dean how much one faculty member could affect a student?
I would say that I realized it over time, but early on. If you’ve ever had a bad teacher—and you can probably think of one—it can be very discouraging. They always say that you remember two teachers—the one that treated you the best and the one that treated you the worst. I always tell my faculty you want to be the best. You want to be remembered by them as the teacher that gave them the skills to be successful, so make that intentional every day.
What do you find most challenging?
The most challenging part about my job is when you have a student and there is just something in their life that is out-of-control. There are resources and things that we do to help, but there are instances where our hands are tied. So sometimes you have to encourage them to compartmentalize and show them the value of finishing. And that can be hard because there are real-life things that happen that pull them away. Ultimately, if they do leave, we let them know that we are here for them when they are ready to finish.
Does the school provide you with support?
Oh yes, I have had a lot of support throughout my time and throughout this transition (to campus dean in Hanford), which has taken a little bit longer so adequate support could be provided to another dean during their transition into a new position. We are taking the transition a little bit slower to make sure everybody has what they need. Because, ultimately, if you don’t have what you need, the students don’t have what they need… and we don’t do things like that.
Do you have any advice for students who would like to work in education and maybe even become a dean someday?
If that’s what you want, put everything that you have into it. Education is not a field that you just go into because you think it will be fun. It’s incredibly challenging but the rewards you get from it are amazing. Watching students at the end walk across the stage (during graduation), there is nothing compared to it! Watching someone change their entire life, it’s amazing. These students can be unstoppable.
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