It all began with a temporary work assignment in Life Chiropractic College West’s student services department.
Jackie Biron’s first job at Life West was followed by stints in the Finance Office, the Financial Aid Office and then back in student services, which later became the Student Life team. “As Jackie was introduced to Life West and moved from office to office, the attraction between her and the college grew with each assignment,” recalls Dr. Gerry Clum, former President of Life West. “It was clear to me that Jackie had a rare combination of sound judgment, a problem-solving orientation, an incredible work ethic and a desire to do something new.”
Now Jackie is looking at a fork in the road as she plans her retirement from Life West in December.
Her path to Life West was not the typical undergraduate school-graduate school-employment path. While she started down that road, marriage and children and their associated demands took her on a different course. When Jackie’s youngest son left home for college, she decided it was time to consider something new. She headed back to school, polished up her computer skills, and she was ready to dive back into the workforce. Following a move with her husband, Jerry, from Wyoming to California in 1997, Jackie was ready for a new challenge!
She already had plenty of experience with volunteering in her church, in the community, and at community schools. She had worked as a literacy tutor and even drove a bookmobile for a while.
“The college had a need for leadership in its student services area,” Dr. Clum said, remembering his search for a new director. “While Jackie did not have a typical academic background related to student services, she had an array of talents that were undeniable. Jackie struck me as someone who could be nurturing when needed and could just as easily look you straight in the eye and tell you to grow up and get on with things. On top of that, she oozed organizational abilities and structure, which we needed at that time.”
“I knew instantly that this was not only a unique and amazing opportunity, but it felt like home to me,” Jackie says now. “I never viewed my time at Life West as a job – I always felt that I was called to be here.”
While Dr. Clum was confident, Jackie recalls having reservations about the opportunity she was offered. “There were times that I thought I wasn’t smart enough or good enough, but I came to realize that if I worked hard and continued to learn new skills, I could accomplish amazing things. I also learned that I could always make a difference by just showing up with love and compassion for those I was serving and working with.”
Jackie said she couldn’t wait to get to Life West every day, no matter which president was leading the college. ”Both Brian Kelly and Gerry Clum empowered me to not say no, to listen to students’ ideas, and to find a way to make it come to fruition without breaking the law or college policy (those are Gerry Clum’s actual words).”
Dr. Clum’s intuition proved rather accurate. Jackie transformed the college’s student services department into a student-centered, student-responsive environment that adapted to the needs of the Life West student body in a new campus location, with new technologies and with new expectations.
Taking on big projects
Revamping the student services functions at Life West was a major undertaking. It wasn’t long before Jackie’s fingerprints were on every area of the student services department, shaping and refining them to minimize the red tape and to maximize the support provided for the college’s student body.
Shortly before Jackie took over the reins of student services at Life West, the institution began the acquisition and development of its current campus in Hayward. The site was the former corporate headquarters of the Mervyn’s department store chain.
Trying to find a new location in the late 1990s was a challenge. Life West was spread among three locations in the East Bay, and the site where the college wanted to consolidate services was not getting a warm reception from the Hayward city leadership. Hayward really wanted a business entity that would bring in more tax revenue, not a non-profit educational institution that would take more than 10 acres of land from the property tax rolls.
What ensued was a full-court press to win over the city leaders.
Biron worked with the administration to help prepare different witnesses to testify at hearings with the City of Hayward. “That was a lot of work, a lot of fun, and very gratifying,” she said. “We convinced the Hayward planning commission to grant permits to have the college here, then worked with architects to turn this from a corporate facility to an educational institution—and to do so on a very tight budget.” The hearing before the city commission became a very proud moment for the college. Friends and supporters in the community, relationships the college spent years nurturing, came out to help the college in its moment of need. The city planning commission voted to override the city staff recommendation and approved the college’s plan.
Jackie says one of the things she is most proud of is being a part of the experience of physically moving Life West to its home here in Hayward. Because she was the work-study coordinator in the Financial Aid Office, she was tasked with providing student workers to move the college. She worked with the Buildings and Grounds Director and 20 work-study students. They rented trucks, packed up the departments, labeled everything, brought it to the new campus and set up the college. “It was a miracle,” Jackie says now. The move included 10 trucks, the contents of offices from the three campuses, and it was all moved in a four-week break between spring and summer quarters. “It was pretty amazing,” she said. “I’m really proud of that.”
