By Curtis Morisaki
McCloud, California may not be a highly populated place but it’s the hometown of a higher education and social justice trailblazer. Valerie Bordeaux, Director of University Outreach and School Relations at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), hails from this small town at the base of Mount Shasta in Northern California.
With a mother who worked as a special education assistant, a connection was formed with the director of the program. The director lived in Fullerton, CA and helped Bordeaux discover higher education options. “Since I was the first person in my immediate family to go to college she offered to take me around to colleges and universities.”
Choosing to attend California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) for its friendly community, Bordeaux studied Public Relations and Telecommunications. Her majors were influenced by her high school involvement and interest in communications. She was named the first outstanding graduate of the public relations department.
During her time as a student at CSUF, Bordeaux was actively involved with the EOP program. She recalls being invited out to high schools to speak with students about going to college. “That wet my appetite and I will never forget the feeling of connecting with students in high schools and telling them about college.”
Bordeaux embarked on her higher education career following her graduation from CSUF. She started as a student activities advisor then moved to work for the Student Affirmative Action Program. The program allowed her to facilitate access and bring first-generation students to campus. Working with the program was her first professional admissions and recruitment role.
Working for the Student Affirmative Action Program motivated Bordeaux to make a career out of higher education work. The program allowed her to go out and intentionally connect with students from different backgrounds. “That’s where I felt that I could make a difference because it reflected on my own background,” she said.
Selected as an Administrative Fellow for CSU, Bordeaux completed her fellowship at CSULB. Following her fellowship she returned to CSUF as the director of outreach. She later returned to CSULB to assume the role of associate dean for School-Based Student Services in the College of Business Administration.
Since 1997, Bordeaux has worked as the director of Outreach and School Relations at CSULB. She also serves as principal investigator for the California Student and Opportunity Access Program (Cal SOAP), program director for the campus’ President’s Scholars Program and is a founding member of the CSU African American Initiative.
Working in recruitment and outreach is gratifying and there is a reason why people stick with the profession for a long time. Three reasons come to mind for Bordeaux when she reflects on the greatest rewards of her job.
(1) Planting seeds of hope in the lives of students and families that are not aware of the admissions process or path to being college ready, “That is the greatest reward for me, reaching out and touching students and families.”
(2) Community work is important and rewarding for Bordeaux because she operates within the walls of the university, but also the surrounding communities. She works with members of her church and local community to help provide pathways to higher education for students and families.
(3) The opportunity to work with and develop young professionals involved with admissions work. Bordeaux likes to show newer professionals that they do great work and make a difference for future students.
The benefits of working in outreach and recruitment help Bordeaux address some of the challenges she encounters in her role. CSULB receives the most applications in the CSU system and she realizes that the university needs to try to enroll a class of students that reflects the campus and local community. Access can be a challenge and Bordeaux encourages and challenges academies to be intentional and find ways to reach out to communities.
Part of what drives Bordeaux’s desire to continue working in outreach and recruitment is that “there is still lots and lots of work to do.” She says we need to continue establishing partnerships and produce new ambassadors and young professionals that need to be groomed for the exciting and impactful work that we do in outreach and admissions.
Pulling together for common goals and being excited for events is part of what Bordeaux enjoys about leading a group of admissions professionals. She says, “When you have the same passions and goals that’s what is exciting about leading a team of admission professionals.”
Odds & Ends
College access is a big change Bordeaux has witnessed over the course of her professional career. Access does not start with a transfer student’s or senior’s application to college, but much sooner than that. She says that admissions is one side of the coin and the students we recruit need to be prepared. Universities need to be ready to support all students with programs, policies and personnel that are able to meet student needs and graduate students. She understands that, “It’s not just about admitting, but getting them (students) through and on to their future life opportunities.”
Energizing is the adjective Bordeaux uses to talk about college fairs, special events and other duties admissions professionals do. She feel that, “It’s refreshing when parents come up and thank you for the opportunity.”
The methods in which schools and admissions professionals keep in touch with students and families is important. Bordeaux believes we can feel the impact of college admission work by keeping things real. “I had a student come up to me who said I was at a college fair and said I told her that if she wasn’t eligible as a freshman that she could come in as a transfer and she did that,” recalls Bordeaux.
Bordeaux’s best advice for admissions and outreach professionals is to “get out of the office and learn your campus and community so you can really have an understanding of the responsibility you have. Understand what access means to families and communities so you can be an admissions professional for all people.”