By age 6, Janet Robinson had her first inkling of how transformational the right community college could be.
“My mother was a divorcee with four kids, and I was the youngest,” recalls Janet, who now serves as interim dean of counseling for Santa Monica College. “She decided to go back for her nursing degree and started at a community college.” From that institution in Janet’s home state of Michigan, her mother transferred to the University of Michigan and later moved the family to California.
“I have memories of her taking me to campus,” Janet says. “I didn’t really get what was going on, but it was exciting and fun. It planted a seed in me. Education’s always been celebrated in my family.”
From Accounting to Counseling
Janet started her career as a public accountant after earning her bachelor’s degree
in business administration from UC Berkeley. “I just didn’t find accounting fulfilling,” she says. What she did love, though, was her volunteer work helping college students with their résumés and
mock interviews. Soon she decided to pursue a career in college counseling.
While she saw similarities between the two professions—“accountants advise clients on managing and improving their businesses”—Janet admits the decision to switch careers had its challenges. Accounting is a lucrative field and “breaking those golden handcuffs wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad I did it!”
Homing in on counseling at a community college was a comparatively quick choice. “When I heard that community colleges are often the first introduction to higher education for a lot of students of color and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, I knew that’s where I wanted to work,” Janet says.
Coming to SMC was an even easier decision. “Everyone said Santa Monica College is
the best. Who wouldn’t want the best?,” she adds. “At SMC, you’re surrounded by greatness.
My counseling colleagues are amazing and so smart. I love working with them.”
Janet joined SMC in 2010 as an adjunct counselor in the Black Collegians Program before being promoted to a full-time counseling position in the Health Sciences Department the following year. She served as transfer center faculty leader from 2016 to fall 2020, when she became interim dean of counseling after Brenda Benson retired (Janet’s previous position as the faculty leader for transfer at SMC is now held by Sara Nieves-Lucas).
Breadth of Service
SMC’s counseling umbrella encompasses a vast array of programs and services—from academic
advising and career services to transfer services and Extended Opportunity Program
& Services for students facing economic and emotional challenges. Meanwhile, specialized
programs—such as the Black Collegians, Latino Center/Adelante, Veterans’ Resource Center, International Student Center, DREAM Program, Center for Students with Disabilities and Guardian Scholars for foster youth—provide targeted support. The new interim dean of special programs
at SMC is Nick Mata.
“Counseling is in every nook and cranny of the campus,” Janet notes. “We reach into the classroom as well as outside it,” Janet says. A suite of counseling courses aid students covers everything from making the most of your majors and career choices to time-management and study skills.
SMC also hosts the state’s largest college fair and is part of the Transfer Admission Guarantees program, which offers guaranteed admission to numerous universities upon meeting certain requirements. At SMC, “transfer team” refers to more than providing workshops, instruction and other services. “One of our big mantras is ‘everyone does transfer,’” Janet explains. “Transfer is a really big part of what all counselors do at SMC.”
The effectiveness of this all-encompassing approach is demonstrated by SMC’s 30th
straight year as No. 1 in college transfers to the University of California (UC) system—a tradition Janet is eager to build on. SMC remains the leading transfer
college to University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University as well, and is a top provider of students to the East Coast Ivy League university Columbia.
SMC also ranks first in African American and Latinx transfers to UC schools. However, Janet says, “it’s still not enough.” She and her counseling colleagues are dedicated to expanding equity efforts on behalf of underrepresented students while bolstering SMC’s overall transfer success.
“We have come through so much historically as people of color,” Janet notes. “It’s sad that we’re still struggling with some of the same injustices that our grandparents did.”
Paying It Forward
Even though she earned a doctorate from Cal State Long Beach and helped countless students on their paths to success, Janet confesses to struggles
with imposter syndrome—a condition of self-doubt that can persist regardless of achievement
level. She even wrote her dissertation on it, so she knows how to help others stop
the phenomenon from getting in their way.
“You overcome it by reminding yourself of the things you’ve accomplished so that you don’t doubt yourself,” she says. “I try to help people name it,” she says of imposter syndrome. “That’s half the battle. Once you name it, you can learn how to overcome it.”
“Don’t give up,” she urges students. “There’s a saying from Maya Angelou, ‘I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand.’ We’ve got to keep going, because that’s what our ancestors would want. What encourages me is just trying to be a mentor and a role model for other women and people of color, just like others have inspired me. I want to pay it forward.
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