For Dr. Ilder Betancourt Lopez, his family’s past is what inspired his future.
Dr. Betancourt Lopez is one of three finalists trying for the vice president of academic affairs spot at Highline.
This position is in charge of planning, developing, and executing Highline's activities in the academic affairs section, as well as directing Highline’s educational planning process.
Dr. Betancourt Lopez said that from a young age, while growing up in an impoverished Los Angeles neighborhood, he knew he wanted to make a change.
“It was unlike the LA we usually see in television and the movies,” he said. “I got a chance to see injustices firsthand … as an adolescent, I knew I wanted to make a difference, make a change.”
Some things he learned about were very close to home.
“My brother is a former gang member. That in itself has provided me with many lessons,” Dr. Betancourt Lopez said.
An inspirational time for Betancourt Lopez was seeing his brother pursue and receive his GED in prison. This encouraged him to “be a vessel, to educate others,” he said.
He then went on to pursue his own education.
“I had the opportunity, and I was blessed, to attend Stanford University,” Dr. Betancourt Lopez said. “I often felt guilty, I often felt like I did not belong. I asked myself this question, ‘why am I here?’”
As the years went by and he became more confident, the question took on a different meaning.
“That question became a question of what is my purpose,” he said. “I have this privilege, I have this blessing - what can I do with it?”
Dr. Betancourt Lopez said that he found that purpose in community colleges, where he’s been working for 13 years.
He spent some time as a faculty member in Glendale Community College, which helped Dr. Betancourt Lopez experience institutions and helping students in a unique way, he said.
“As a faculty member, I really had the opportunity to practice what I preached in the classroom,” he said. “And also, I realize that as a faculty member you have a lot of influence where the institution can go.”
Currently, Dr. Betancourt Lopez is the dean of humanities and social sciences at San José City College in California.
“I’m very proud of the work that we do here, as it is a homage to the lessons my own brother taught me,” he said. “[And] I’m very proud of the work I've done in the honors program.”
Before working as a dean at San José City College, the program had an average of 80 students, he said. Now, they’re averaging 140 students.
Dr. Betancourt Lopez said that he would next like to take this sort of growth and creativity to Highline.
“You have the opportunity to do work with faculty, to influence both what is taught, and how that is taught [as VP],” he said. “You have the power to decide ‘this is what we want our students to learn.’ You have the opportunity to be innovative with faculty in pedagogical approaches.”
And developing a good curriculum could be a tool for student empowerment, he said.
“Curriculum has the opportunity to empower students,” Dr. Betancourt Lopez said. “Our students do have a voice, and they should be empowered to use that voice - to share directly to us what it is they're experiencing at Highline, what they would like to experience at Highline, what is it that's not working.”
“How do we then change our practices to better address the needs of our students?” He asked.
One way of encouraging students is by being present and communicative.
“It’s really important to be on the listening end … rather than the ones spouting out information,” Dr. Betancourt Lopez said. “Showing up to student government meetings … asking to be a standing item on the agenda. You're reassuring that there’s a direct line of communication.”
And an important switch for an institution to make to further encourage and empower students, is going from college-ready to student-ready.
“I don’t like the term ‘is a student ‘college-ready.’ Is the institution student-ready? Is the institution ready for our students?” He asked. “I work to make the institution student-ready. Whatever students are coming to us, we need to be ready for our students.”