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Meet and Greet: Promise Night Honoree Juan Salgado

In anticipation of America’s Promise Alliance’s fifth annual Promise Night, we’re introducing you to each of the night’s honorees, who are all outstanding individuals helping young people across the country access their versions of the American dream.

jsIn the hot seat this week: Juan Salgado, who as the Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago now oversees Chicago’s community college system, which serves more than 80,000 students across seven colleges. Chancellor Salgado has focused his 20-year career on improving education and economic opportunities for residents in low-income communities.

From his own experiences as a community college graduate to the daily experiences that keep him going and provide inspiration, Chancellor Salgado reflects on what’s shaped his life of service for young people.

1.  As the Chancellor for City Colleges of Chicago, what is your overarching vision for the community college system and the more than 77,000 students you serve?

My overarching vision is for a community college system that puts our students on the path to upward mobility, and in doing so, helps to create a more inclusive Chicago economy.

2.  From your 20-year career on improving education and economic opportunities for residents in low-income communities, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

The biggest lesson I have learned is that leadership is service and it is critical to listen to those you serve in order to come up with the best solutions.

3.  How do you incorporate youth and student voices into your decision-making as Chancellor?

I regularly meet with students to hear their perspectives on our institution, and we work to incorporate students in our committees when important decisions are being made. A student is a member of our board of trustees.

4.  You are a community college graduate yourself. What advice would you have for young people who are just starting at a community college?

Start with the end in mind—meet with your transfer centers and career centers and work backward from your end goal whatever it might be. Work hard, but don’t be too hard on yourself—interests can change; just do your best every day. We are here to support you.

5.  Reflecting on your own experience as a young person, was there one personal milestone for you that you achieved that you are particularly proud of? How did achieving that goal make you feel?

I attended community college while working an overnight shift. There was little time to sleep or do my homework. But I kept plugging away, successfully graduating and transferring to a four-year university. Persistence is key to success in life.

6.  What keeps you doing this work? Are there any success stories or moments from your work in Chicago that come to mind that inspire and encourage you to keep giving back?

When I was at Instituto (a nonprofit organization dedicated to the fullest development of Latino immigrants and their families through education, training, and employment), I remember seeing some of our adult education students in the bathroom, splashing water on their faces. They had worked a long shift and were choosing to come to Instituto to get more education to advance themselves. That level of commitment is inspiring. I felt I owed it to these students, just like all of our City Colleges students, to do everything I could to help them reach their goals and the path to upward mobility.

7.  How did you end up where you are? Were there any pivotal moments in your education, life, or career journey that set you on your path to serving young people?

I have always wanted to help give others the opportunities that I have had. I believe we are students for life. There are no barriers to learning more. I am deeply committed to connecting people—of all ages—from Chicago’s communities to economic opportunity. Of course, helping to build skills and opportunities for young people allows you to potentially have an outsized impact on lives that could have taken many different paths.

8.  Complete this sentence: People who really know me, know that……

My home life is my heaven and haven. Late summer night water bucket and hose fights with my kids, homework help, Marvel universe movies, and walking in the same neighborhood park where my wife and I had our first date is what gives me strength and nourishment.

9.  Describe yourself in three words.

Determined Servant-Leader.