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For a decade, Janet Portolan served as Vice President of Educational Support and Planning at Fullerton College, playing an instrumental role in a five-year construction plan that revamped old facilities on campus. Many of her peers remember her for her commitment and devotion to improving the campus as well as making it more accessible for students. Because of the multiple duties she took on while serving in this position, she has been described as “the vice president of everything.”
Before her promotion to Vice President of Educational Support and Planning, Portolan served as the Dean of Humanities at Fullerton College for 20 years. During this time she made assisting students with disabilities a priority, on one occasion accommodating a wheelchair student in a machining class when his difficulties were brought to her attention. Before coming to Fullerton College, Portolan worked as a Speech Communications instructor at Chaffey College for 10 years, serving as Division Chair of Creative Arts during the same period.
Sometimes it is important to try hard and make a difference.
In education, at the top of the pyramid is teaching. Touch individual lives and turn them toward a single a-ha moment, a skill they didn’t know they had, a belief in themselves that finally emerges, a decision that turns into a career, a life that pays back by completing that circle of learning and giving. I did that for ten years at Chaffey College.
For some of us who enjoy facilitating that process—helping teachers by supporting the learning process, making it easier for them to give the gifts that matter to hundreds and thousands of students—we sit in the middle of the pyramid. We support the work at the top.
I served on many, many, too many committees. I built class schedule after class schedule. I planned budgets, wrote evaluations and strategic plans, and solved problems—big and small. Most significantly, I helped to hire more than fifty of these great teachers to serve full time at the top of the pyramid and countless part-time instructors, many of whom contributed as though this was their full-time job.
I served in this role for eighteen years as Dean of Humanities at Fullerton College.
Senior administrators form the base of the pyramid, making the pyramid as strong as possible so it can achieve the important objectives to which we are committed. In this role, we try to see the bigger picture and promote an environment where the total campus community can thrive. That is the intention of the best of them.
Through good timing and good fortune, I was able to coordinate a building program at Fullerton College that remodeled, replaced or built new facilities—buildings that preserved the historical architecture of the campus, buildings that created a better learning environment for students and improved the teaching environment for teachers. I did that, too, for ten years.
I can see the buildings clearly. I still hear from some of my faculty what a great division we built and maintained. I can see less the impact of my teaching, but I am fairly confident it is out there in some form. I learned something in every class I taught, from every faculty member with whom I worked, and with every building project and the processes required.
The heart of my career has been learning, whether opening the doors to others or simply growing myself. I was committed to that process, part of that process, energized by that process, year after year. I cite the Humanities Division Awards Tea, now in its 49th year (half the history of the college), started years before I arrived and continued after I left (although I attend every year), which embodies the essence of what I care most about. It honors the relationship between teacher and student, giving, taking, sharing, supporting, learning and growing together—to achieve intellectual and personal growth.
It has been my honor to serve in the community colleges. It has been a privilege to contribute to the great history of Fullerton College in a small way.
Humanities, Educational Support and Planning
Vice President of Educational Support and Planning, Fullerton College, 2000–2010
Dean of Humanities, Fullerton College, 1981–2000
Division Chair for the Creative Arts, Chaffey College
Speech Communications Instructor, Chaffey College
Ph.D., Higher Education, University of California, Los Angeles
M.A., Speech Communication, San Francisco State University
B.A., English, San Francisco State University
"Janet Portolan had the incredible ability to accomplish complex goals."
— Dr. Kathleen Hodge