About 15 years after Mountain View College opened its doors, Beatriz Joseph unwittingly left her native Lima, Peru, to begin an education-driven journey that would lead to becoming the institution’s first Latina president.
The 10th president of the 50-year old college is not only highly representative of its majority Hispanic (63 percent) and female(60 percent) student population, but also understands all too well the hardships of obtaining an education as life itself happens. Joseph relocated to three countries, three U.S. states and multiple cities spanning more than 24,000 miles, often juggling school, work, marriage and motherhood to earn a doctorate in higher education and all the other puzzle pieces leading to the Oak Cliff campus this summer.
“Now I’m in a position to help others move forward,” Joseph told the Infórmate DFW team as we gathered around the conference table inside her MVC office. “As a woman, as a minority, as an immigrant — when people don’t understand what it means and what it takes, sometimes it’s very difficult to help individuals do better, be better — when you’ve been where I’ve been, I think it’s a little bit easier to understand.”
The twists and turns of her journey aren’t exactly apparent in the picture-perfect American dream displayed throughout her office. Immediately to the left of the door is a vibrant, textile art piece with figures of people clothed in traditional Peruvian hats and colorful, wool ponchos. On the shelf behind her desk, there are pictures of Joseph and her husband at the college graduations of their two sons, a 25-year-old pediatrician residing in California and a 22-year-old med student at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Another photo captures her going-away party in San Antonio with colleagues from Palo Alto College, where she most recently served as vice president of college services.
Only in deeper conversation do the challenges she’s faced start to become evident. Joseph was raised in a middle-class family, with her father working as a pediatrician in a public hospital and her mother as a secretary at Lima’s National Agrarian University, at a time when Peru’s unstable political climate incited safety and economic concerns. “In a third-world country, if you don’t have an education, then, for sure, poverty is your destiny,” she said. “That’s context on why my parents insisted on education being non-negotiable.”
While her parents wished she would’ve stayed closer, Joseph took her brother’s advice to go to the United States. She looked into foreign student programs and landed one of the U.S. government’s coveted Fulbright scholarships to Southeast Missouri State University.
“I was 19 with my two suitcases and my blanket,” Joseph jokingly said, in her calm, easygoing manner. “In Peru, we don’t have heating or cooling; it’s cold, so we had these huge blankets that were handmade — really, really heavy wool. Looking back, they were beautiful, but I didn’t think that then. … I dragged this suitcase with a huge, heavy blanket that I really didn’t need because the dorm had heating.”
The move to Cape Girardeau, a city south of St. Louis with a reported population of about 40,000, marked her second time in America after a family visit to Los Angeles a few years earlier. The food, small-town vibe and living amongst people from all over the world at SEMO’s international housing premises were nothing short of culture shock. In the classroom, Joseph also had to adjust to English spoken at a fast pace, so she would tape-record lectures to re-listen to them at her own pace.
One of the greatest motivators to continue strong came with her first job at the university’s main cafeteria. “I started working in the sandwich line — I am not very good with food,” Joseph said, purposely mumbling the latter with a dreadful look on her face that was met with abrupt laughter around the table. With agony in her voice, she vividly described the foot pain from long hours of standing at work: making sandwiches, cleaning the nightmare of grease off the cafeteria grill, tending the cash register and attending to customers. “Being on my feet all day led me to the realization that I really needed to stay in school” or risk having similar, limited job options in the future, she added.
Her hard work paid off. The division that administered the university’s food services offered Joseph an office manager role that exposed her to the elements of running a business, from accounting to marketing and human resources. She worked days and went to class afternoons and evenings.
Joseph got married after obtaining her bachelor’s in marketing. With her brother-in-law residing in New Zealand, Joseph and her husband decided that’s where she’d take on graduate studies while he earned his doctorate degree. Considering she enjoyed teaching business courses and serving as a program director at a polytechnic institute, Joseph got her master’s in management studies.
At about year nine in New Zealand, her husband landed the first of many professor jobs outside the country that would continue dictating their journey. With a toddler and newborn in tow, the newly formed family of four relocated to Melbourne, Australia.
