CGU Alums Advise the President
Last year, President Barack Obama re-established the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The commission is comprised of 30 members, culled from diverse professional backgrounds—education, philanthropy, business, nonprofit, and high-tech sectors— and geographic locations. But two of the 30 have something important in common: both Sara Lundquist and Darline Robles are Claremont Graduate University alums.
Lundquist received her PhD in higher education from the School of Educational Studies in 2003. She currently works as vice president of student services at Santa Ana College (SAC), where she has been employed for over 33 years. In addition, she helps facilitate the Santa Ana Partnership, a K-12 higher education collaborative.
Robles graduated in 1977 with her master’s degree in education. She went on to serve as superintendent of the Salt Lake City and Montebello Unified School Districts, as well as the Los Angeles County Office of Education from 2002 to 2010. She is currently a professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California and involved with several educational nonprofits in the Los Angeles area.
The two bring this wealth of experience and advocacy to the president’s commission, which has been charged with providing advice to Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on improving education and educational opportunities for the country’s Hispanic population. No modest task.
Hispanics are both the largest and fastest growing minority in America—currently numbering more than 54 million—yet they have the lowest education-attainment levels of any group in the country. Though they only currently comprise 16 percent of the population, estimates show that between now and 2050, 60 percent of the United States’ population growth will be made up of Hispanics.
“If we are going to be competitive in this world, the public has to understand: if we don’t educate Latinos, our largest growing minority, we’re not going to be competitive globally,” said Robles.
Lundquist hopes the commission can create a credible plan to achieve Obama’s goal of America having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020; we are currently 12th. Like Robles, Lundquist sees Hispanics as vital to achieving this.
“It is absolutely numerically impossible to reach that goal without developing our talented Latino and Latina students,” she said. “My job is to help run one of California’s largest community colleges and increase access to higher education in one of America’s most Hispanic and Spanish-speaking cities. That experience is something I am migrating to the meta-goal of the president’s commission.”
Lundquist also brings her experience with the Santa Ana Partnership, a program that has already been successful in her region and can provide valuable models to be exported to other communities.
The Santa Ana Partnership works with a collective of educational institutions in Orange County that are collaborating to address the vulnerabilities of the increasingly Hispanic, English-learning student body in the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD). Just one recent example of the partnership’s work occurred in 2011, when the heads of the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; Lundquist’s Santa Ana College; and SAUSD signed an agreement guaranteeing admission to a baccalaureatedegree program at one of those universities for every SAUSD student who graduates from the Santa Ana Unified School District, enrolls at SAC, and meets transfer requirements.
“That was an extraordinary pipeline expander for students. Not everyone is going to take advantage of it, but it changes a person’s perspective of themselves when they get a letter from the heads of these institutions saying that they are saving a seat for you at their university,” Lundquist said.
Robles, who was named among the top 100 Influential Hispanic Americans by Hispanic Business Magazine and Woman of the Year by the LA County Commission of Women, represents K-12 education on the commission. She is most interested in seeing more work done by schools to engage Hispanic families—something she says is too often lacking in school districts.
“Even in California, there are places where there are low expectations because of color,” she said. “There is still the inability to engage the community and parents as true partners. Not just people who come in to sign documents.”
As with Lundquist, Robles hopes to use her own experience and other success stories to create guidelines that can be replicated by other school districts and communities. She is on the board of directors for two Los Angeles-based nonprofits, Alliance for a Better Community and Families in Schools, that advocate for, among other things, engaging families as partners in their children’s education.
But she is also eager to learn more from colleagues on the commission who come from areas with far smaller Hispanic populations: “Yes, there are things we can learn from California and replicate on a national level. And there are lessons to be learned as well from areas where Latinos only make up a small number of the student body. We can learn from everywhere.”
Since its creation in May 2011, the commission has convened via conference call every few months and is concurrently holding community action summits throughout the country. Action summits are events for local education stakeholders to meet and discuss the issues pertinent to their region. These action summits are an essential component of the commission’s success. Both Lundquist and Robles are adamant that, while the federal government has a role in education, it is the work done on the local level that will determine Hispanic student success.
“You can get charisma, evangelism, and power from the federal government, but solutions have to live and work on the ground, in school classrooms, in colleges, and at universities,” said Lundquist.
“Yes, the federal government can set goals, work with us, provide resources, but change is really going to come from the grass roots,” added Robles. “Early school programs, engaging parents, getting our students college-ready, all of that work has to be carried out on a community level.”
With commission meetings continuing this spring, the plan for all members is to focus their efforts on action nationally and in their own communities. While serving on the commission is an honor for Lundquist, that is what really drives her.
“Anyone who works in a community like mine gets to look into the eyes of the young men and women who defied the odds and overcame so many obstacles to get to college,” she said. “And when you are around that energy and the power of those young people, you feel yourself on the rising tide of the progress we are making. That’s what makes me so optimistic about the future.”