By Gabrielle Russon
When Hurricane Frances peeled off the roof of Beacon College’s education building, there was the professor himself, Dr. Jamie Fleming, up on the roof, a tarp in hand. The school was smaller back in those days, so resources were limited. That meant Fleming was on the hurricane clean-up crew in 2004.“I was truly a jack of all trades,” said Fleming who at one point taught technology classes in addition to running the college’s IT department and developed the business computer information systems major he teaches.
It certainly wasn’t easy teaching technology two decades ago. At his lowest point, only two or three students at a time could connect to the telephone modem while the rest of the class waited to use the Internet.
These are some of the stories coming from Fleming, the longest-tenured Beacon staffer. In 23 years at the school, he remembers the scrappy, can-do-all employees who did the best with what they had. He has watched Beacon evolve into a full-fledged college providing support and resources to students and faculty as Beacon became a national model how to educate students with learning disabilities.
But when he was hired at Beacon in August 1999, the school with less than 50 students made up a tiny footprint in Leesburg. His first impression wasn’t so positive.
“I was a little hesitant at first because the College wasn’t accredited,” Fleming said. “When I pulled up to the College, the city was in the beginning parts of renovation, so they were tearing up all the sidewalks. The College only had like three buildings at the time, and their administration building was a house.”
“I’m like, ‘What am I getting into?’”
Fleming, a New Jersey native who went to college in Florida, took the job.
He figured teaching experience might look good on his resume and then he would move on to something different in a few years.
Instead, he stayed for the next 23 years, and Fleming, 59, has no immediate plans to retire.
Why has he stayed all this time?
It’s because of the students, Fleming said.
“I love the students,” Fleming said.
He is amazed by how his students think outside the box when they solve technology problems.
“The field teaches you to do this, this, this,” Fleming said. “My students will question, ‘Well, why don’t you do it this way?’ It’s like, Oh, yeah, OK, this works.”
That means Fleming is regularly learning from his students too. “The growth has been constant. You kind of grow with it,” he said.
One former student, Brian Kaminski, recalled Fleming as a professor who was extraordinarily devoted to helping students.
Kaminski had gotten sick with cancer his junior year and was stuck in the hospital for months, worried he might not graduate on schedule. It was Fleming who came to the rescue and organized all of Kaminski’s professors to get him his schoolwork in the hospital so he wouldn’t fall behind. Kaminski never forgot that.
“He cares a lot about every student that he ever comes across, even the ones that aren’t in the IT field. He will do anything possible to help them out,” said Kaminski, a 2015 Beacon graduate who now works as an IT specialist at Beacon where he regularly runs into Fleming.
Kaminski credits Fleming’s class for strengthening his skills at diagnosing IT problems.
Kaminski said he is astonished Fleming has taught at the school for this long. Sometimes he teases his beloved ex-professor, “Why are you still here?”
Fleming no longer is that faculty member climbing on the roof or fixing the computers in between teaching classes. He focuses on developing hands-on lessons in the classroom and helping his students use technology which can level the playing field with their disabilities.
For Fleming, those days of the agonizing slow Internet are gone too. Today, Beacon offers high-tech classes. Some of Fleming’s students have landed IT jobs working for the state of Florida or are employed overseas with the Department of Defense.
Beacon, which is accredited, has jumped to about 500 students and has steadily expanded its campus footprint over the years.
Fleming has seen plenty of change beyond just the school’s growth. Attitudes have changed, too, as the outside world is more accepting of Beacon students and embracing their talents and skills, he said.
Companies are approaching Beacon, looking to hire employees who can think outside the box, he said.