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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Regent shares her own immigrant story

Kansas Regent Janie Perkins greets a student in the PSU College of Education during a campus tour. Escorting Regent Perkins is Dr. Andy Tompkins, dean of the College of Education.

Kansas Regent Janie Perkins talked to students, faculty and staff at Pittsburg State University on Friday, April 25, about the value of diversity and her own experience as an immigrant child in Kansas. She used stories from her childhood to illustrate not only the challenges second-language learners face, but also their successes.

Perkins was the final speaker this semester for the university’s Tilford Lecture Series on diversity.

Perkins said her family came from a small town in Mexico to Garden City, Kan., when she was just 10.

“I was born in a very small village,” Perkins said. “We had no electricity, no plumbing, no schools and no health clinic.”

Because she could not read in either Spanish or English, Perkins was placed in the second grade. It was the beginning of an educational journey marked by teacher after teacher who inspired her.

Perkins told about the nun who first read stories to her.

“I didn’t understand, but she had such a wonderful expression on her face as she read, that I knew it had to be a wonderful story.”

Perkins picked up English rapidly and became a voracious reader.

“From the first time I was able to read the English language,” Perkins said, “I haven’t been able to stop reading.”

After high school and then marriage, Perkins and her husband, Harold, drew up an 11-year plan. Both knew they wanted more education. He had dreams of becoming a doctor. She always wanted to teach. They sold their home in Garden City and moved to Wichita, where both balanced a growing family and school until Harold finished his education to become a family practice physician and Janie earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from Newman University.

When they returned to Garden City, Janie joined the Garden City schools as an elementary teacher and a supplemental programs coordinator. It was then that Perkins began to get involved in community service.

“We come here for the opportunities,” Perkins said of immigrants, “but we also come to give back.”

In her community, Perkins’ community service has included the 25th Judicial District Youth Services, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Salvation Army and the Garden City Chamber of Commerce Multicultural Task Force. She was elected to the Garden City Commission and served at the city’s mayor. In 2005, she was appointed to the Kansas Board of Regents.

Perkins’ passion for community service is inspired by a sense of gratitude.

“I’m really grateful to be here in America,” Perkins said, acknowledging that she has experienced difficulties and discrimination at times. “I ask myself, ‘What if my family had not brought me here? What If I hadn’t had the kind of support from friends and family that I’ve had?’”

The PSU Tilford Group, named after former Wichita State University graduate Dan Michael Tilford, was established in May to help foster an understanding of diversity and multicultural issues across the campus community.

---Pitt State---