Dr. Janet Schaeffer, psychologist at El Camino, dies

Janet Schaeffer was old school, and she preferred to meet with students and faculty in person to listen to their stories and make them feel safe.

This is how Michelle Arthur, coordinator of dual enrollment at El Camino College (ECC), remembers her friend and colleague.

Janet Schaeffer was a psychologist at ECC who died on Nov. 12.

Her colleagues collectively remember her selfless nature and trailblazing expertise that served the many lives she touched.

Before Schaeffer came to ECC in 2012, she was a psychiatric nurse, worked in a correctional facility and then became a psychologist. Her background experiences were invaluable to many departments and programs at El Camino, Arthur said.

In her time at ECC, she worked as a psychologist and was involved with the Assessment, Intervention, and Management of Safety (AIMS) program as well as the Special Resource Center (SRC).

Rebecca Cobb, dean of student life at Pasadena City College (PCC), was the former director of student development. Cobb was also one of the founding members of the AIMS program, along with Schaeffer and Michelle Arthur, current coordinator of dual enrollment at ECC.

Cobb said that Schaeffer guided the AIMS program to what it is now at ECC.

“She really got us organized and really got us together in order to allow us to serve the campus and the college community much better,” Cobb said.

Arthur said Schaeffer came to ECC at a time of student crisis and improved support services by meeting with students in different departments for feedback on how to better equip campus support programs.

“It was about helping people feel at ease, feel safe [and] creating a culture of safety. That was one of her terms, creating a campus culture of safety,” Arthur said.

Schaeffer’s frequent lunch seminars were just one example of her efforts to support students and create a safe space for discussion.

“Above all, she was focused, she was professional, she was super friendly, she was funny, she really supported students and wanted them to have an equitable chance despite having a mental health issue or condition,” Arthur said.

Arthur quietly cried as she remembered her friend with whom she closely worked in the AIMS program.

“I’ll miss her,” Arthur said. “She was my friend too, as well as a great colleague.”

Cobb said Schaeffer was passionate about helping and supporting others and was always willing to get involved and help wherever she was needed.

“I remember one-afternoon feeling overwhelmed and I remember one evening just being on the phone with her and then she just showed up in my office and said ‘I could hear something in your voice,’ and then literally I just fell apart. But that’s who Jan was. And I think that’s who Jan was for everybody,” Cobb said.

Schaeffer’s experience with a diverse group of students was respected and admired by her colleagues, Arthur said.

Gary Greco, director of the Special Resource Center (SRC) who also oversees the American Sign Language and Interpretative Training Program, said that Schaeffer played an integral role in the SRC.

“She was extraordinary. She was very supportive, she was very compassionate and really was a strong advocate for our students with disabilities,” Greco said. “She was just a wonderful and valued member of the SRC family.”

The SRC has many departments including the High Tech Center, Deaf/Hard of Hearing Services, Educational Development, Sign Language/Interpreter Training Programs and other support services. Schaeffer was involved and always willing to help students and faculty in the SRC, Greco said.

“She had a wonderful sense of humor, she was an active participant in our monthly staff meetings that I held within the SRC, she gave tremendous input, insight and perspective,” Greco said. “She will be sorely, sorely missed.”

Arthur laughed as she remembered meetings between the SRC and AIMS program, where Schaeffer and Greco would joke back and forth with one another.

“Gary, he is the pun master,” Arthur said. “And Jan’s [Schaeffer] like, ‘okay Gary, I have to admit, that one’s funny.’ And we’d all throw potato chips at him and tell him to stop.”

During Cobb’s time at ECC, she enjoyed seeing Schaeffer and hearing her stories on daily basis.

“From day one, Jan [Schaeffer] was just so open, to me and to everybody and just very kind, very friendly, I mean, really just open to her life,” Cobb said. “She’d tell us just hilarious stories about her dog and her husband.”

When Cobb heard about Schaeffer’s passing, she was devastated and caught off guard. Cobb said that Schaeffer had some underlying health complications, but her death was unexpected.

“She was a lot for a lot of people,” Cobb said tearfully. “You start reflecting on the conversation you’ve had with a person once they’ve gone, and I think those were very meaningful for me.”

EDITORS NOTE: A word in the third paragraph was changed on Dec. 2 at 9:46 p.m. The headline was changed on Dec. 3 at 5 a.m.