NEW DIRECTOR SPICES UP LEAD FINANCIAL SOPHISTICATION PROGRAM
Molly McGhee | Burlington, VT | 971 Words

“There is something about Vermont that makes you appreciate time. You look at the leaves and think to yourself, I will pick some tomorrow. You come back a week later and the leaves are gone, fallen to the ground. These seasons–Peru does not have them. Vermont makes you appreciate being alive,” said Jimena Huaco, the new LEAD Financial Sophistication Director at Champlain.

Originally from Arequipa, Peru, Huaco’s first job in America was at Holiday Inn. Now, she laughs at the irony of being the first person a travelers would interact with.  “I was able to come and gain work experience while practicing a foreign language. It was a really wonderful experience, working in the travel exchange.” Instead of working during the Peruvian summer, Huaco came north to work Vermont winters.“I felt welcomed by everyone I met. Everyone in Burlington has always been so open and interested in who I am and my culture. During those first couple of months, I fell in love with Burlington, and Vermont. Truly awesome people live here.” 

After three winters in Vermont, Huaco made her move more permanent. She transferred from St. Mary’s Catholic University in Arequipa to Champlain College after she met her husband, Ethan. At St. Mary’s Huaco studied systems engineering with a focus on C++ and PHP. “It was a mostly male dominant classroom,” Hauco said. “It was very technical and heavy in system analyses. When I transferred into Champlain, I was working at Merchant’s Bank as a teller, and it wasn’t something I thought I would do for a career–but then I got into the lending area, the whole credit world, and it was all very technical. I became very interested. I chose Champlain because it allowed me to pursue a degree that would work well with my banking and finance experience.”

Huaco had one year left in Peru before she transferred to Champlain when she was 22. Her credits did not transfer. She graduated last semester at 30 after 8 more years pursuing her undergraduate degree. “Education is like a fingerprint,” Huaco said. “Everyone goes through a very unique and special journey. Often you’re told that education is a very linear process, but it’s really not, it’s very all over the place, it’s very personal. Even though Champlain did not take most of my credits, and even though it took me 8 years to graduate, I really appreciate everything I’ve learned. Technically, I only have one degree, but even though the credits did not transfer, the knowledge did.” 

“I fell in love here with Vermont and with Ethan,” Huaco said. “I couldn’t help myself. Although Arequipa, Peru sounds ideal–sunny all year long– it’s very boring. Being here, being able to experience the beginning of winter, and spring–it has really made me appreciate every moment.” 

Huaco’s history at Merchant’s bank prepared her for her supervisor  position within the life skills unit of LEAD, which works closely with the CORE classes at Champlain College to give students a well-rounded, complete set of skills before graduation. “At Merchant’s I worked with customers through the entire process–underwriting, preparing for closing. Even after the close, the customers would still come to me with their questions,” Huaco said. “It was incredibly rewarding. By following through the entire process, it allowed me to really learn the materials. But there were parts of the job,” Hauco said, “that were very challenging. Typically, we dealt with anywhere from 200-300 emails a day, multiple unsatisfied customers. Everything was on a schedule, opening the vault, closing the vault, deadlines for underwriting. It was all very strict. Very hectic. I was looking to explore my options. I found out about the financial position with LEAD though Career Shift.”

“I have been wanting to work in the nonprofit sector for a while and it was one of my ultimate goals, to see what’s out there,” said Huaco. “So that was one of the things that attracted me and the second was that I am familiar with the environment and culture around Champlain and I’m really a big fan of the culture at this school.”

Huaco was hired in February and started in March of 2014. She plans to reassess the way LEAD requirements are addressed at Champlain. In the past years, the rush to complete evaluations of the student’s LEAD requirements in time for registration overwhelmed the LEAD Department. “I saw this wonderful TED talk,” Hauco said, “about behavioral economics. We, as people, are less likely to commit to something if it’s currently a scenario happening to us. If someone commits to something that will happen to them in the future, they have a harder time actualizing it. I think we could apply something like that to increase enrollment rates in LEAD requirements.” While she has not worked out the logistics of the implementation yet, she is excited about the ideas she could bring to the table. “Starting a new job is exciting,” she said. “I wake up in the middle of the night I have so many ideas.” 

Huaco’s family came to visit her just before she applied for the job at LEAD after her graduation from Champlain last May. “It is hard being away from my family, in Peru” she said. “I have been trying to see them at least once a year but it was difficult.” Three years ago Huaco’s family applied for a visa and was denied. “It was very sad,” Huaco said. She encouraged them to reapply before her graduation. “My parents finally got their visa–now they can come and go as they please for ten years!” Huaco said. “My acceptance into LEAD, my wonderfully supportive husband, my family receiving a VISA, my graduation–it is all a very happy ending!”