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The Learning Never Stops

Thursday, May 3, 2018
Trinity University 2018 distinguished alumnus Jacquelyn Claunch

Graduations never lost their luster for alumna whose career encompassed 39 years with community colleges

Jacquelyn  Claunch ’66 B.A. Mathematics

by Mary Denny

She started without a clue about a career; she ended up passionate about a field she’d never considered. “It’s strange how connections happen, especially when you know you are on a journey but have no idea where you are going next,” muses Jacquelyn “Jackie” Claunch ’66 as she reflects upon her personal history.

Jackie’s journey began after her junior year in high school. Invited by a friend’s family to accompany them to see a sister graduate from Trinity University, Jackie witnessed her first commencement. She still remembers the graduates, the faculty, and the colorful and regal procession. “The joy of the graduates as they crossed the stage, the ceremony, the changing of the tassels—all were wondrous to a small town girl from La Feria (Texas). I think I knew that night that I would attend Trinity.”

At Trinity, Jackie admits she had no idea what her major would be, nor did she have any specific aspirations for a career.

Late in her sophomore year, when told she had to choose a major, she randomly chose mathematics. It wasn’t easy. She says of all her degrees, which include master’s degrees in mathematics and computer science and a Ph.D. in higher education, that her “Trinity degree was the most challenging—and the most rewarding.” It led to her first full-time job.

As a senior, still with no career path in mind, Jackie stopped by the math department to discuss an issue related to a calculus class. While there, professor Pete Terwey, the department chair, casually mentioned that some recruiters from IBM were in the department to interview students and suggested she talk to them. Jackie followed his suggestion, and that interview led to two years as a systems engineer with the computer giant.          

When Jackie took time out to have her children, she kept working: part-time university math teacher, part-time computer programmer. She also earned a second master’s degree. When it came time to return to full-time work, she landed a position with Richland College in Dallas, where she held various teaching and leadership positions for 23 years. “The opportunity arose from my computer and teaching experience,” she explains. “I stayed because I found my passion.”

In 1998, Jackie reached the pinnacle of her career as a community college advocate and administrator when she became the founding and first president of Northwest Vista College, one of the Alamo College institutions in San Antonio. She held the position held until her retirement in 2014. “How fortunate for me to be able to combine my lifelong love of learning with service to students who might not otherwise have been able to go to college,” she says.

During Jackie’s tenure at Northwest Vista, the college grew from a handful of students to more than 16,000. She led the college through its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and earned the Performance Excellence award from the Quality Texas Foundation, among many other honors. Northwest Vista was also recognized at the national level for best practices in leadership by the Baldrige Performance Excellence program. Jackie is especially proud that Northwest Vista was among the top 20 percent of community colleges identified as a Military Friendly School, a designation awarded to schools doing the most to embrace America’s service members, veterans, and spouses as students. For her stellar achievements, the Trinity University Alumni Association honored Jackie with the 2017-18 Distinguished Alumna Award.

And those graduations? After participating in more than 40, including her own from Trinity, Jackie says every ceremony has been a joy. “The smiles of the graduates as they cross the stage remain a vision to behold in my mind’s eye,” she says.

In retirement, Jackie draws immense pleasure from nature, her appreciation of which dates from high school camping trips to Garner State Park and now includes admiring and drawing poetic inspiration from the wildflowers in her backyard. She enjoys traveling, golfing, and just hanging out with friends and family—including her seven grandchildren—and she has wonderful memories of trips to Yosemite and Yellowstone with her son and his family. She also loves music and dancing, recalling happily how she and her husband often danced to tunes from the ’40s and ’50s and even learned the Argentine tango.

Widowed in ­­­­­­2007, Jackie says, "The loss of loved ones—parents, a husband, a daughter—created in me an understanding that one must learn to hold joy and sadness in one’s heart simultaneously. It is that melding of hard times and joyful times that has enriched my life and allowed me to serve others with greater empathy. There have been so many precious moments on my journey, moments that come back to comfort me in times of pain, moments that bring laughter, moments that touch the soul. I feel blessed to have those treasures.”

You may contact Jackie at jclaunch3535 [at] icloud.com.