By Nicole Gregory, contributing writer
Jimmy Ko, 30, is a commercial banker with JP Morgan Chase & Co. in Irvine, but he admits that he was not the best student as a teenager growing up in Anaheim Hills. Even when he followed his older sister to Santiago Canyon College, he stayed out late many nights, not caring that his grades were sinking.
“My first semester at SCC was not the best,” Ko said. “And then the spring semester after that, I got tuberculosis.”
Forced to withdraw from all his classes and isolate at home, Ko experienced a dramatic change of heart. He reflected on his carefree life and low grades while his parents worked hard in their restaurant to support the family. “I was not particularly proud of myself at that point,” Ko said.
He vowed to change.
As soon as he got the OK to return to school, Ko threw himself into his classes and stepped up for leadership roles, eventually becoming president of Associated Student Government. “I was hyperfocused on doing well in school and just trying to be more involved,” he said.
He studied economics and decided on a business career. “For a first-gen student, your options are business, doctor or lawyer. I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he said. “My parents always owned restaurants, and so business was a natural transition. My parents were both very good chefs, but they didn’t necessarily like the banking side of how to run a business, so I gravitated toward that.”
His parents lost their restaurant and decided to return to South Korea when Ko was still at SCC. “So, days before my 21st birthday I had to figure out things on my own,” he said. He stayed at SCC to finish his studies while his older sister worked to support them both.
“SCC really helped me because it was like my first family,” he said, still appreciative of the support he received from teachers during his 2011–2014 years there — particularly from professors Alex Taber, Rick Adams, Will Lennertz and Corinna Evett.
“I didn’t realize the deadline for scholarship applications (for four-year universities) was in 48 hours, so I asked Professor Lennertz and Corinna Evett to write me a recommendation letter, and in less than 24 hours they were able to produce something for me. That was honestly very special.”
He never forgot their generosity.
“A big part of why I give back to the community is just thinking about the hard time I had, where I had maybe 15 or 16 meetings a month between all the organizations I was a part of as student government president, and also having to go to class and then work two part-time jobs,” Ko said. “I’m very thankful SCC professors were understanding of my personal schedule. For some courses when I didn’t do as well as I could have, I reached out to see if I could do extra work during the summer, and they were understanding of that.”
Ko was accepted as a transfer student to University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He took a gap year because “I could not afford USC tuition and worked four jobs at that time to try to figure things out,” he said.
He started at USC in 2015 and earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2017, which led to his job at JP Morgan Chase.
“I work with customers, corporations, dealing with loans, treasury services, cash management,” he said, “trying to help businesses run their day-to-day operations and work toward long-term goals.”
Ko has funded a scholarship at SCC, is the treasurer of the SCC Foundation and spearheads the Alumni Association. He also sits on three boards at USC.
He remembers vividly the hard years as a student with little money. “Even from that age, I was thinking I don’t want another person to have to have the same feeling of hopelessness, of being so restricted and having zero options. Part of why I spent so much time helping other people is I understand what some people might be going through. I want to be able to show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Several students he mentored in 2023 were offered full-time jobs in their senior year.
“That’s honestly the most rewarding feeling because I have a rough estimate of how much they’re going to make,” said Ko. “For a lot of these people who are first gen, making six figures will change the course of their family forever. A lot of these families have never seen money like that. Within one generation they’re able to secure themselves in this country and build a foundation. They might not be aware of it yet, but just seeing that their family is going to do so well after that, it’s a great feeling.”
Contributing Writer www.ocregister.com Local News,Uncategorized,community,community college,Education
2024-01-09 16:27:05 , Garden Grove News: The Orange County Register