Jack Daniels III started his academic life at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, Illinois. The college-preparatory, all-boys’ school run by the Carmelite priests helped set Daniels on the road to success.
“Mount Carmel has tremendous sports and high academics,” Daniels said, of which he was very involved.
Daniels majored in political science and education and finished his undergraduate degree from Huntington College in Indiana in three years. After seven months of law school at DePaul University in Chicago, Daniels was drafted. It was the Vietnam War era and Daniels served in Stuttgart, Germany, helping set up a trial center. Daniels investigated cases involving American soldiers. He acted more as a paralegal, while the more serious cases were handled by JAG or Judge Advocate General.
After his two-year commitment and discharge, Daniels decided he’d rather be in a profession that was proactive instead of reactive. He returned to Chicago and taught sixth grade for three years. He loved his teaching position but came to the conclusion that he’d prefer to be involved in higher education. He accepted a position at Chicago State University as assistant director of research services.
“I wrote lots of grants and worked with program officers in Washington, D.C.,” Daniels said. He was also a liaison to the State Department of Education division of vocational education.
Throughout his career, Daniels was fortunate to have wise mentors and at this time his mentor advised Daniels to get his doctorate, something Daniels never considered. Once he made the decision to pursue this direction, he had to decide on a school.
“I remember clearly sitting in Chicago in subzero temperatures and snow and looking for schools in California,” Daniels said.
He chose Wright Institute of Psychology in Berkeley, California, which offered a combination master’s and doctorate program – and no winters.
Daniels finished his course work and was three chapters into his dissertation when he accepted a position as associate dean of urban affairs and occupational education at Miami Dade College before returning to California to finish his thesis.
From there Daniels took the job as director of business training center at Contra Costa Community College, one of the largest multi-college community college districts in California. His next position was with Peralta Community College as district director for education and development for both student services and academics.
Another wise mentor told him if he wanted to be president someday, Daniels needed to step away from administrating and get back into the classroom. He taught psychology classes at Laney College in Oakland and received tenure. The opportunity to become vice president of academic affairs at Grossmont College in San Diego County presented itself and Daniels accepted.
“It was a difficult decision because I loved teaching but it was three years of a great experience,” Daniels said of Grossmont College.
All lead to his first presidency in the Houston Community College System.
“It was an interesting and different culture from California. I came from collective bargaining to a right-to-work state. It had the largest and most diverse student population and more intent on the move toward student success and focus on learning. It was also my first foray in culinary arts,” Daniels said. “We were engaged with the students and the community.”
HCC is connected to the medical center, and Rice University and has a large international population.
After Houston, Daniels spent three years back in the Midwest at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois.
“I vowed I would never move to Los Angeles, but I took the job as president at Los Angeles Southwest College,” Daniels said.
During his time at LASC, Daniels assumed many leadership roles including Achieving the Dream initiative, Passage program, and 10,000 Small Businesses Program.
“I believe community college should be involved with the community,” Daniels said. He has also been a mentor to several future college presidents.
In 2013, Daniels brought his extensive higher education experience to Madison College as its president. Madison College has nine campuses covering 12 counties with 140 different programs and 40,000 students.
“Each technical program has an advisory committee made up of business leaders for information, direction and assessment,” Daniels said.
It is considered in the top tier of technical colleges and has national stature. Ninety percent of students will find placement in six months. Madison College offers service learning and study abroad. Since the 1930s Madison College (Madison Vocational School) became a transfer institution to UW-Madison.
According to the college’s website, “In the twenty-first century, Madison College continues to offer training for ‘gold-collar’ jobs in the ‘dot-com economy’ of biotech and agriculture, as well as its traditional role preparing students for careers in the skilled trades, culinary arts and to transfer to four-year colleges.”
“It is a wonderful institution,” Daniels said. “I have a great staff and great managers who are committed to students.”
Since he assumed the presidency, Daniels has implemented a new government structure, which provides for critical input across the institution reflecting a shared governance of faculty, staff, students, and administration “representing a shift from directive to facilitative.” Shared governance is made up of a college assembly working with seven councils to make recommendations to the president.
“It is positive for the institution,” Daniels said.
Aside of his responsibilities within the halls of Madison College, Daniels is involved with a variety of community agencies such as United Way, Madison Region Economic Partnership or MadRep and the Chamber of Commerce. He meets monthly with fellow college presidents of the 15 other technical colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System, or WTCS. He also meets regularly with legislature and city officials maintaining engagements and keeping them informed.
Daniels lives with his wife of 10 years, Kimila, assistant vice president of human resources for Unity Health. Returning to the mid-west has been a rude awakening climate-wise but his three daughters, one son and one grandchild are all this side of the Mississippi, which makes Daniels closer to family than living in California.
The Daniels both schedule time in their busy lives for travel. Their last trip was to Tanzania, where they enjoyed being guided by friends living there. Daniels’ canine companion is Paxton, a Labradoodle. Twice daily, Daniels is devoted that owner and dog get out and walk the streets of Waunakee.