Misfit. That is the word that James Cameron Calkins, an employee of UCR’s dining services, uses to describe himself. He claims that what makes him stand out is his tendency to do the extraordinary. “I do things differently than most people,” he tells me in our conversation inside the HUB Wednesday. “For one, I enjoy work, I look forward to work, to the talking and the comradery, every single day.” According to Calkins, his job is a blessing, not a burden.
Calkins, who goes by Cam, recently received a large inheritance from his father who passed away at the age of 93 earlier this year, and to the surprise of many, donated $52,000 of that inheritance to the UCR Graduate School of Education (GSOE). With his donation, the James E. and James C. Calkins Scholarship was formed, which is an annual $2,000 award to a student in the Graduate School of Education. He chose to donate to the GSOE because he believed that it would make the biggest impact, not just with those who would received the scholarship, but with those the recipients would teach. He also plans to donate $10,000 to R’Pantry, so that they can provide students with fresh produce every week.
Cam was born in Riverside in 1961, but raised in the hills south of Hemet — hills that he regularly traversed on his Honda 50 motorcycle. “I knew those hills intimately,” he recalls, smiling. “My mom and dad left me alone, to go wherever I wanted to go, and I loved it.” After graduating high school, Cam attended community college in San Jacinto before transferring to UCR where he majored in physics. Calkins struggled with his grades at UCR, failing out of both a physics and physical science major, but loved the time he spent on campus. He opted to leave UCR, rather than getting expelled. After dropping out, Cam continued looking for work, taking up small jobs such as working at a gas station near UCR campus.
During this time, a friend of his who attended the UCR Extension Center, offered him an opportunity to teach English at a university in Indonesia. “I was just working at a gas station at the time, I wasn’t doing much of anything at the time, so I thought ‘Hell! Why not?’” he explains. “I only thought I would be there for a year or six months, but it ended up being five years.” During his time there, Calkins traveled extensively, using a ‘55 BMW as his transportation. Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand were just a few of the places he visited. Though, as much as Calkins loved his time in Indonesia, it was unfortunately cut short due to an expired work visa. After returning to the states, Calkins came back to UCR in January of 1999 to complete his degree. He would go on to graduate in 2004 with a degree in environmental science.
During his second pass at UCR, Cam worked several jobs, such as custodial work and picking oranges from UCR’s fields, but eventually settled in dining services, where he stayed on after completing his major. “I stood on because I love the atmosphere here,” he explains. “I love all the students and the student workers, they make me feel young again.”
Cam has advice for students attending UCR, calling college “the most rewarding experience in life.” He encourages students to take moments to put aside their studies and enjoy their short time here, as well as taking every opportunity they could to try something different.
Cam has traveled plenty, but you can currently find him serving customers at La Fiamma pasta, or sitting outside the HUB, where he likes to strike up conversations during his lunch break.