Dr. John Avendano
Dr. John Avendano Named Waubonsee "Fab 40" Alumnus
Sugar Grove — Dr. John Avendano knows the life-changing power community colleges hold. He has first-hand knowledge both from the perspective of a student and also as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Development at Illinois Central College. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor him as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni. As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.
Growing up in east Aurora, Avendano’s parents, Juan and Ninfa, always stressed the importance of education.
"The greatest driving force for me was my parents," he said. “All their life, they would tell me to take advantage of education opportunities. They worked hard so I would have the opportunity to get an education.”
Even with his parents’ influence, Avendano, who was a stand-out athlete at East Aurora High School, was not sure if college was for him. Waubonsee Athletic Manager and Baseball Coach Dave Randall saw Avendano’s potential and recruited him to come to Waubonsee to play baseball.
“Waubonsee was a very familiar environment and close to home,” Avendano said. “You saw a lot of familiar faces, but there was also the excitement and nervousness of something new.”
Avendano excelled on the playing field, making the All-Skyway Conference Team, but a knee injury forced him to re-evaluate his priorities.
“When I was injured was when I truly became a student,” he said. “I knew that I needed something more than athletics.”
During that period, Avendano first met then Waubonsee President John Swalec, who took him under his wing.
“I started to get some direction academically and career-wise,” he said. “The genuine interest of the faculty in me as a student and in me being successful was amazing, and John Swalec was a wonderful mentor to me.”
Luckily, Avendano was back on the field not long after getting out of his cast and was part of the team that set the school record for wins his sophomore season, serving as team captain. Then, truly a student-athlete, he began to think more about his future. He transferred to Elmhurst College to play baseball just a few credits shy of his associate degree.
Although he did not earn his bachelor’s degree at Elmhurst, he went on to earn a B.S. in exercise physiology from Northern Illinois University (NIU). He next completed a M.S. in adult continuing education from NIU. Even with his advanced degree, he wanted to finish what he started and earn his associate degree from Waubonsee, which he did. His educational journey continued at Loyola University Chicago, where he started his Ph.D. work, before finishing his Ph.D. at Illinois State University in Educational Administration and Foundations.
In all his experiences as a student, Avendano never found a better place to learn than at Waubonsee.
“I’ve had the opportunity to experience higher education at the community college level, at the private institution level, at the university undergraduate level and at the graduate university level,” he said. “The best and most meaningful education I ever received was at Waubonsee. I say that proudly everywhere I go — when I meet with parents and students.”
Avendano returned to Waubonsee to start his career. He was assistant baseball coach and manager of the fitness center, which he had helped create with former Waubonsee athletic director and physical education instructor Bill Prince. He later was recruitment coordinator, director of Enrollment Management and eventually associate dean of Student Life.
“I learned how valuable the education I received here really was and how valuable Waubonsee is to this district,” he said. “It’s where I realized that I wanted to spend my career in community colleges. [Community colleges] give opportunities for those who might never have thought that college was possible. It’s been the greatest job, seeing students when they first arrive and then when they graduate — seeing how they develop and shape their lives.”
Earning his Ph.D. and working at his alma mater, Waubonsee, are career highlights for Avendano.
“The fact that here I was, somebody undecided on education, to be able to achieve a Ph.D. meant a lot to my parents, and it meant a lot to me,” he said.
Avendano left Waubonsee in 1995 to become dean of Student Services at Illinois Central College, which serves Peoria, Woodford and Tazwell counties. He has steadily advanced at the college to his current role as vice president of Academic Affairs and Student Development.
“It’s a two-year comprehensive college — very similar to how Waubonsee was in terms of its approach, philosophy, mission and expectation of excellence,” he said. “What I’ve enjoyed most is that it has broadened my experiences being able to be more directly involved in the core mission of the college — academics — while still being involved with student development.”
Avendano thinks often of the sacrifices his parents made for his future.
“They were the most influential people in my life,” he said. “My mom was from Mexico. My dad was from Mexico and raised in Texas. English was their second language. They worked hard so that I could have an opportunity for higher education. I can now make a living with my mind as opposed to my back and hands.”
Avendano and his wife, Janet, live in Morton, Ill., with their three children, Michael, age 14, Nikki, age 12, and Marissa, age 10. He has been named one of the “40 under 40” by the Peoria Chamber of Commerce.