HomeFeaturesNotable women, remarkable lives: Female campus leaders share their stories

Notable women, remarkable lives: Female campus leaders share their stories

From a grassroots campaign to a woman-centered and nationally recognized institution, the National Women’s History Alliance has a goal of reintegrating women back into history. The NWHA is responsible for expanding International Women’s Day from a day, into a weeklong, then monthlong event called Women’s History Month, celebrated in the U.S. today during March. Women’s History Month shows off notable women throughout history like writer Toni Morrison or Native American activist Winona la Duke, but the month also gives women across the country a time and space to tell their stories. Three such women at TJC are Nicole Wright, the department chair of Health and Administrative Services;  Michelle Saucedo, a business adviser at TJC West; and Susan Farrington, the director of Alumni Relations.

Nicole Wright, Department Chair of Health and Administrative Services

Q: What does a day in your life look like?

A: So not only am I department chair, I teach in all three of those programs [health information technology, medical office management and health care administration associates program.]. So I’m typically either in the classroom, or I am on Zoom doing a class from the online classes, because I do teach. I teach in the classroom. I teach online, as well. I also do dual credit. I have three classes in the dual credit arena that come out of our actual department. So I do a lot of organization of dual credit classes among multiple high schools in the East Texas area. So I have a lot of, I guess, communication with those schools and have to, you know, work with those teachers, as well. The department chair role for me, means that I am over those three departments, which entails the teachers that teach in those departments. So I help streamline any communication coming from leadership with those teachers. I assist those teachers in anything that they need for their classes. I’m responsible for the schedule, and budget textbooks that are used in those classes. So there’s all kinds of administrative duties above and beyond my teaching.

Q: What would you say is the most challenging part of your day?

A: I have a lot of adjunct teachers, which means those are part-time teachers for us. I have to do a lot to assist those teachers, and so sometimes that can be challenging, but rewarding at the same time. So there’s really nothing in my job every day that, you know, is that great, I guess a challenge except just that I’ve done it for so long. I’ve been here since 1999. So I’ve been here a long time. And definitely teaching and, leading is definitely my passion. And so, it, it might be a challenging day, but it’s also encouraging, because no matter if you are helping students, helping teachers, whatever it is, I find that you know, I enjoy helping others.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: My favorite part of my job is just working with the students, and teaching them and partnering with the students in order to help them get to their goal in their professional career. Teaching, to me, it’s a passion, but it’s also a gift. And, you know, I do think that the Lord blessed me with that gift. And I’m thankful that I have a place that I can use it.

Q: How did you end up at TJC?

A: My degree is in health information management, so I was a director of the Health Information Management Department at a hospital when I moved to Tyler in 1994. I always wanted to teach here so I took students work at a Mother Francis Hospital, and I contacted the JCS Health Information Technology program director at that time and said, ‘I want to take students, I want to be a part of a student’s educational pathway.’ And so I started taking students for TJC.

Q: For a long time you were a full-time mother and professor, can you tell me any challenges that came with that?

A: I’m a very family oriented individual. So one of the things is just making sure that I’m present and at things that I need to be at with my family. I’ve had a sick parent for some years, and so sometimes that has been an additional responsibility. You know, I’ve always tried really to be a good time manager, so that I could be a present mother, but also the full-time working mother I always have been. And so that is one thing that I’ve always worked very hard at making sure that was present. But I mean, being mentally and physically present in my children’s lives, because there’s a difference. There’s a big difference in that. You know, when you’re a working mom, you have to really work hard at that. And I will say TJC was an answer to, I guess, a prayer for me to be able to be a working mom and be able to balance all of that because you are off when your children are off. I was blessed with an elderly couple that babysat my kids while I worked. And so I think all of that together just made it work. 

Q: What does Women’s History month mean to you?

A: There’s a lot of influential women that have made a difference in our country. You read stories of those that have even gone on before us that made a difference. When I think about role models I also think about, you know, the women that have served as role models for me. I’ve been very blessed in my professional career, to have I think three women directors over me, and all of them have really paved the way for me professionally and taught me a lot about leadership.

