A Conversation With Kathryn Jeffery on the First Day of Fall Semester

Kathryn Jeffery takes a stroll through the Santa Monica College bookstore on the first day of the fall semester on August 30, 2016 in Santa Monica, Calif.
Kathryn Jeffery takes a stroll through the Santa Monica College bookstore on the first day of the fall semester on August 30, 2016 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Kathryn Jeffery takes a stroll through the Santa Monica College bookstore on the first day of the fall semester on August 30, 2016 in Santa Monica, Calif.

On Monday, Dr. Kathryn Jeffery prepared for the first day of Fall Semester. With years of experience under her belt, a charismatic nature and routine surveying of the campus’s day-to-day activities, she’s definitely got the attention of staff and students alike.

“What do I want students to know about me?” Jeffery pondered, took a breath and said: “What I’m doing as the President really matters to me, to my core. As a person.”

Jeffery, with a warm tone, expressed her beliefs in higher education and its ability to prepare students for life.

"[Higher education] will give students a better understanding of family dynamics, community dynamics. It will give [the students] the ability to interpret what you hear on the news or what you read in the paper. I just think you're more able to navigate your immediate surroundings as well as the broader context of society if you’re an educated person,” she said.

Jeffery exuded a genial yet calculated charm as she meandered through the campus early Monday morning. “I just want to see how the flow of things are going and I’m sure I’ll be answering questions for students along the way. I’ve got a tag on that shows I might know something,” she said, using a giggle to emphasize her unfamiliarity with the campus layout. “Being new to the college, [not] knowing exactly where every building is, is a challenge for me just like it is for new students. So we’ll see how it goes,” said Jeffery.

In a previous interview with The Corsair, Jeffery mentioned she hadn’t formed any concrete ideas about what was on the horizon for SMC. However, she’s had time to build up quite the list since February: “I want to help us to better communicate to potential students and employers the range of career technical education that we have here.”

She went on with a list of ideas to promote the college by reaching out to high schools outside the West LA area, and to create more career-building opportunities for students in the form of internships. She has also reached out to The Recording Academy to discuss the educational programs they can make available for students here at SMC.

The new development that Jeffery seemed most excited about is the possibility of implementing Promise Programs. The programs are supposed to provide access to students in ways that lessen the financial burden of an education, and, in some cases, the Promise Programs include connections to potential employment or access to services. “I’m on my way to Oakland to find out what people are doing [with these programs] and how successful they’ve been. Just knowing what they're doing is only a piece of it,” said Jeffery.

Kathryn Jeffery helps a student looking for EMT classes on the first day of the Fall Semester, Monday August 30, 2016 on the Santa Monica College campus in Santa Monica, Calif. Jeffery ultimately directed the student towards a campus that actually offers EMT courses, as SMC does not.
Kathryn Jeffery helps a student looking for EMT classes on the first day of the Fall Semester, Monday August 30, 2016 on the Santa Monica College campus in Santa Monica, Calif. Jeffery ultimately directed the student towards a campus that actually offers EMT courses, as SMC does not.

Kathryn Jeffery helps a student looking for EMT classes on the first day of the Fall Semester, Monday August 30, 2016 on the Santa Monica College campus in Santa Monica, Calif. Jeffery ultimately directed the student towards a campus that actually offers EMT courses, as SMC does not.

Jeffery continued to address other issues on campus such as parking and construction, as well as what is happening in the national political landscape. “For me, bringing these issues to campus is essential, but it has to be done in a collaborative way,” said Jeffery. She cautiously steered the responsibility of bringing these issues to campus away from herself, but expressed admiration and encouragement towards students who wish to. She specifically mentioned the Bernie club, which was supremely active last semester. “I’ve been interested in politics for a long time. As I learn more about it, I find I have more questions than answers,” she said.

True to her affable nature, Jeffery took the interview in a more lighthearted direction. The tone of her voice shifted from that of a business woman to a fan when the topic changed to music. “I like vocalists and instrumentalists. The first instrumentalist I really gravitated towards was Grover Washington. And a vocalist? There’s kind of an old time performer named Etta James,” Jeffery said, assuming someone my age wouldn’t know who that was. “Her music is very unique, as well as her voice.”

As Jeffery cheerfully toured the campus, she was met with bright smiles and warm welcomes. “I would say I’m pretty visible so that when people see me walk by I don’t think they’re surprised now. I think initially they may have been, but now they aren’t. They can see that it’s just part of my routine.”

Many staff expressed thanks for having such a presence within the community. Jeffery politely smiled but was careful not to comment on their gratitude. Although quite personable, it is clear that Jeffery is still on the cautious side of things, keeping the conversation very matter of fact, while occasionally letting out a few personal tid bits. “I don’t just give information about the college, I give information about myself and that connects with people. So when I talk with students, often times I might toss something in that's just kind of a tid bit about food or restaurants, and it connects with them in some personal way, and it’s a way for them to remember who I am and a way for me to remember who they are too,” she said.

As the semester continues, you can be sure that Jeffery’s presence will too. Her obvious passion and commitment show no signs of diminishing. “I believe in the mission of higher education and what being an educated person can mean,” said Jeffery. “Not only in terms of career opportunities, but also a better understanding of the world.”

Kathryn Jeffery and Mike Tuitasi take a second to catch up during their morning stroll on the first day of the fall semester on August 30, 2016 on Santa Monica College Campus in Santa Monica, Calif.
Kathryn Jeffery and Mike Tuitasi take a second to catch up during their morning stroll on the first day of the fall semester on August 30, 2016 on Santa Monica College Campus in Santa Monica, Calif.

Kathryn Jeffery and Mike Tuitasi take a second to catch up during their morning stroll on the first day of the fall semester on August 30, 2016 on Santa Monica College Campus in Santa Monica, Calif.