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New VC president sees herself in the students she serves

Dr. Jennifer Kent, who began her official duties as the sixth president of Victoria College on Aug. 3, was a first-generation college student in her family.

Dr. Jennifer Kent was a freshman in high school when she realized a college education was within her grasp.

At age 14, Kent began participating in an Upward Bound (TRIO) program developed to encourage children living in poverty to pursue higher education.

“Participating in Upward Bound played a significant role in changing my life,” Kent said. “In addition to monthly meetings on the Tarleton State University campus, we lived on campus each summer and attended college-simulated classes. As a result of the program, I was comfortable on campus and believed I belonged there. Essentially, TSU felt like home and built my confidence, despite being a first-generation college student.”

Kent continued in the Upward Bound program her remaining three years in high school. She grew so familiar with the Tarleton State University campus in Stephenville that she went on to attend college there, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Kent began a career in education, teaching high school English, physical education and English as a Second Language (ESL). After obtaining a master’s degree in educational administration at the University of North Texas in Denton, Kent became a high school administrator in Dallas ISD. It was while working as the chief academic officer and high school principal in Kingsville ISD that Kent decided to pursue a doctorate in educational leadership at Texas A&M-Kingsville University.

“My final five years in public education were served at Early ISD, where we were named as one of the top high schools in the nation,” Kent said. 

In 2017, Kent accepted the position of vice president at Ranger College, which soon evolved into senior vice president. On July 20, she was named by VC’s Board of Trustees as the sixth president in Victoria College’s 95-year history and became the first female to hold the position.

Kent officially assumed the duties as president on Aug. 3.

“Growing up in poverty, I changed my future through education,” Kent said. “When we see an at-risk student graduate, we are witnessing their entire future change before our eyes. They are not only changing their futures, but they are also improving the futures for many generations to come.”

Kent, 46, seriously began thinking about pursuing a position as a college president after she was nominated by Ranger College President William Campion to attend the 2018 American Association of Community Colleges Future Presidents Institute in Washington, D.C. She was accepted, and the learning experience at the nation’s capital proved to be life-changing.

“I was inspired by the message of AACC’s president, Dr. Walter Bumphus, of how the work of community colleges is vital to providing equity for students typically underserved in higher education,” Kent said. “As I progressed through the program and began participation in the Aspen Institute’s Rising Presidents Fellowship, I embraced the idea of serving a community college in the role of president.” 

Kent was already familiar with Victoria College and its longstanding reputation of academic excellence, having started her career in education as a teacher and coach at Calhoun High School in nearby Port Lavaca. She also had heard good things about VC from a very reliable source, former VC President David Hinds.

“Over the past two years, I was able to attend Texas Association of Community College presidents’ meetings with the president of my former institution. Dr. Hinds was always impressive and piqued my interest in Victoria College. When it became public that the president’s position was going to be open at VC, I began researching all aspects of the college and region. Throughout the process, I felt a deep connection to the college and community and saw an alignment between my personal core values and those of VC.”

Kent was one of four finalists for the position invited to Victoria to introduce themselves and field questions during open forums in June.

“During the interview process, including the forums, I strived to convey my leadership style and personality in order for stakeholders to ensure I was the right fit for the position,” Kent said.

Now Kent assumes the leadership at Victoria College as higher education deals with unprecedented challenges. Colleges and universities have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by working rapidly and proactively to ensure safety and flexibility for students and employees. 

“Student and employee safety are our top priority,” Kent said. “The plan that has been put in place by the team is especially impressive because it provides flexibility for students to choose the learning environment that is right for them. I am committed to continuing such flexibility for both students and employees.” 

Kent said she is looking forward to meeting with business and industry leaders in the community to see how Victoria College can increase partnerships to meet demands of the region’s workforce.

“Community colleges are uniquely positioned to respond to the unemployment surge resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we highlight training available at Victoria College through certification programs to support jobs in high-demand areas,” Kent said. “In keeping with our vision, VC improves lives and strengthens communities. We are committed to being the trusted education and training leader during these changing times.”

As Victoria College nears the conclusion of its 2015-20 Strategic Plan, Kent said she is excited to be a part of developing the next phase of VC’s growth.

“We will continue living our mission, vision and core values,” Kent said. “In everything we do, our core values are at the center of who we are. They are our ‘true north’ – integrity, respect for the unique characteristics and abilities of individuals, student achievement, student success and excellence. The strategic planning process involves everyone and will serve as the guide for our continued improvement.” 

Kent is very encouraged with what she has seen firsthand at Victoria College.

“Even in the short amount of time I have been here, I am extremely impressed with the Board of Trustees, employees and students,” Kent said. “Conversations focus on student achievement and how we can work together to ensure barriers are removed. I have begun meeting every employee personally and will continue until I know everyone in the VC family.” 

Kent and her husband, Doug, a math teacher and football coach at Victoria East High School, have two children – a daughter, Morgan 18; and son, Maddox, 12. She said her family is excited to become an active part of the Victoria College community.

“You will see us at the volleyball and basketball games, concerts and other events on campus and in the community,” Kent said. “Student life is important, and I strive to be where the action is.”