Candidate for Highline’s academic transfer dean Maribel Torres Jimenéz says she will take a student- and people-focused approach to improving the college.
Highline’s Faculty Senate and Equity Task Force held their third of three faculty and staff forums for Jimenéz’s candidacy via Zoom on May 13.
The college has been searching for a new hire to fill the dean of academic transfer pathways and partnerships position since early 2021. As part of the search, three online forums were held to introduce faculty and staff to the finalists, and gather their input.
Responsible for working with 15 college departments and 12 transfer degree programs to ensure Highline’s education pathways support student transfer, the academic transfer dean position is an important one. “Nearly half” of all Highline students indicate that they intend to transfer, according to the position’s job description.
Under the transfer dean’s purview are collaborations with the college’s Transfer Center, Assessment Committee, Running Start Program, and Advising Council, as well as the heads of each faculty department.
Jimenéz has worked in education for more than 17 years, spending nine years as a K-12 teacher and counselor, and eight years in higher education positions. She has a master’s degree in social work, and is currently “all but dissertation” in pursuing a doctorate in education in organizational leadership.
In her role as a tenured faculty counselor and Title V UDEAL grant director at Yakima Valley College, Jimenéz has served as the chair of the counseling and advising department and for YVC’s “Diversity Series.” She also leads the college’s “Social Justice through Access, Equity, and Inclusion” strategic division.
During the forum, Jimenéz expressed her guiding principles as higher education faculty and that she would bring to the transfer dean position. First on her list was “student-centered action.”
“I want to emphasize the action — a lot of the time we have a lot of student-centered ideas and we get stuck in the, ‘Let’s have a meeting about the meeting about the meeting,’” Jimenéz said. “So, one of the things I’ve learned over time is what it looks like to actually have action around that.”
Another of her principles was “people first.” Jimenéz said she understands that without cared-for faculty and staff, meeting students’ needs isn’t possible.
“If we don’t take care of our people, then we really can’t do anything that we need to do. I think it’s important to validate and really acknowledge the work that people are doing,” she said.
Having served in several equity and anti-discrimination-focused positions, Jimenéz said she is also focused on implementing what she calls a “both/and approach to equity.”
“I understand that equity work is a journey, not a destination,” she said. “As we work towards understanding what that looks like for us, […] the only way that we are going to get to an equitable campus is to put up a mirror and look at ourselves and continue to examine our own behavior and our own actions.”
Part of Jimenéz’s experience in equity achievement has taken place through the ESCALA program that she leads at Yakima. The program works to teach faculty “culturally responsive teaching,” per the program’s website, by providing courses to faculty at Hispanic-serving institutions.
Jimenéz said another principle was “appreciative inquiry,” a term she said meant working to understand how past and ongoing successes can be built upon.
Her final guiding principle was “sit down, be humble.”
“I know when it’s my turn to come to the side,” Jimenéz said. “There’s a lot of things that I don’t know, and I ask a lot of questions to make sure that I really understand what’s happening, especially when it comes to the needs of our students.
Listening to and gauging the needs of students is a major focus of Jimenéz’s, guiding her approach to administration, she said.
“Students are my compass — some of our students have different needs so how do we continue to adapt to their needs so that they’re continually informing what we do,” Jimenéz said.
“The other thing is examining data, but understanding that the segregated data and the numbers is not the whole picture,” she said. “I think that it’s important to include our student voices.”
Jimenéz said that as transfer dean, she would work to build relationships throughout the college and listen to the voices of students, faculty, and staff. And, she offered a commitment.
“I commit to you that I will continue to lead through student experience, that I will continue to examine my own blind spots; I will commit to being available and supportive of innovation and creativity; […] I commit to aligning to the mission, vision, and values of Highline College, and to build on the equity work that’s already in motion,” she said. “And, when I know better, I will do better.”