New VP of Student Services believes in positive interactions


Matthew Garvey

Dr. Juan Avalos became the new vice president of student services in July. It is his job to oversee all programs, to recruit new students, and to increase student success. Juan, as he asked to be called, is looking to put his extensive studies into action at Saddleback College. He strives to make personal connections with students, which he believes will benefit academic careers and life after college.


What was involved in your decision to work at Saddleback?


Avalos:  There were a number of reasons why I looked at Saddleback. One is the reputation that Saddleback has. It is known as a quality college: quality in the terms of its courses, in the terms of its programs so that was one consideration.


Another reason had to do with the fiscal stability of the district. I think this district is known as being fiscally responsible.


I came from a district that was similar, a highly regarded district, Los Rios Community College District. It was also very stable. So, I was looking for that.


The next layer is that I am originally from Southern California. I grew up in L.A., pretty much downtown L.A. It has that added family bonus so my kids can grow up around cousins and relatives. I think I made a great choice and I feel good about where I’m at.


What school did you attend? What did you study and what degrees did you earn?


Avalos:  I have three degrees. My bachelor is from UC Davis; it’s a B.S. in applied behavioral studies. I was originally an engineering major. I got involved in student services as a student leader and peer advisor.


There came a point in time where I did one of those reflection things where the jobs that I’m looking for that bring me the greatest amount of satisfaction are not in this profession that I think I want to do. There came a point in time where I went, ‘ya know, I’m not gonna do the engineer thing anymore.’ Then I chose the major that I thought was most fulfilling.


From there I knew that I had to go to graduate school. I got a master’s degree from UCLA in high education. And, I got my doctorate in higher education from UCLA as well, at age 27.


What makes a student successful at community college?


Avalos:  The content is important, but talk to many people who have gone to college and ask them the question: What is the most important thing you got out of college?


The story that then ensues is not that class, or that content, it’s that relationship I had with that instructor and that mentorship that ensued. If you pursue that same question from an empirical perspective, being connected to a college being connected to a people is the single most significant factor in being successful.


Student services plays that role for many different reasons. There is a service component for what we do that helps facilitate that process for you. We help you; we guide you through that thing called college from an administrative perspective. we teach you how to advocate for yourself.


You can never have enough people in your corner. You can never have enough advocates. We understand this process; we know how it works.


Part of my philosophy is I want to have positive interactions with student that add value to their lives. I want to be a resource but I also want to be very human with them. I want to convey, to come across as a regular guy who happens to be the vice president of student services.


And if I can be the source of inspiration for somebody then I want to do that too. So what do I try to do, I try to surround myself with pictures of my kids, my Oakland Raiders signs, some conversation pieces that connect us as individuals.


When we can connect with someone at that level, then that is where some of the wonderful, powerful things of college can happen.”