Dougherty Family College, a two-year college at the University of St. Thomas, offers an associate degree designed to propel students toward success and provide a smooth transition to a four-year institution of higher learning. For Dr. Janine Sanders Jones, the interim associate dean for academics at DFC, her transition was sort of the other way around. She started her career in academia in 2007 teaching upper-level and graduate courses at St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business before she moved to DFC on the Minneapolis campus.
Once a first-generation college student just like many of those who enroll at DFC, she said she made the jump to DFC, in part, because of the strong connection she felt with the scholars after she was a guest speaker in a First-Year Experience (FYE) course.
“I see myself in the scholars,” she said. “It’s a very different teaching experience because I had not previously taught in front of scholars who look like me.”
Born and raised in Cincinnati where most of her immediate family still resides, Sanders Jones said she only expected to stay in Minnesota for five years after she arrived in 2002 for her doctorate, but the connections she has made with the people here is why she remains. For a recent Newsroom interview, in addition to discussing the five-year career she had in the corporate world before pursuing her doctorate, she revealed what she has learned about herself and about academia since joining Dougherty Family College. She also offered advice for current and prospective students.
Here is a part of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What made you want to go from your associate professor role at the four-year campus to interim dean at the two-year DFC campus?
There were a couple things that prompted me to accept this position. One is I’ve been a strong supporter of DFC since it started, so being able to see it from its inception of an idea and fundraising to actually coming into fruition and having scholars was amazing to see. I’ve had a connection to DFC ever since I came in and spoke to the FYE class. So, when Buffy [Smith] approached me with the opportunity, I was like, oh, this is a great opportunity to not only learn more about DFC and help out DFC at this time of transition (when Smith became the interim dean). So, I wanted to support her [and] support DFC, and also get a glimpse into administration and what an administrative role looks like in higher ed.
How has your role as interim associate dean for academics helped you grow professionally?
I feel like moving over to DFC reshaped my view of higher education and education in general, because I feel like the systematic disparities in education are apparent. It’s kind of helped me think about my role in administration but also my role in the classroom, like how do I help to eliminate these barriers that students are experiencing.
I think we always looked at it from the student perspective because we want to put faculty in front of students where the students feel like they see themselves reflected in the faculty, but it is just as important and meaningful for a faculty member to be standing in front of that classroom and see so many scholars that look like [them] … that just takes the work to a different level.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to current DFC scholars?
For current DFC scholars, it’s not a mistake that they’re at DFC at this moment. That means there’s some greater plan out there for them. You have entered into a pathway that can change things, so, don’t take it for granted. Take advantage of the opportunities that we give here, because those opportunities may not show up later on as you’re progressing to a four-year degree.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to potential/future DFC scholars?
I cannot stress this enough for scholars. They need to know and understand their why. Why are they coming to DFC, and they need to hold onto that. Going to college is already hard, but if they’re going to college because their parents want them to, or because their siblings are going or went, or because their friends are going, and it’s not what they want to do, it’s going to be hard because those other people don’t have to do the work. The scholar has to do the work, and so it’s important that they understand the why behind what they’re doing.
What are some takeaways you hope that DFC graduates get out of DFC?
My hope is that every graduate of DFC spent [their] two years experiencing that DFC difference. My hope is that when they finish DFC they can say to themselves that they’ve seen themselves reflected in their community, in their curriculum, and the faculty and staff. So, they understand what that feels like, their identity is affirmed, and then they’re able to take that into the next spaces they go into. So, [they are] able to go into these next spaces, whether it’s a four-year program or going into work and being able to advocate for themselves if they don’t see themselves reflected in the place they are at.
How did your journey land you here at DFC?
It was networking I would say, like all the things that I’ve gone through have been from networking. I ended up at St. Thomas because I was part of the Black MBA association. We used to have our meetings at the Minneapolis campus. Then a faculty position at the Opus College of Business opened up at St. Thomas when I was getting ready to graduate [with a doctorate from the University of Minnesota], and the previous dean of the business school, Dean [Christopher] Puto, thought I should apply for the position. Then I got the position and been here at St. Thomas ever since. Through all these different connections is how I landed at DFC.
What was your favorite event that was held on the DFC campus and why?
For me, I would say the Halloween gathering. That was fun because it was faculty, staff and students. We were all together. Some people were dressed up. We were all playing bingo. It felt very DFC community-oriented [and] it felt like that’s who we are as DFC. We’re part of St. Thomas, but there’s that DFC family. There’s something special about being a part of activities like that.
Writer Cheyene Bialke is a second-year scholar enrolled at the Dougherty Family College, completing her associate degree. She hopes to major in digital media arts and potentially pursue a profession around journalism.