Meet the Mastermind Behind Student Engagement

By Ashley Musick

Born and raised in the Bay Area, Janelle Palomares lived in South San Francisco until age six before moving to Hercules, California, where she still lives today with her husband and daughter. After graduating from California State University, East Bay, with a bachelor of arts degree in mass communication and media studies, Palomares planned to move to Los Angeles to work on movie sets and become a Hollywood film editor.

Palomares’ first job out of college was working at a local TV station, where she learned about editing, production and the art of storytelling. However, when the station shut down, Palomares’ cousin recommended she pursue an opening in the Office of Admissions at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. She landed the job as an administrative assistant and then became an admissions coordinator.

Though Palomares loved working with each new applicant class, she soon realized that she wanted to build more lasting relationships with the students during their time at the dental school. After years of promoting student life activities to incoming students, Palomares decided that she wanted to be involved in creating them.

Following the retirement of Dr. Eddie Hayashida, former associate dean for administration, the student affairs coordinator position was established within the Office of Student Services. This created the opportunity for Palomares to become a student affairs coordinator a year later before growing into her current role as the manager of student life and involvement.

Upon first starting in student affairs, Palomares recalls being handed a stack of binders and thinking to herself, “This just won’t do.”

In collaboration with student leaders, she tirelessly worked to digitize and streamline student request forms to make processes easier for both students and faculty, in addition to creating an official student life handbook. Though it took a few years to fully integrate the new handbook and processes, the impact has been significant.

“Janelle is the glue that holds all student life events together,” explains Associated Student Body President Mason Tittle, Class of 2024. “She has a very special quality in that despite being the mastermind behind most of these events, she wants the students who run them to get all the praise. I wish every student could see how hard Janelle works for us—if you have ever had a good time at a Dugoni School student event, Janelle probably had a hand in making that happen.”

Palomares’ influence can also be seen in her commitment to amplifying student voices, both in the types of speakers and events student affairs hosts, in addition to her involvement with the university’s Title IX cases. She takes pride in serving as a resource and advocate for students during their time at the dental school, all while creating spaces to reduce stress and encourage mental wellness both within the classroom and beyond.

“I really value what the students have to say, because I know that many of them want to learn more about the opportunities available within the dental field,” Palomares shares. “To me, that’s what student engagement is all about, which is why I really value input from student leaders on how we can make the program even better.”

When asked about her future plans for student engagement, Palomares replied, “I definitely want to create more activities for students that take them away from the stress of school. It can be as simple as making a space for them to play music or watch a movie. I just want to encourage mental wellness and add a little bit of fun.”

She has received recognition throughout her 21-year career at the Dugoni School of Dentistry in the form of multiple awards, most recently having been awarded the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) Advocate Award in June 2023.

Dr. Craig Yarborough ’80, describes Palomares as the heart and soul of the dental school. “Janelle’s sole purpose at the Dugoni School is to make it ‘the happiest place on earth’ for our students,” shares Yarborough. “She brings a smile and hearty laugh every day, and just makes the people around her better. She started working here with energy, humanism and dedication and continues to convey it in every relationship she forms.”

Outside of work, Palomares enjoys spending her time with husband Marcel and daughter Lily, playing golf and attending Comic- Con annually to add to their combined collection of more than 300 Funko Pops (the collectible vinyl toys). And, she just recently acquired her motorcycle license. Though she has yet to purchase the perfect bike, she hopes to grow comfortable enough to one day take long rides up to Napa or along the Pacific Coast Highway.

With regard to her plans for the future, Palomares insists she is happy with her life as is. “For my career, I just want to continue learning. I love networking at conferences and learning more from everyone I meet within student affairs. Personally, I want to be a great role model for my daughter and the best wife to my husband. I want my daughter to be a student leader one day—I always tell her, ‘You could be a leader, you know that, right?’ I just want to be able to show her how to do that.”

Ashley Musick is a freelance writer from Orange, California.