Jennifer Saito: Honors and innovation

Professor and Honors Director Jennifer Saito details her academic journey.

Jennifer+Saito+strikes+a+pose+in+Yosemite+National+Park.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Tejirian

Jennifer Saito strikes a pose in Yosemite National Park.

Sarina Grossi, Editor-in-Chief

Honors Transfer Program Director Jennifer Saito has a warm smile and wears her medium-length dark hair down. Her focused gaze is complimented by her instantly recognizable red glasses that sit on the bridge of her nose. She is down-to-earth but speaks with precision.

A well-known figure across the LMC campus, Saito has worked at the college for 27 years, teaching a wide array of subjects including math, humanities and philosophy. Along with her time spent as a professor, she has served as the director of the Honors Transfer Program since its creation in 1999.

The program has provided dozens of students opportunities to succeed along with a strong and driven community. This community has a long history, and it can all be traced back to Jennifer Saito.

As a child, Saito became accustomed to moving from state to state every four years. Being raised in an air force family, she had already attended 12 different schools by the time she reached high school.

“It was hard starting a new school every year… one thing I was confident about was that I was smart and good at school,” she explained.

Saito describes her younger self as “a nerdy, know-it-all kid” who absolutely loved to learn new subjects, ideas and concepts. This carried over to her time at UC Berkeley, where she changed her major multiple times, taking any class that sparked her excitement.

“I took so many classes in college and even grad school that I know a little about a lot,” she said. She started her college education wanting to be an actress and studying theater but ended with a bachelor’s and master’s in Theoretical Math. “My mind thinks like a mathematician. I put things in linear order, I’m extremely analytical, I like to see abstract patterns.”

Saito never intended on becoming a career educator, and originally planned on earning a Ph.D. in mathematics. But after rethinking her career, she walked into UC Berkeley’s college and career center looking for help. That was when the career coordinator told her that only master’s degrees were necessary for teaching at community colleges and Saito found her calling. She was later offered a job at Los Medanos College, Diablo Valley College and Ohlone College.

LMC was Saito’s first job and she has stayed at the college ever since. From a childhood of constant moving, she has decided to stay put as much as possible, living in the Berkeley area for 15 years after graduation and then moving to the Tri-valley area where she now resides.

“What I’ve discovered is that community college is an amazing job. I love my job. And I don’t want to go anywhere else,” she said.

As a new professor at LMC, Saito became the adviser for an honors club called Alpha Gamma Sigma. However, after attending an honors program event at an Academic Senate conference, she realized that LMC should have an entire program dedicated to supporting honors students. Almost immediately after the conference, Saito formed a group to put together the program and apply for grants.

Although the program and subsequent Honors Club have become a large facet of LMC, it was initially met with some criticism and backlash— something that was intimidating to the younger Saito, who was still a fresh face at the campus. But this intimidation inspired her, and she began working hard to develop the now 22-year-old program.

All the greatest things in my life have come by taking on things I was fearful of and doing them.”

— Jennifer Saito

“Every time we did something new it was absolutely intimidating. One thing I want all people to know… is you always have to do things you are frightened of,” said Saito, “All the greatest things in my life have come by taking on things I was fearful of and doing them.”

Through the honors program, Saito was forced to learn new professional skills. Whether it was figuring out how to make mailing labels, writing a marketing email, creating websites or learning graphic design, she rose to the challenge to improve the program as a whole.

“The honors program is what has driven almost all of my professional growth,” she remarked.

Along with professional growth, Saito says the Honors Program and LMC have both made her a more understanding and compassionate individual. She is able to recognize the struggles her students encounter and support them sufficiently.

Saito said her favorite aspect of working at LMC is meeting new, driven individuals and seeing their path to success.

“Every person is unique and beautiful and has their own story. I love to hear the stories, I love to see students bloom,” she said.

Outside of college, Saito loves the outdoors and traveling, recently completing her first backpacking trip since the COVID-19 pandemic. She also is an avid supporter of the study abroad program at LMC, having taught in France and Barcelona. She hopes to participate more in the program in the future and visit South America after travel restrictions ease.

As a lifelong performer, Saito enjoys acting and creating music, even recently starting a new band to give her a creative outlet. Her experiences in the performing arts often influence her teaching style in her classes.

“I make up little jingles to help people remember things. I think I have a theatrical style,” she laughs, “I jesticulate a lot.”

Having worked at LMC for almost three decades, Saito has a close relationship to the campus, with students and staff alike.

Edward Haven, chair of the LMC philosophy department, said Saito enjoys life.

She brings an honest love and connection to everything she does,” Haven said, “She is amazingly intelligent and wise.”

Saito has made a great impact on LMC, and there are many signs that she will continue to impact the community for a very long time.