ANNETTE TAIJERON SANTOS grew up in the sleepy hamlet of Merizo, the oldest of six children. “My father was a police officer, and my mother was a home-maker,” Santos said. “Growing up in a small southern village, there was a sense of community; everyone literally knew everyone there. So you always had to be on your best behavior, which was fine for me because I just stayed home,” she added, smiling.
One of her favorite recollections was walking to church every Sunday. “My mom and dad humbled us that way.” Of course, fellow villagers who drove by would wave them over and offer rides, which they would politely decline. “People took care of each other,” Santos explained. “We always looked out for each other.”
And while she has long since moved north to Barrigada, the bond with her hometown remains. “Even today, if I didn’t mention (in the magazine interview) that I was from Merizo and I went down, the Mayor would say, ‘How come you didn’t say you’re from Merizo?’” Santos said, laughing.
She has come a long way from her simple southern roots. Now Dr. Annette Santos, she is currently the dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at the University of Guam. She oversees the school’s largest department that churns out the top number of majors and graduates. “When you talk about job opportunities, I think having a degree under our programs provides that access. And it also helps that we have strong relationships with our business community and members from our public administration community as well,” she explained.
Her top goal for the college is to “provide a well-rounded, relevant education for our students so that they can tackle those global challenges that we’re confronted with.” But Santos admitted that early in her academic life she never had such lofty dreams of her own. “My parents never really pushed me to go to college, but because I went to Notre Dame (high school) I was surrounded by many students who had a family tradition of higher education. So just talking to them and sharing what our goals were after high school just made me think that I should go to the University of Guam. I mean, that was the next step.”
“When you talk about job opportunities, I think having a degree under our programs provides that access.”
Santos revealed that while growing up she wasn’t surrounded by people with degrees, but her parents did surround her and her siblings with books. “So we had encyclopedias and dictionaries that we were told to read during the summer or when we weren’t doing anything.” She said that when the family would sit around for meals, her dad, Philip Taijeron, Sr., would ask questions about what they’d read. “So we always had to be alert, be prepared. I tried to sit as far away as I could so they would ask the first one first,” she recalled, smiling.
Santos continued, “My dad grew up without parents. They were killed during the war. So he identified himself to be an orphan because he would be passed on from family to family. I think it was his way of showing us his love. If he could teach us how to take care of ourselves through education, then I guess he wouldn’t have to worry so much about the type of life we’d have.”
When Santos earned her bachelor’s degree she was ready to stop there. But her mentor and former UOG President Dr. Jose Nededog urged her to pursue a Master’s. “And as soon as I was finishing that out he said, ‘You shouldn’t stop there, you should go and pursue your doctorate.’ And I thought, ‘Do I have a say in this?’” she laughed. “Sometimes we are surrounded by people who see potential in us that we don’t see in ourselves. And that’s been my mantra in the classroom and with working here in the school of business. I believe that people need to be challenged.”
While she greatly appreciates Dr. Nededog as the “boot to her seat,” Santos’s family is her greatest inspiration. She recalled that one night, while she was working on her doctorate studies, her two young daughters came to her and asked why she never had time for them anymore. “I thought at that moment, ‘If I die tomorrow, what would be important to me: finishing this dissertation or spending time with my family?’ So it was identifying that if my personal needs were met, then I can be incredible in my professional journey. So it’s my family that inspires me.”
That devotion was tested again just recently, because her husband Roland needed a kidney transplant. Their 29-year-old daughter offered to be a donor, but Annette was hesitant. “My daughter can’t do that, she’s still young. She still wants to have children. I need to do this. And I prayed over it very hard.” Still, the chances of a spouse being a match were much less than a daughter’s, who shared her father’s DNA.
Santos has since received confirmation that she is compatible with her husband, which she described as “a match made in heaven.” The tests were done on Valentine’s Day.“ And I thought, ‘This is my gift to him. This is about love.’”
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