Michelle Saucedo, Business Adviser at TJC West

Q: What kind of people meet with you as a business adviser?

A: I don’t meet with a lot of students. I have met with a few. I’ve really meet with a lot of adults, mainly coming from continuing education, that want to start a business. They’ve found themselves either displaced out of the workforce, or they just want to do something new. And then I have a lot of people who have a business and they want to add to or change what they do. So our meetings depend on where they are in that process. You can come in here and spend 30-45 minutes with me, and then I have people that come in here and spend four hours with me, it really just depends.

Q: What did you do before this job at TJC?

A: I was a district manager in Dallas for premium retail services. We service the electronics department in Wal-Mart.

Q: What was the transition like from there to where you are now?

A: So it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I took about a 50% pay cut, and I got a whole life for it. I went from working every waking moment of the day, I worked about 100 hours a week, and now I’m still working but it’s different. It’s meetings and just like talking to people. There’s a lot of paperwork. I make a lot of phone calls. I give a lot of guidance. I do a lot of research to make sure because we don’t just handle one type of business. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do, we will help you. We have the resources to find out what process you need to go through and what you need to know. We have a lot of resources to help us guide you, because we can’t know all of that. But it’s just really, a lot of research and a lot of working together to get from point A to point B successfully. And it’s just really not work. I get to see the happy part of most businesses. I get to see it go from an idea in your head to seeing you open in the front door, whether it be virtually on your ecommerce side, or whether it be in brick and mortar.

Q: Did you face any challenges you felt held you back?

A: Well, I didn’t get a college degree until I was in my late 30s and early 40s. But I really can’t say that it has ever been a challenge getting a job because I’m bilingual. So I’ve really never had a problem getting the job. I’ve excelled at most of the things that I’ve done, but I’ve had a problem finding something that I truly enjoy. I don’t know that I’ve ever done anything that I really, really enjoy, until I found this. I’ve made good money throughout my lifetime, and I’ve been very, very blessed with very good jobs. But that’s what they were. They were a job. There was no fulfillment at the end of the day. For me, it was stress. And that was the job. I don’t really know that I would consider this job stressful. I mean, I get really, really busy sometimes, but it’s really not stressful. I just have to stay organized to keep up. But I enjoy what I do.

Q: You went back to school in your 30s or 40s. What was the driving force behind that decision to go back to school?

A: Well, I got married and we moved to South Louisiana. He did very well for himself. And he said, I didn’t have to work. And so I thought, ‘You know what, I’m gonna take the opportunity, to go back to school’ because I would have been a professional student if you’d let me. So when I had the opportunity I thought, ‘You know what I’ll get my degree.’ Well, I was in college, and I went to class and I got my associate and midway through my bachelor’s, the oilfield tanked and I had to go back to work. I mean, we went from a really, really comfortable amount monthly to struggling. So I obviously went back to work to help the household. I had to finish school online. 

Q: Do you have advice you want to give out to young students?

A: Stay away from credit cards, stay away it’s almost like when you turn that age and you start college, the credit card companies know, and it’s too easy, they make it too easy for you. And you pay for that forever.

Q: Do you find that credit card debt stops people from doing things like starting their own business?

A: Yes, probably about 80%. One of the first questions I have to ask is, ‘What is your credit score?’ Maybe two out of every 10 that can give me a credit score above 700, and all because of credit card debt.

Q: Is credit card debt recoverable?

A: Well, it just takes time. It takes time and dedication. The system is made to where you either know how to be successful or you’ll never get out.

Q: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

A: We’ve had to find our way to where we are, you know, and I’m not a big women’s equality feminist, I’m not that person. But what I will tell you is 30-40 years ago, we had no rights. And lately, especially with all the abortion mess, and everything thats been going on, I have to feel a certain way about it. It feels like right now they are trying to regress us, to push us backward. I do feel that sometimes that just because we’re female, we are treated differently in some areas. I’m proud of where we’ve come. There’s some really, really smart women around, you know, and I don’t want to see us pushed back into the barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen scenario, because that’s a waste of some really, really good brainpower and talent.

