The Motivator

USD Alumnus Bruce Mims

BRUCE MIMS WANTS TO GIVE HIGH-RISK STUDENTS WHAT THEY NEED: ATTENTION, ROLE MODELS AND HOPE.

When Rosaura Rodriguez was 16 and living in foster care for the second time, Bruce Mims gave her a reason to get up every morning. The daughter of two parents who dealt drugs while raising her in southeast San Diego, Rodriguez spent her junior year in the county’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools system, accumulating high school credit so that she could graduate. Bruce Mims was her teacher.

“I looked forward to going to his classroom every day,” recalls Rodriguez, now 23 and an undergraduate at California State University San Marcos. “He was the one who inspired me to take on the career I want to take on, and try to move forward in life.” She hopes to eventually earn a law degree and work at the U.S. State Department.

Ever since he entered the world of education — topped off with his 2001 master’s degree at USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, which was funded by a grant from the Irvine Foundation — Mims has directed his passion and commitment at kids like Rodriguez, who’ve have had to struggle simply to survive. Many found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Some, like her, were victims of circumstances beyond their control. All of them were in desperate need of attention, positive role models and hope.

“I never looked at high-risk youth as bad kids,” says Mims, who grew up in a middle-class home outside Pasadena, Calif. “I looked at them as kids who made bad choices based on bad information. I always believed that if you give kids some different information, they’d make different choices. And in most cases, that’s been true.”

That core belief is what led Mims on a career-long hunt for under-performing schools and the students who populate them. He spent much of the past decade in the Los Angeles area, where he earned his doctorate at the University of Southern California, and served as assistant principal and principal in a series of beleaguered high schools that responded to his special touch. As part of his unique motivational approach, Mims — an avid runner — challenged a group of students to join him in the L.A. Marathon.

“I was able to reach them on a different level,” he says.

It’s that student-centered and unrelenting approach that make Mims so good at what he does, according to Kevin Riley, who taught Mims at USD and initially recruited him into the Juvenile Court school system. Mims’ infectious positivity and love of learning seems to rub off on even the most resistant kids.

“They see that optimism, that can-do attitude,” says Riley. “He gives them no excuses. He sees an unlimited capacity for life’s success.”
Now a high school principal and director of student services in Sonoma County, Calif., Mims is taking his passion in a different direction. Unlike the gritty, urban settings he is accustomed to, his new home is rural and low-key. His current school, on the campus of Sonoma State University, is one of the highest performing in California.

“The pace agrees with me,” he says, sounding almost surprised by the revelation. “Even with high achieving kids, there’s room for inspiration. There are endless possibilities, and some don’t realize how big the world of opportunity is for them.” — Karen Gross

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