That Presidential Aura

That Presidential Aura

USD President for a Day Haley Jacob enthusiastically embraces leadership role

Haley Jacob sitting in Dr. Harris' desk

One might argue that there is no place more fitting to get to know a person than a brisk walk on a calm morning. 

Certainly, it was an apt setting for USD student Haley Jacob and USD President James T. Harris III, DEd, to get to know each other better. Better is an accurate word choice because the two are already familiar with each other — Jacob has worked in the president’s office for the past two years. 

Strolling along the Bayside Walk adjacent to San Juan Cove in Mission Bay, the pair spent nearly an hour having a deep, candid conversation about everything from the importance of family, to personal goals and aspirations, to the nuances of giving a live speech to the philosophy of life and death. It was a fitting way to begin President for a Day, the university’s annual spring tradition where one deserving undergraduate student switches places with the president.  

An early morning walk has traditionally been how each iteration of President for a Day begins, and this year, it starts at the University of San Diego Boathouse, where Jacob and Harris mingle with members of the men’s and women’s rowing teams heading to their cars after practice. From there, the two head north before cutting over to Mission Boulevard to grab a coffee together at the alumni-owned Olive Cafe. 

USD President for a Day: Haley Jacob

For Jacob, the walk was special and a great way to connect before switching roles for the day. 

“He’s been an incredible figure for me these last three years and while I do see him often, I never get specific one-on-one time with him like I did this morning,” Jacob said. “It allowed us to connect and understand each other better and go deeper into things we haven’t previously talked about. It really bonded and connected us before we went to live a day in each other’s lives.” 

Jacob, a Kirkland, Washington native, is a senior Communication major and Business Administration and Theatre minor. Along with working as a student assistant in Harris’ office, Jacob is executive producer of USDtv and co-president of Lambda Pi Eta. Upon graduation, she is moving to Los Angeles, where she was selected to the prestigious and highly-selective NBC Page Program. 

It’s a whirlwind day each year for the student that takes over for Harris, who became USD’s fourth president in August 2015. Jacob’s duties include meetings with Director of Admissions Minh-Ha Hoang; Director of Planning, Design and Construction Zachary Randel; and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Noelle Norton, PhD. Also on the agenda is a lunch with administrators and a representative from the San Diego Rescue Mission and a tour of the Linda Vista Farmers Market. 

“It’s been busy,” said Jacobs with a wide smile, reflecting on the first half of her workday while sitting in the president’s office. “I always commended [Dr. Harris] and never knew how he did it. It is a lot of hard work, but it is also a lot of fun. I’ve gotten to meet so many people today and that’s what’s been super special.” 


Throughout her day, Jacob makes an enrollment decision, donates $1,000 on behalf of the university to the rescue and provides input on potential upgrades to the theater space to which she has dedicated so much of her time. 

Meanwhile, Harris assumes the role of student, occupying Jacob’s seat in COMM. 455: Interviewing and Negotiation, recording a spot at USDtv and completing her work duties … in the Office of the President. 

Harris started President for a Day at USD in 2016 to give interested undergraduate students the opportunity to serve in his role for a day. 

“Many years ago, it was suggested that I have a student follow me for a day, and I said, ‘why don’t we let them take over for a day’? I thought it was important for them to get a sense for what a president does. It’s worked out quite well and I think the students walk away having a better understanding of the different constituents that a president has to work with — it’s an opportunity for them to step into a leadership role early in life.”

Jacob met Harris during a sophomore welcome event. She recalls unabashedly walking up, shaking his hand and thanking him for his efforts navigating the university through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We both knew immediately that there was a connection,” she said. “I got his humor and he got mine and I knew this was going to be a friendship that would cultivate throughout my years in college.” 

Jacob was elated to see the selfie they took show up on Harris’ Instagram account later that evening. From then on, she continued to approach him until one day during her third year, he told her she should come work in his office.

And so she did, reaching out and establishing a student assistant position.

“He’s a mentor to me that I really value and cherish here at USD.”

Sitting in Harris’ desk chair, Jacob readily admits that becoming President for a Day has been a personal dream for more than two years. And as she throws herself passionately into each item on the day’s itinerary, it’s clear that she’s a natural, showing genuine interest for the people she meets, respect for the decisions she is tasked with making and even a willingness to give a few impromptu speeches. 

Two days after commencement, Jacob will pack and head to start her professional life in Hollywood. It’s a bittersweet time, as all change tends to be. Having the experience of serving as President for a Day has softened the blow and provided a memorable sendoff, said Jacob. 

“I truly do think that every person that works at this university is so special in their own way and all contributes to make this community so amazing and really make this the best university to go to in the country.”  

— Story and photos by Matthew Piechalak; video by Alé Delgado