Susan Farrington, Director of Alumni Relations

Q: What does being the Director of Alumni Relations mean? what does this job entail for you?

A: It’s very, very busy. It’s a very comprehensive field. So you’re always building, right, you’re not maintaining you’re building. You can be working with any academic area, any student area, the cocurricular programs, they’re kind of all your family of opportunity. So whoever’s ready to build on the alumni community. There can be a lot of spontaneity, a lot of people that can be contacting you. I’m on the community building side. In our industry, we give alumni the ability to contribute their time, their talent and their treasure. The treasure can be financial, if that’s what they want it to be. It can be mentorships, and other things. TJC is at the top of that we’re probably one of the the biggest or best in the nation in terms of that we give that aspect a priority. And we actually have you know, people that do it and leadership values instilled in us. Probably most community colleges have not started down that road. This is an exceptional place. So one of my signature events is an annual Alumni Awards Event. That is usually quite involved and, from my perspective, quite extraordinary. You can bring honorees together from all parts of the community. You can bring in music and in performances, and each one of these is kind of a production, but everybody comes away, feeling remarkably, I want to say honored, appreciated, but just fulfilled. We’ve brought our community together and celebrated their role models, their achievements, they make the college proud. They inspire us. Another thing that I do is work with, certainly, the affinity groups that have a lot of alumni interest. Since I’ve come here, I’ve worked a lot with the Apache Belles, the Apache Band, cheer, athletics, so all those kind of co-curricular programs, where alumni have had wonderful experiences. Without a doubt, the Apache Belles is our largest affinity organization.

Q: What were you doing before TJC?

A: When you’re my age, you’ve done things. I put myself through school working at a law firm did that afterward for a while. Got into property management, commercial and residential for call bank for a while. I just decided to move to Arizona and I went to work for Lockheed Martin. So that was the No. 1 game changer. I loved that company as part of the defense industry. Then they moved me out to DC to corporate. And it was one of those things, when you hit something that’s just really right for you, things click. If they don’t, then it may always seem like doors are shut. But I got a promotion every year just because I loved what I was doing. It was a perfect fit. My first job was strategic lead for the corporate wide University Relations program, and then within a fairly short period of time, my boss got promoted. So I got promoted, and I was managing that program. And we hired 2,500 new grads a year and 1,200 interns. I had about 3,000 line managers nationwide that helped recruit. We had relations with 50 top tier schools, about hundreds of others. And when I decided to leave there, I had an opportunity to join a tech company and go off to Pittsburgh, and within a couple of weeks, I went to work for the Pittsburgh Technology Council. And then after that all roads just lead to Carnegie Mellon. All the major tech companies, of course, recruited there, so I got to visit SpaceX and Tesla and all those places. It was exciting stuff. It was really neat to, you know, just to be in a very creative, innovative scenario. And I worked myself to death, I worked 80 hours a week. But I will tell you, when you love what you’re doing, it’s hard. A work and life balance is really important in most situations, but every once in a while, you’ll just break your own rules. And I loved everything that I did. And then after that, one day, my family in Texas said, ‘Why are you in the frozen North?’ and I thought they were right. I knew I would eventually come back to Texas. You can run and run and run and then you just want to touch your roots. I started looking for places to go in Texas, and Tyler kept getting on my radar, I mean, it checked every box. So I just started to look for jobs here, and this job was opened, which just happens to be completely in my field, right. And I went, ‘OK, I guess this is meant to be.’ So I applied and got it, moved across the state.

Q: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

A: I think women have a unique approach to things. There’s no one particular model, right. Historically there was a time when women weren’t necessarily given all the freedoms that they have been for a long time now, right, and it’s wonderful to live through that and to remember that.

Q: So you’ve lived through some changes, specifically with women’s history, can you tell me about that? 

A: I was going to college in the early 70s so by the time I was going to college, those glass ceilings were already being broken. I didn’t feel like I had a major point to prove, I just figured I had a life to live. And I guess I noticed that just a little bit. I’ve always felt empowered to do what I wanted to do. I think when you have that attitude, you might run into things occasionally, but you can push a lot of that away, because you’re just confident in your need to be there.

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

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