Story by Taylor Lacey, College of Agriculture student intern
Growing up in a small village in the Michoacán region of Mexico, Jaime Valdovinos’ schooling through fifth grade consisted of basic math and reading. When he moved to the city of Uruapan and started sixth grade, he felt lost.
“I didn’t know anything about science, history, geography, anything. I basically started from scratch,” said the agricultural business major.
The 9th of 15 children, Valdovinos left Mexico alone at the age of 17 to follow his older brothers to Windsor, California, where he enrolled in high school and once again found himself struggling to catch up.
“I was already behind academically, and now I had to learn a new language in addition to my studies,” he said.
Fortunately, Valdovinos loves to learn.
“I’m the only one in my family who really enjoyed going to school as a kid,” he said. “I’ve always liked to study and learn. My family has always encouraged me in my studies, and moving to the United States gave me a great opportunity to keep going with my education.”
Upon graduating from high school, Valdovinos enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC). He initially majored in administrative justice, but it just didn’t feel right. Having grown up in a family where farming was necessary to feed 15 children, Valdovinos switched his major to agriculture.
When a plant science faculty member at SRJC praised the agriculture program at Chico State, Valdovinos enrolled and transferred here in 2016 without even visiting the campus.
In the years that followed, he said he most appreciated the faculty and their support of his success, specifically crediting agricultural business professors Kishore Joseph and Christine Carroll for their influence and mentorship during his undergraduate education.
The faculty clearly appreciate Valdovinos as well.
“Jaime is one of those rare students who is able to take a heavy course load, work, and be involved in multiple activities without getting overloaded,” Carroll said. “If you know him, you know he’s going to go on to do something great in this world, and I’m excited to see what it is.”
Valdovinos hopes that as the first in his family to graduate from college, he and his academic success can set an example for his younger siblings, nieces, and nephews.
“I’m proud to be a first-generation college student, and I want to be a role model and someone my family can look up to,” he said.
While at Chico State, Valdovinos received the CSU, Chico Agriculture Alumni Scholarship and Golden State Farm Credit Scholarship, both offered through the College of Agriculture for high-achieving students who demonstrate leadership abilities.
At the HACU Conference, Valdovinos attended professional development workshops and a career fair where he networked with large companies and met industry representatives. Among the representatives Valdovinos met was Willis Collie, the director of Outreach, Diversity, and Equal Opportunities with the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS).
“We talked for a while, and at the end he implied a possible position for me with the program. When I called to follow up to thank him for talking with me, he offered me an internship, and that’s when I knew I had stumbled across a life-changing opportunity.” Valdovinos said.
In 2017, a new door of opportunities opened to him when he was selected for the Student Track Scholarship to attend the 31st annual Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Conference in San Diego.
In the spring of 2018, Valdovinos followed the opportunity to Washington, D.C. His internship with ARS allowed him to serve as a liaison between agricultural companies and students in order to fill positions by communicating with universities. Once students obtain a position and apply to the HACU program, Valdovinos carries them through the onboarding process and continually checks in on their progress in their roles.
“It’s such a rewarding position to know I’m the one who brings these parties together and gives these students a life-changing opportunity,” Valdovinos said.
He has continued to work for the agency after returning to his classes at Chico State, and he is grateful for the opportunity it has provided. Collie, his initial contact with the ARS, has since become a mentor.
On campus, Valdovinos has been involved in the Society of Agriculture Managers club as well as Agriculture Ambassadors, but he wishes he had more time to volunteer within the community. With hopes of attending law school in the near future, he put an emphasis on the importance of his studies and completed his Bachelor of Science in agricultural business in the fall of 2018.
After walking in Commencement ceremonies this spring, Valdovinos has accepted a position as an immigration services officer with US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which he hopes will prepare him for law school and a career as an agricultural attorney with expertise in immigration.
In the fall 2017, Valdovinos added one more qualification in his career preparation. He became a United States citizen.