Editor’s Note: This article was written by Haley Seymour, editor of the Champlain College Crossover and member of the Underground Workshop, VTDigger’s collaborative network of student journalists from across Vermont. For more information, please email Ben Heintz, the workshop editor, at [email protected]
by Haley Seymour
On December 9, 2021, Alejandro “Alex” Hernandez took to the stage in Champlain Hall at Champlain College, introducing himself to students, faculty, staff and stakeholders. Although there were some headphone issues, prompting the switch to handheld microphones midway through the discussion, Hernandez engaged the audience with his story, showing how his experiences make him uniquely positioned to become Champlain’s tenth president. .
Hernandez’s mother was born in the Philippines during World War II under Japanese occupation. When she was growing up, there weren’t many career options for women. She started working in offices, before becoming a teacher. As Hernandez shared his story, he held back tears, apologizing for getting emotional.
Hernandez’s father’s family moved to the United States from Mexico. He began his college education in California, but withdrew before graduating.
Soon after, an educator from his father’s community invited him to participate in the National Teacher Corps, helping people become teachers in underserved areas.
Her father went back to college, graduated, and started working in public primary education. From there, he became interested in high school education and spent most of his working life as a high school guidance counselor, helping others further their education and careers.
“On both sides of my family, there is [were] always educators and mentors along the way that we have been blessed with to help us on our journey,” Hernandez said, and these people have inspired him to become that educator in the lives of others.
Hernandez’s family experiences informed much of his approach to education.
“There’s a lot of talent everywhere,” he said. “It was at my parents’ house, although not everyone saw it.”
Hernandez comes to Champlain as the fourth president in five years, at a time when Champlain is struggling with his sense of direction.
Administrative changes have been widespread in schools across the country, dating back to before the pandemic. At Champlain, turnover has been present in various staff and faculty positions. In November 2020, seven out of nine employees of the Office of International Education left their posts.
Crossing staff sent out a survey to students regarding their opinions on the presidential roll.
Madison Chute Film Major (’22):
“I think turnover is difficult for students in general because there are a lot of rules and regulations that seem to be constantly changing. I think it would have been better to have a stable leader to help the Champlain community through this pandemic. »
Professional Writing Major Sam Wilhoit (’22):
“There has been a lack of identity and authority over who the college is and what it stands for and against.”
Ava Ferguson Major Design Lab Degree (’23):
“The turnover of presidents at Champlain makes me wonder why our school seems like such a temporary destination for highly skilled professionals who have seized the opportunity to lead here. Is there anything going on behind the scenes that can be considered unethical or unsatisfactory? »
Film Major Kol Spielvogel (’23):
“I’m not even entirely sure what a college president actually does other than making speeches and sending emails every time a news event happens, which tends to express the exact same views and opinions as the university email itself.”
Champlain College has had only 10 presidents since its inception in 1878, but recent years have seen half of them.
Donald Laackman stepped down in 2019, prompting Laurie Quinn to take over as interim president.
Benjamin Ola Akande left college in April 2020 to take up a job at Stifel in Saint-Louis.
Akande’s departure created space for interim chairman David Finney to take over, who was already assisting Akande as a consultant.
Judy O’Connell has served as Chair of Champlain’s Board of Directors since October 2021 and has served on the Board for over 10 years. She attributes some of the recent challenges to Covid-19. “You add the turnover of the executive, it’s frankly exhausting,” she said.
O’Connell and the Champlain community hope Hernandez is here to stay.
In an interview with The Crossover, Hernandez shared her own life. Like his parents, Hernandez’s personal experiences inspired his passion and philosophy for education.
Hernandez was born and raised in Stockton, CA, pursuing his undergraduate degree at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA. He earned his MBA and a Masters in Education from Stanford University.
Hernandez applied and interviewed for dozens of jobs during his senior year of college. He didn’t know anyone in business growing up, so learning to navigate professional spaces and understanding cultural norms for interviews were new concepts to him.
“I just remember how difficult that period was for me,” Hernandez explained in a January interview. “Funny enough, it was the hardest time I’ve ever had to find a job.”
“I remember feeling alone figuring out how to take the next step in life,” he said.
He received a job offer in the final days of campus recruiting. His teaching career began when he took a job as a high school math teacher in South Los Angeles.
At Champlain, he said he hopes to focus on a future-oriented education, allowing students to learn major-specific content, but also teaching them how to move forward after college. This is prevalent in the college’s 2030 strategic plan, as well as creating innovative new academic programs and making the college more accessible to diverse groups.
He stressed that his goal is to stay at Champlain for the long term, helping students “jumpstart their lives.” He is particularly interested in Champlain’s innovative programs, its entrepreneurial spirit and its privileged relationship with the State of Vermont.
Hernandez said he will make monthly visits to Champlain by June, engaging with students, faculty and staff to build relationships and learn more about the institution.
“It’s not a stepping stone for me, it’s an opportunity to work on issues that I’ve worked on all my life,” he said.
Hernandez loves poetry and quoted a line from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver.
“This is how I want to spend my ‘only wild and precious life’, working on these issues,” he said. “I’m really excited to have this opportunity.”
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