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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

SJVC’s Medical, Business and Technical program students benefit from academic and life coach leadership

September 1, 2020
SJVC’s Medical, Business and Technical program students benefit from academic and life coach leadership

What do you do with someone like Justin Damaso who, as an influential faculty member, has a powerful way of helping students reach their potential for greater success? SJVC’s corporate office has an answer. Give him a bigger classroom.

After almost two years as a Business Office Administration program faculty member where he taught, mentored, and encouraged students to complete their education goals, Justin was given a position of greater influence and scope.

As Regional Academic Coach for one of three regions that serve SJVC’s 17-California ground campuses, Justin serves eight campuses: Atascadero, Santa Maria, Visalia, Hanford, Porterville, Delano, Bakersfield and Lancaster. His student mentoring scope jumped from a couple of dozen students in his General Education classrooms to several hundred.

“I went from getting a few student contacts each week to about fifty calls, texts and emails a day,” says Justin. Students, staff and faculty in his region have identified Justin as the go-to for advice, encouragement and problem-solving.

“Justin Damaso was one of my resources,” says Carol Menor, recent Medical Office Administration graduate. “He was always willing to help out even after school hours. He explained step by step in order for us to get it.”

The era of CoVid-19 necessitated a restructuring of SJVC’s Business, Medical and Technology programs’ ‘classroom’ dynamics. Justin leads one of the regional teams developed to help students make a successful transition from ground campuses to distance learning. Working in partnership with online and ground campus faculty and administrators, and other academic coaches, Justin monitors the academics of his region’s students and will intercept at-risk students who might struggle with adjustments inherent to the ground-to-online move.

Justin is the right person to help move the college’s student population through the challenges of adopting distance learning. He feels one of the most important tools at their disposal is new student orientation. “Orientation is especially helpful to those (students) who have not taken online courses to ensure they understand and become familiar with the online platform,” he says.

“CoVid-19 resulted in everything becoming distance learning,” says Maria Mata, Porterville campus student in a Google post. “But Mr. D (Damaso) made it very easy to set up meetings and keep up to date on everything. He was very flexible and understanding of the new circumstances.”

Whether in a classroom on the ground or in a cyber environment, Justin wants his students to have everything they need to meet their education and career goals. “I want students to be comfortable, to express what they think,” he says. “And students have to embrace the learning process to fully engage.”

A lot of what Justin brings to his responsibility for student success was developed in the classroom. “I like to ask my students, ‘What’s your ‘why’? What is your main reason for being in school; what’s your purpose in life?’”  He reminds them that their decision and commitment will create the future they envision.

Justin knows the career potential a San Joaquin Valley College education can ignite. “I am home-grown, 2001 alumni of SJVC’s Business Administration program in Visalia, where I earned my Associate’s degree,” he says. He has an inside track on SJVC’s student-focus, quality curriculum and employment outcome success.

Previous Business Office Administration student, Mitchell Rudder, reflects on Justin’s influence in a Facebook post. “The facilitator for this program, Justin Damaso, makes it worth the time, effort and money. His teaching style and knowledge about business made it an ideal learning environment for me.”

Justin is on-call to any students in his region who feel the weight of obstacles threatening their education path. “I want students to be comfortable and not afraid to express what they’re thinking. I like to be a good listener. You can be the best communicator, but if you don’t have the best listening skills, you are not really a good communicator.”

Mentoring can stretch beyond the classroom. In one of his previous positions on the Porterville campus as the Library and Learning Resource Center coordinator, he helped students with their transportation needs, conducted resume writing workshops and tutored students in basic computer skills, math, and English.

Justin was on the front lines to help students who had immediate needs for academic or logistical problems. He gave that extra support that could lift some of the education or personal burdens threatening to slow progress. Those were the times students felt the heart behind the effort Justin offered.

“I’m still a mentor to graduates,” says Justin. “I get those calls from graduates who found a job, or someone thanking me for believing in them; that I transformed another life. The number one thing for me is I want them to be the best version of themselves. That’s happiness for me.”

Justin’s above-and-beyond attitude about his students did not go unappreciated – or unnoticed. “In 2019, I got an Apple Award on campus,” he says. “It’s a campus survey sent to all students asking which instructor has been there to help, motivate you. I won that award. I also received the Spirit of Education Award in 2019, an institutional recognition.”

Justin had an important mentor of his own as he rose in ranks of leadership over the years.

“Jim Reding taught me how to be a very influential leader and manager,” he says. ‘You really need to master how to form dynamic teams in the work and business environment,’ he told me. “He helped me to just focus on talent in people.”

Justin passes those important seeds of influence and success on to the students he engages. “I always tell them, ‘You know the future doesn’t exist, the present does. And it’s what you’re doing right now that creates that future’.”

Justin will have a lot of opportunities to drive that point home both through his words and by his example.

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