Even as a kid, José A. Vicente learned to make life-changing decisions. His father, a high-ranking communist official in Cuba, bluntly laid the cards on the table for him.
“At a young age, I faced the challenge of deciding whether to leave with my father to China,” where he would ultimately reside throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Vicente said, “or remain in Cuba with my mother as she waited for the opportunity to migrate [to] the United States of America.”
Vicente stayed with his mother.
It was a decision that eventually led him to Spain and then to the U.S., where he obtained a job as a newspaper-boy at the age of 11, earning a penny per newspaper sold. Vicente recalls standing at the intersection of S.W. 27 Ave. and Seventh St. to peddle the papers.
“Little did I know that decades later I would become the founding Campus President of MDC’s InterAmerican Campus, adjacent to that very intersection,” Vicente said.
Vicente fondly reflects on his accomplishments as he prepares to step down as Wolfson Campus president at the end of the semester, to retire, after 42 years at MDC.
The Miami Dade College alum, who earned his doctoral degree in higher education administration from Nova Southeastern University and completed postdoctoral studies at Harvard University, held several positions while at the College, including stints as president at the North, Wolfson and the InterAmerican campuses, as well as interim president of the Hialeah and Medical campuses.
“It was not by design, but by default as my initial plan was not to base a career in the field of higher education,” Vicente said. “But eventually, I fell in love with Miami Dade College’s mission, vision and meeting student’s educational needs.”
During his tenure at North Campus, Vicente piloted a multi-phase “renaissance” of educational programs and facilities. As well as the development of the Pre-School Lab, Science Complex, School of Justice and Firefighter Training Facility.
For current North Campus President Malou Harrison, who has known him for more than a decade, Vicente has always been a man of integrity with a boundless passion for students’ academic success and the College’s universal mission.
“He is driven to bring creativity and innovation and education to the institution,” Harrison said. “He is all about what the students needed to be successful.”
Harrison recalls a time at one of the College’s academic convocations, when she and Vicente ironed the wrinkled regalia of a keynote speaker just minutes before the ceremony was set to begin. The two rushed into a classroom and used a student desk as a table to rest the vestment on and pass the iron over it.
She said that even when faced with challenges, Vicente always managed to maintain a smile on his face. His leadership methods were based on teamwork and the validation of everyone’s idea.
Before Vicente’s arrival at North, the campus was in bad shape, but he was able to rebuild its overall appearance and academic standards, said College President, Eduardo Padrón.
“I don’t really know any other [person] so dedicated to the College,” Padrón said about Vicente’s commitment to the institution.
Padrón said that when he appoints administrators for the position of campus president, he firmly tells them that he doesn’t want leaders who will not challenge him or his ideas — and Vicente has always been a critical professional.
“I have always been candid with him and tried for him to see issues or concerns from different perspectives,” Vicente said. “At times, we have disagreed, but it has always been with mutual respect and professionalism.”
When asked about his plans after retirement, Vicente said is contemplating becoming an author. He wants to explore the world through traveling and continue his passion as an antiques collector.
Vicente hopes to be remembered as an innovative campus leader whose passion for the institution was the drive for his many accomplishments.
“I have learned that in order to be a successful leader, one must be a good listener and most importantly, lead by example,” Vicente said.
There will be a ceremony at Wolfson Campus commemorating Vicente’s trajectory at the College on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. A $20 contribution is being requested. For more information, and to RSVP, visit the online page for the event.