New Ventura College VP Has High Hopes
By Tim Pompey
For Patrick Jefferson, recently hired as an executive vice president at Ventura College, it’s been a long road to get here.
A native of north Houston, he grew up in a neighborhood filled with tough economic circumstance called Acres Home. “I grew up in a house with a tin roof on it,” he said.
He credits his dad, a groundskeeper, and his mother, an administrative assistant, with keeping college front and center in his life. He remembers his dad telling him, “You’re never going to work as hard as I have.” And Jefferson didn’t argue with him.
When he finished high school, Jefferson ended up at Xavier, a historically black university in New Orleans. He acknowledged that the academics and the student life at Xavier pushed him to improve himself. Even more important, students on campus were encouraged to help each other be successful. “The first day of college,” he recalled, “I remember the president of the college asking us to look to our left, look to our right, and make sure that they are there with you at graduation. It was about helping everybody to succeed.”
And Jefferson did succeed, receiving his bachelor’s degree from Xavier in 1996 in biology. Still, he admits that after graduating, it took him a while to find his footing. In fact, after moving to Los Angeles, he ended up selling televisions at Circuit City. That’s when he first considered the idea of teaching. “A friend of mine told me that the school systems always need teachers,” he said. “That idea had never crossed my mind, but I needed a job so I thought I would teach until I figured this thing out.”
Within a week of applying for a position as a substitute teacher in the Compton school district, the city hired him. It quickly turned into a full-time commitment. “I took a long-term temporary position at Dominguez High School,” Jefferson explained, “which turned into a permanent position.”
While at Dominguez, Jefferson brought up some of the student issues he dealt with, things like foster care, poverty, violence, malnutrition, and an attitude of nihilism. He admitted that it frustrated him. “I felt helpless as a teacher and I felt powerless to do something about it.”
As a result, he left teaching to work on solving some of these issues. Initially, he was hired to work with The Youth Opportunity Movement, a joint partnership between the City of LA and the Department of Labor. Eventually he took a position at Pasadena City College as their director of Math/Science for Upward Bound.
When he started his Master’s program at Loyola Marymount, he was fortunate to meet some influential people who pulled him into their orbit. As he tells it: “I found a really good mentor in Lisa Sugimoto, the vice president of student services. She encouraged me to go get my doctorate and told me, ‘It’s going to open some doors for you and get you the skills to get where you’re going.’”
She also stated clearly, “You’re going to do this.”
He described how the influence of a mentor can help someone see new things in a different way. “If you don’t see it, then you don’t know it’s a reality,” he said. “Sometimes we have to experience things to know that it’s true. My family gave me enough to get to the door, but I was fortunate to have mentors to help me better understand things.”
From that point on, Jefferson pursued a career in education. From Pasadena City College, he wound his way through various positions at El Camino College, Southwest College, Argosy University, and Antioch University.
He also received his Masters in education administration from Loyola and his doctorate in educational leadership from UCLA.
Last January, he was hired at Ventura College to be the executive vice president in the office of student learning.
As a part of his personal activism, Jefferson helped found a community-based organization called A2mend (http://www.a2mend.org). “Our focus is to retain African-American male students and help them go to community colleges,” he explained.
Jefferson firmly believes in the importance of community colleges, but he acknowledges that the current system has its share of challenges. “We have a large number of first-generation students,” he noted. “We have a big divide between high performing and low performing students. We have challenges in math and English and institutional challenges as to how to be a community college in the 21st century.”
One of his goals for Ventura College is to reestablish relationships within the community. He affirmed that his vision for the college is “to be a community college with a capital C in the community. I want Ventura College to be the center of educational opportunities and activities in our area.”
True to what he’s learned over the years at Xavier, within the community college system, and through his work at A2mend, he wants to help every student at Ventura College gain confidence and establish their own lofty expectations. “I’m looking forward to Ventura College being the model community college,” he said. “I think we have the capacity of personnel, the location, and the energy. We just need to refocus on what kind of college we want to be and where we’re going.”