Dr. Hubert Benitez, A Leader in Five Core Values

Hispanic Community February 2023 PREMIUM
Dr. Hubert Benitez, the current president of American International College, is a former dentist from Colombia who returned to the US to pursue a career in higher education. He is committed to AIC, an institution whose core values – access, opportunity, diversity, community and belonging - are aligned with his own.


he current president of American International College, Hubert Benitez, didn’t begin his career in higher education. Instead, he worked as a dentist in Colombia for more than a decade before he returned to the United States to pursue a career in higher education.

It was only this past April of 2022 that Benitez became president of American International College (AIC) in Springfield, Massachusetts. “It’s an honor and privilege to be selected here,” said Benitez of his current post. “I was looking for an institution that had values that were aligned with my own personal values. And AIC is truly aligned with my personal values.”

When asked what those values were, Benitez spoke of the five core values of AIC: “access, opportunity, diversity, community, and belonging”. But how—you may ask—are those values tied to Benitez’s life and how did the current president go from being a dentist to college president?

The Path Towards Leadership

Like so many stories, the president’s began with that of his family, and specifically his father. “My father came here as a young adult. He was a first-generation college student and a non-traditional learner,” explained Benitez. “He came here to go to undergraduate and graduate school in chemical engineering.”

The president narrates that his father married his mother after inviting her to join him in the U.S. and their first son—Benitez’s older brother—was born in Ohio. Later they moved to Mississippi, where his father worked for a paper company, only to return to Colombia to help open a subsidiary paper company there. The president was born in Colombia but moved back and forth between there and the United States with his family.

“I went to elementary school in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where they were only three Latinos families in the whole city,” said Benitez. “Then we went back to Colombia for high school and I obtained my first doctoral degree in dentistry.”

After 14 years of working as a dentist, the president returned to the U.S. with his wife and children. “This is home for us now. It’s been almost 25 years here,” he said.

After a few more years of doing clinical work, Benitez decided he wanted to “make a difference in the lives of people” beyond the routine work of dentistry. “I always believed in the importance of being academically and intellectually challenged,” he said.

He soon embarked on a post-doctoral fellowship focused on education and research, followed by a PhD in higher education administration. His intention was to pursue a career as a researcher, but his post-doctorate fellowship mentor helped set his eyes on a different track.

“My advisor saw in me skills that I didn’t know I had,” said Benitez. “He saw that I was good at strategic planning and had a skill set in entrepreneurship and innovation. I was able to think about doing things differently and had strong writing skills.”

During his postdoc training, the president learned to successfully write federal government grants with his advisor. This was followed by a career in higher education, from program director, assistant dean, associate dean, and provost to president. His posts have included that of vice president for Strategic Initiatives and Academic Innovation and acting chief inclusion officer at Rockhurst University; president and CEO for Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences; and other executive leadership roles, including provost and chief academic officer, dean of Health Sciences, department chair, assistant dean, and academic rank at the associate professor level.

Living the Five Core Values at AIC

“My entire career was always about creating pathways to increase access, opportunity, diversity and inclusivity,” said Benitez. “And coming here (to AIC), I see the difference that AIC makes in the lives of students.”

AIC couldn’t have been a better choice for the president. After all, the college was founded in 1885 to educate immigrants who arrived in America through New York.

At AIC, 24 percent of students are Hispanic, 23 percent African American, 32 percent first generation, and 55 percent Pell Eligible. This means that more than half of all students come from households that live at or below the poverty line.

“The diversity of AIC is organic. We are an urban and inner-city school located in a hub of diversity,” said Benitez. “When students arrive at AIC, we provide them with access, opportunity, and an environment they feel they belong in. We are making a difference in the lives of students who may otherwise not have the opportunity to do so.”

According to Benitez, diversity at AIC expands across all departments and disciplines.  Multiple organizations and departments also support this: Hermandad de Sigma Lota Alpha, Inc., Latin American Student Organization, Office for Diversity Education, PLUS, and Student of Color Working Group.

AIC also helps a plethora of students with financial support. A hundred percent of first-time students entering AIC will receive a merit scholarship, in addition to institution aid, federal assistance and outside scholarships. Given the number of Hispanic families, the college is looking to hire bilingual officers in all student-facing offices. It currently offers bilingual information sessions throughout the year, and hosts a Hispanic College Fair, typically in November.

Assistance for first-generation students includes AIC Core Education Program, a student support services program for first-generation college students. Since the president’s arrival, AIC has also signed international partnership agreements with academic institutions in El Salvador, the Philippines, and Chile, as well as additional partnerships with other global institutions.

Much of what is available to students is accessible through a program called NEST (Center for Navigating Educational Success Together). It’s the school’s one-stop shop for assistance, which includes Student Success Advising, Apex Programs (providing help for transfer students), tutoring services, academic accommodations, and services for distance and online learners.   

Since Benitez became president, he has focused his attention on AIC’s Strategic Plan, called AIC Reimagined 2022-2027. This plan focuses on enhancing and expanding the breadth and depth of the school’s academic portfolio and creating robust student experiences and strong support systems. It ensures long-term fiscal responsibility while developing, growing and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships with college stakeholders.

As part of the plan, AIC recently created an Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging on campus. The office aims to create an environment that supports diversity of gender, race, and many other represented groups across campus.

For Benitez, this is only the beginning of a process of transformation and vision. “I think the presence of new leadership brings a new perspective and a sense of hope and stability, and a different way of thinking,” he said.

When asked what advice he’d offer to younger generations of Hispanics, Benitez said, “Education is the path to a better future.” And he concluded, “Are the opportunities and the path for Latinos more difficult? Yes, I believe they are. But look, I’m an immigrant and a Latino. If I can do it, you can do it too.”


Share with:

Product information

Post a Job

Post a job in higher education?

Place your job ad in our classified page on the HO print & digital Edition