by Jim Mulligan
It was just over a year ago that the 20th president in Reedley College history took the reins, ready to guide our local gem of a school into the ‘20s of the 21st century. After a short talk with him, it became readily apparent that, at least for this president, leaders are not necessarily born, but are molded by life’s experiences. This president speaks in a strong, steady tone, not brash or hasty, about his long and varied professional career that prepared him for his current job. He had no early sights on leading a college. In fact he didn’t even begin his professional career in education at all. He attributes his current leadership abilities to the fact that he has 15 years of experience in the medical field and his experience in the classroom.Jerry Buckley was born in Lakeside, California, which is situated about 20 miles northeast of San Diego, in the western foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains. With a population of about 20,000, Buckley said, “It had a small-town feel, similar to Reedley.” When he was a youngster, Buckley’s family moved around a bit, keeping at first to the small communities in San Diego County. At one point in his teen years, they even settled for a short time in the San Fernando Valley, in Los Angeles. While attending San Clemente High School, Buckley had the opportunity to be part of a program, similar in nature to the Reedley Middle College High School, that allowed him to begin courses at the University of Southern California (USC). “I got to live in the dorms at USC and I took my first year of college classes, and they gave me high school credit for those.”
Buckley earned his B.S. in biological sciences from USC, his M.A. in biology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ed.D. in educational leadership from San Diego State University. He is also a graduate of the Los Angeles Community College District/University of California, Los Angeles Presidents Academy. His most recent professional endeavors prior to being president of Reedley College, include Superintendent/Vice President of Academic Affairs at Santa Clarita Community College District and Vice President of Instruction for the San Diego Community College District. But remember, Buckley didn’t begin his career in education. Before he began as a classroom instructor, he spent 15 years in the medical consulting business.
Some people might wonder what motivates anyone to desire to be the head of any large organization, especially a public educational institution, being well aware of all the scrutiny that may come with such a job. For Buckley, it’s a deep rooted desire to positively affect as many students as possible. He said, “So the story I like to tell is that, you know, in my classroom I could affect fifty people at a time. As a dean, I could probably affect 500 or so students at a time. As a vice president I was impacting all students at a campus.” Now as president, he has the ability to set the tone of a whole college, adding his vision to the already robust programs at Reedley College.
Reedley’s strong technical programs were a major factor in attracting Buckley to the position. “The fact that there was an aviation maintenance program and a flight school…those are things that I had at Miramar, and so I felt prepared. And as a biologist, I was very much attracted to the Natural Resources program here,” Buckley said. “The opportunity to focus on the closer communities, as Madera Community College Center was preparing to become its own college separate from Reedley, was also exciting.”
While Buckley has a myriad of professional experiences that have allowed him to transition very well into the big job of wrangling all the folks under his direction, his passion and verve for life in his personal endeavors might be the glue that cements his leadership style . Buckley and his wife, Sue, are almost newlyweds, having tied the knot just three years ago. It was work that initially brought them together, he as an administrator at College of the Canyons, and Sue in charge of career technical education at a local high school district. Sue remembers, “We love to joke that he is very adept at finding funding. He wrote a $5 million grant, and I spent it.” Their interests outside of work is what finally brought them together. Each of them have a passion for the outdoors and animals that fills their off-duty hours to this day. Sue says, “I was equally surprised at our discovery of each other and our delight in each other. I was a widow for a decade…I always joked that I didn’t think that I needed a man in my house…he truly is the love of my life.”
Buckley and his wife use their recreational time to enjoy kayaking, hiking and playing with their two dogs, activities that likely balance the high demands of his current position. Their dogs are an integral part of their life and household. Sue came to the relationship with a Doberman named Nudel who is now ten years old. (By the way, Nudel has 28 missing person search-and-rescue missions under her belt.) Just about a year ago they added a new puppy to the family, a German Shorthaired Pointer named Sugar. “She lives life on springs right now, but is also in search-and-rescue training,” said Sue. As if managing a college and raising a puppy were not enough, Buckley is looking forward to soon honing his building skills; he has aspirations to build his own boat, “Probably a 14-foot sailing skiff,” he says. “I’ll put a little motor on it and then eventually add a mast and learn to sail.”
This love of life-long learning and the desire to pass it on to all the students, past, present, and future, may be the greatest gift he can give to Reedley College as President. His wife put it very simply, “I can’t tell you how much Jerry deeply cares about giving educational opportunities to all who want to better themselves.”