New dean of student engagement

Juan Carlos Astorga, the new Dean of Student Engagement, discusses his future plans to better engage Pierce College students in his office in the ASO building at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif on February 11, 2016. Photo: Travis Wesley
Juan Carlos Astorga, the new Dean of Student Engagement, discusses his future plans to better engage Pierce College students in his office in the ASO building at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif on February 11, 2016. Photo: Travis Wesley

A sturdy man with goatee walks in through the doors of the Associated Students Organization building with a friendly smile as he greets students passing by.

Juan Carlos Astorga is the newly hired Dean of Student Engagement. While Spring 2016 will be Astorga’s first semester at Pierce College, he has over 20 years of experience in higher education.

Astorga worked at various public and private schools before coming to Pierce College.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Astorga said. “It’s an amazing campus. Just really beautiful. And in many ways it already feels like a university.”

Astorga has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California San Diego and a master’s degree from San Diego State University.

However, it was the program through which he received his doctorate’s degree in higher education from California State University, Fullerton that prepared Astorga for his new position.

“I did a master’s program in education with an emphasis in multicultural counseling that was an amazing program. It creates a learning community model,” Astorga said. “They were talking about the student is the teacher, and the teacher is a student.”

Astorga believes that while pursuing an education he “came to a realization and embraced his flaws of which he wishes to teach others to do as well.”

“I’m blind and deaf on my right side. Although I felt uncomfortable, I never really dealt with it,” Astorga said.

It is Astorga’s belief that learning from past experiences make people more open and supportive of others in their communities.

“Allowing me to speak for those experiences was very powerful for me because I realized that it was a normal part of my reality,” Astorga said.

This sense of determination and positivity has been noted by many of Astorga’s colleagues.

Julianne Cueva is the administrative secretary and vice president of the Student Services. As a leading member of her department Cueva knows full-well of Astorga’s abilities.

“I support his innovative thinking,” Cueva said. “We foresee that he will make a positive difference to Pierce College.”

Encouraging students to value and use their individual skills is only one of the many changes Astorga hopes to see at Pierce.

Another goal of his is to work with the school to create a resource center for veterans.

“I want to create a space for our veterans to feel that they can grow community and understand what it means to go from boots to books and to success.” Astorga said. “We’re starting to see a larger number of veterans taking advantage of their benefits to continue their education.”

The number of veterans attending Pierce College has steadily increased over the last decade. As such the school has created special services that are tailored to meet their needs.

It is this kind of care and support that Astorga believes student veterans need in order to succeed.

“It can be a rough transition out of the military experience coming to the educational setting,” Astorga said. “Sometimes people can benefit from the comradery of someone that can understand and share the same experiences.”

Astorga is also looking forward to working with all the student clubs and organizations.

“We have so many students here at Pierce, one of the things I’d like to see is how do we channel that energy to create activities and partnerships and things we can offer the campus as a whole,” Astorga said.

As for putting that energy to work, Astorga envisions events with booths, activities and vendors hosted on the Mall to promote student-community relations.

Astorga plans to improve the existing student mentorship program at Pierce.

“I’d like to see how we can grow the Peer2Peer mentor program connected to the Summer Bridge program that’s offered through the New Student Programs for shared experience,” Astorga said. “So that the peer mentors assist the success of the new bridge program,”

Astorga’s goal to help students achieve success through the Peer2Peer program starts with recruiting new mentors.

“We’re going to go to classes to introduce the program and then invite students to apply to become student mentors themselves,” Astorga said.

Though Astorga is one of the newest additions to the student services office he is regarded as someone who is “a pleasure to work with.”

Dean of Student Services and Director of Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, Kalynda W. Mclean has expressed her enthusiasm.

“He [Astorga] is a great addition to Pierce College,” Mclean said. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”