By Dr. Michael Horowitz
As a System designed to serve the global community, it is our pleasure to celebrate the rich, multi-cultural tapestry of our community during Immigrant Heritage Month and throughout the year. The TCS model not only welcomes diverse perspectives from a myriad of traditions – it requires it. Radical Cooperation with people of all backgrounds makes us not only greater than the sum of our parts – but individually better for being part of the whole. One of the many change agents making meaningful contributions to our community each day is TCS Chief Academic Officer, Jack Paduntin.
Jack’s remarkable immigration story began in 1992 when he traveled to the U.S. from Thailand to pursue his MBA at the University of Dallas. Just 24 years old, the move was a challenge for him as he understood very little printed English, and was unable to speak the language at all. Through two years of dedication and hard work, he acclimated himself to an entirely new culture, learned the language, excelled in his studies, and met the love of his life at the University. Following graduation, he and his Korean-born fiancée moved to Thailand for two years before deciding to return to the US in pursuit of Jack’s doctorate degree. Admitted to a program in San Diego at the height of the 1997 financial crisis – which devalued Thai currency by half, Jack was presented with a timely opportunity extended by the U.S. government. To ensure foreign students from Asian countries earned their degrees prior to their return home, it authorized these students to work on campus beyond the standard 20-hour limit. This led to a full-time employment at the university for Jack, effectively launching his academic career.
The path to U.S. citizenship for Jack wasn’t instant or easy, however. Jack’s passion for teaching led him to a full-time faculty position where his university sponsored him for a permanent residence status (a green card). Beyond the long wait periods – driven in part by national green card quota limitations of less than 200,000 annually – U.S. citizenship pursuit is a complex process requiring special legal counsel for even the most learned among us to successfully navigate. Five years after receiving green cards, Jack and his wife applied to become US citizens and were granted citizenship in 2010.
The most difficult obstacle for Jack to overcome as he anticipated each milestone along his path, however, was the legal restriction imposed on him to accept employment outside the organization that sponsored him for the green card. Jack said no to several paid consulting opportunities that could benefit the community. With a strong desire to give back to the country that gave him the opportunity to launch a meaningful career, he wasted no time engaging in a myriad of community service-based activities for free. Jack worked with several churches and a retirement home for Catholic nuns to improve their performance management systems to better serve parishioners and resident retirees, and leveraged his non-citizen, foreign status and perspectives to lead the diversity council for the Society for HR Management.
The path to U.S. citizenship literally takes a village. Jack shares that his hard won status was not the work of one person or resource—it took the effort of an entire community. That included vitally important government program support that granted him access to gainful full-time employment, the strong support his universities provided him to succeed academically, and his U.S. employer’s approval of his citizenship application—fueled by its faith in Jack’s talents and ability to meaningfully contribute to society.
Jack’s favorable impact as a first generation immigrant on the larger community has been substantial. Beyond the pro bono work he contributed early in his academic career, he has dedicated his entire professional life to giving back to the community. As a staunch advocate for students of every walk of life and corner of the world, Jack ensures their success through his tireless work driving progressive improvements in academic innovation. “I’ve seen a lot of students come through the same path I did. I see how they struggle with language, culture, and change, and supporting their success is very meaningful and rewarding to me,” he says. As the CAO driving academic innovation across five TCS partner colleges, Jack’s is squarely focused on helping each of our institutions advance student success and community impact. The reach of his outcome-changing work also knows no bounds, as he is regularly tapped for media interviews in Thailand that give Thai students valuable strategies to improve themselves through U.S. education.
Reflecting on his American experience to date, Jack adds, “My wife and I can both advance our dreams as we wished. I see no limitations here—the U.S. is truly the land of opportunity, and the American dream can happen to anyone. I went from knowing no English at 24 to earning a Master’s and Doctorate, grew in my ability to meaningfully serve others, fulfilled my career goals, and made a comfortable home for my family.” Jack’s work creating tomorrow’s Agents of Change epitomizes our founding American values. He is also a vital thread in the rich, culturally diverse tapestry of our System, and precisely what makes us The Community Solution in Higher Education!