“At some point you have to decide in a professional couple: OK, who’s following who? Because something has to give,”Joseph elaborated. “At that point, we decided I was going to follow him because we had two little kids and, financially, it made more sense as well.”
When their eldest was ready to start kindergarten, they decided it was time to return to the United States, and Joseph’s husband secured a job in Georgia. After dedicating time to her sons’ youngest years, Joseph rejoined the workforce full time and redirected her career to institutional research at Georgia Military College, helping derive data to inform campus decisions and plans.
She then became interested in attaining more theoretical knowledge to strengthen the practical knowledge she’d gained from work. With the support and encouragement of her boss, she began her doctoral studies at the University of Georgia, where she also expanded her career into university administration. When her husband’s work guided the family to Mobile, Ala., Joseph drove seven hours to Georgia every other weekend to complete her doctorate degree.
The last family relocation her husband’s work led to was San Antonio. Joseph worked her way up to vice president of college services at Palo Alto College, one of the five Alamo Colleges District campuses. Presiding over its administrative and financial operations, she championed numerous initiatives to help employees advance their careers and to make education more accessible and affordable for diverse student populations.
Joseph earned many accolades for her outstanding contributions to Palo Alto and the community. Among the most recent is the Aspen Institute Presidential Fellowship — she was one of 40 emerging community college presidents in the nation selected in 2018 to participate in this leadership program.
New Life Phase, New Career Goals
Joseph pursued the MVC presidency after 11 years at Palo Alto. An empty nest at home has made it easy for her to take on the career-elevating role in Dallas while her husband continues working in San Antonio and they see each other on weekends. She’s maximizing the benefits and opportunities Dallas is affording, including interaction with its immensely culturally diverse population and — most importantly — being in the top position at MVC to extend growth and success opportunities to the community.
“I feel responsibility because I think I represent what’s possible,” Joseph said of being a Latina in the lead role. “A lot of young people, especially of color, sometimes don’t have a role model or individuals they can look up to.”
MVC’s student population, currently numbering more than 12,200, has traditionally been largely Hispanic. The majority of students attend part time (80 percent) and about 13 percent are first-time college goers. Joseph’s experiences leading up to the presidency perfectly equipped her to achieve three major goals she’s set out to accomplish for the campus.
One of two student-related goals is to increase retention and associate-degree completion for participants of the Dallas County Promise program, which enables eligible high school graduates to earn credits free of cost at any Dallas County Community
College District campus. The other is to improve enrollment numbers for working adults who have not engaged in a certificate training program or started but did not complete a college degree. “At many times in my life, I have been an adult student,” Joseph said. “We want to reach out, have the conversation, ensure we are offering something they’re looking for and align our offerings to their needs.”
If history is the best predictor of the future, it’s only a matter of time before results start surfacing. In overseeing the institutional research and data that informed Palo Alto’s decision making and strategic planning process, Joseph said her work helped improve student advising, course sequencing, tutoring and other initiatives that played a role in the college receiving the Aspen Institute 2019 Rising Star award. The recognition, earned by three community colleges nationwide, was based on student success factors including the number of certificate and degree completions, graduations into the workforce, transfers to four-year institutions, and successes for minority and low-income students, according to a news release.
“That award didn’t happen overnight; it took several years to get there,” Joseph said, elaborating on why the collaborative effort and outcomes form her proudest professional achievement thus far. “Mountain View serves a very similar population, hence my interest in pursuing the presidency here. I know what’s possible with a bit of support, a bit of encouragement, and the right programs and services and attitude from everybody.”
Joseph gratefully acknowledges that, in addition to her husband, past supervisors and colleagues have largely contributed to her own success. Thus, she is equally excited about the third goal: creating a leadership development program for MVC faculty and staff. The program will provide a formalized process for easy access to information and resources that can help develop or improve their leadership skills. “We have a lot of people who are innate leaders, but sometimes, they don’t know how to relay that information or pass it along to those who come after them, which I think is the important piece to have a strong institution.
“In my role here, I have the opportunity to pay it forward to ensure that students have good opportunities — same thing with the faculty and staff,” Joseph added, emphasizing her commitment and shared mission with MVC to empower people and transform communities. “I think being in this position will probably give me more opportunities to influence others and their opportunities, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”