Life on a different planeStudent Scapes — February 16, 2012
By Valentina Watson
When state Assembly member Wilmer Amina-Carter’s office announced its selection for the Fifth Annual 30 Under 30 Latino/Native American Recognition Awards, no one was more surprised to receive a nod than Jesse Felix.
Felix was honored for his excellence in service to the community, demonstrated by his outstanding work at the CSUSB Santos Manuel Student Union.
Every day Felix greets guests and students with a warm smile and a welcoming “can-do” attitude. His easy-going nature is evident in his stride. But it wasn’t always so.
Felix grew up on the outskirts of L.A., where his childhood was marked by a chaotic home life. He had an absentee father and was often in trouble. Life was more about survival then. He gave little mind to his future, given the rough characters who populated his world. He had several close calls with the law and was in and out of high schools – eventually dropping out. In those early years, Felix explains, “I just didn’t know how else to live.”
In 2003, things began to improve when Felix scored a job at the Santa Fe Railroad. This opportunity gave him the stability he needed and provided a steady income for his small but growing family. Felix even began taking classes at Crafton Hills Community College, but misfortune soon came calling. While helping a friend move, he was injured in a freak accident. The U-Haul truck they had rented accidentally rolled back onto Felix, pinning him and crushing his leg. It would be more than a year before Felix could recover and today he walks with a signature gait, the result of the leg injury that never healed properly. He doesn’t bemoan his injury; instead, he used his convalescence time wisely to re-examine his life and to plan for a better future.
He returned to Crafton Hills College. Because of his injury, he had to rely on the Services to Students with Disabilities Office to help transport him to his classes. His driver, Tina Marie Gimple, went the extra mile to help. “That’s when I knew I could make an impact on students’ lives by working on campus,” he says. ”Tina did more than just drive me around. She showed me how to navigate college and be successful. She was my first campus mentor.” It amazed him how much impact just one person could make in his life. Her guidance helped him get back on his feet. He flourished in his academics, which allowed him to transfer to Cal State San Bernardino. He’s been paying it forward ever since.
After Felix received a settlement from his injuries, he used the money to invest in his future. He funded his education, purchased a home and eventually found a reliable vehicle. With his new lease on life, he put all of his energy into self-improvement, beginning with his education. By 2009, Felix had earned three bachelor’s degrees – one in business administration, another in supply chain management and a third in logistics. He also received an M.B.A. in supply chain management, graduating from Cal State San Bernardino with a 3.87 GPA.
As a student assistant at CSUSB, he began his career working for Olivia Rosas in the admissions office.
“Olivia impressed me by how genuine and caring she is. She was someone at a higher level than myself, but made me feel comfortable and significant because I was a student.” After a stint in admissions, Felix went to work in the Adult Re-Entry Center and eventually transitioned into his current position at the Santos Manuel Student Union scheduling office. He counts among his many mentors Mark Hartley, director of student leadership and development at CSUSB, who made him feel valued and urged him to do his best, as well as Frank Rincon, vice president of student affairs.
“Because of Dr. Rincon, I have realized how much I can impact the everyday experience of students on campus and how to help the surrounding community by working in student affairs.”
But it could be that the one who has had the largest impact on Felix has been Aaron Burgess, assistant director of operations at the student union. “He (Burgess) is so much more than a boss. He has been the one individual I continue to turn to for anything. He’s more like a life coach. Aaron has made my employment at the SMSU extremely gratifying.”
Although education and service to the community has become an important part of Felix’s new life, his greatest accomplishments continue to be his three children, who make him proud on a daily basis.
Next for Felix is to follow his plan to get his doctorate in higher education and then to pursue a career in teaching. “I enjoy being of service to others. It has become an important part of who I am as a person. I know I am making a difference and it feels great.”