Regional, national and international leadership in student employment
In her role with student services, Jackie also assisted students with employment opportunities. To learn more about what other institutions were doing, she joined the Western Association of Student Employment Administrators (WASEA) and the National Student Employment Association (NSEA). She was appointed to key committees and board positions and later served as WASEA president. In 2004 and 2005, she represented Life West as the President of NSEA for two terms and spoke at regional conferences in the United States and the United Kingdom.
She was active on these boards for 15 years. She served as a national trainer for NSEA and assisted with writing the training materials they are still using. Jackie has received many awards from both associations for her service, including lifetime membership and achievement awards. To thank her for her service, then-President Dr. Kelly and the Board of Regents recognized her accomplishments in 2014 with a beautiful plaque and flowers.
Gaining the title “Mamma Jackie”
Jackie came to be known on campus as “Mamma Jackie” in 2011 as she worked on a project known as Life 101, introduced by Kelly. “Dr. Kelly told me to research similar camps, and to call the Director of Student Services at the New Zealand Chiropractic College, where he had worked previously.” Things were moving at a new pace—the Brian Kelly pace—and the camp was only the first of many changes. “I called the NZCC Student Services Director and said, ‘Brian Kelly is my new boss’. Their Director started to laugh. She said, ‘He needs you, but hang on because you’re in for a ride.’ From the first day of Life 101, Dr. Kelly called me Mamma Jackie. The students heard it, embraced it, and ran with it.”
And now Jackie is known to students and Life West alumni as Mamma Jackie. Years later, she was visiting with two alumni from Colorado. A student poked his head into her office and called her Mamma Jackie. “The two alumni said, ‘What?! We always wanted to call you that!” The acknowledgement seems natural to her as the nickname is used in a kind, gentle, respectful, and loving way. She’s happy to provide a bit of mothering to Life West’s students, some of whom have come from very far away and can use a maternal touch from time to time. The thousands of chiropractic students from around the world who have crossed paths with Mamma Jackie would likely agree.
And other such duties as may be assigned …
At the start of her employment, Jackie says she wasn’t quite sure what this clause in her employment contract meant, but she soon began to understand as all sorts of duties came her way. For example, she coordinated the graduation and commencement activities of the college for many years. And as a lifelong volunteer, she believes wholeheartedly in being engaged and giving back, so she created opportunities for students to volunteer in local community service projects.
Jackie also is behind some of the creative showcases Life West has hosted. “Chiropractic Has Talent” is perhaps her favorite example. CHT, held in conjunction with the college’s major alumni and friends’ event, The WAVE, was a part of Dr. Kelly’s vision. Chiropractic students from all over the world took part in competitions on their own campuses. Winners came to The WAVE to perform and compete for prize money. “I got to know our student body in a different way as they came forward and shared those musical talents,” Jackie said.
Another opportunity to show that creativity came with “The Wow Experience,” projects each year that highlighted the other talents students might be nurturing. These have included a photography contest, yoga classes, and a talent show.
“All of these things enrich their experience here,” Jackie said about the students. “It should be about fun, too. This is an intense program, and our students work really hard.”
One of the blessings of her job as the Director of Student Life, she says, is helping to develop student leaders. Because the Student Council officers change every three quarters, Jackie has worked with many student leaders as the adviser to the council. “The college puts resources into them because we want our student graduates to be leaders in the chiropractic profession around the world,” she said. One former student leader is now head of the chiropractic association in Hong Kong, for example. “Some never saw themselves as a leaders, so my job was to help them realize that they can be.”
Jackie may come back around to Life West from time to time and consult with the college, as needed. But she’s happy to hand the keys over to Dani Lorta , the new Student Life Manager, and let her make the program her own, just as Dr. Clum did when he first hired Mamma Jackie.
And it should come as no surprise that she’ll maintain that family focus she’s known for – visits with the kids and grandkids (and great-grandkids) are on the to-do list, as well as an interest in learning more about her family history and continuing genealogy research.
She has some parting words for Life West students, a verbal hug from a mom sending her child off into the world:
“Tap into your innate and follow the promptings you will receive, and you will always know what to say, think, or do,” she says. “Don’t ever ignore a prompting to be generous and kind to someone who needs you. Find your joy, and live it every single day.”