Local Hispanic/Latino College Presidents share their journey

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – A symbol of progress and inspiration in West Michigan. It is believed that for the first time in Grand Rapids, all of our local college presidents will be Hispanic or Latino.

Alicia Còrdoba is the President of Aquinas College. Her training is as a classical musician at major symphony level. But life threw her a curveball. Although she loved every second as a musician, she needed something different. A native of Chicago, he went into higher education and began teaching. She was a department head and administrator and then fell in love with Catholic education.

“To me it’s the only place we can help young minds and people to find what they’re meant to be, their best self, so they can be successful, just find a job and a calling, but personally really one live great life. spiritually and in community,” Còrdoba said.

She worked at a college in San Antonio, Texas for the last four years and then moved here to West Michigan to be closer to her family. Accepting an opportunity to be President of Aquinas College. Her inauguration was in October.

“Actually incredible, especially coming from San Antonio where that was one of the reasons I was down there to help celebrate the Hispanic community, the Latin X students really helped bring them to the fore step, and then to be one of those people who have come to the fore,” Còrdoba explained.

President Còrdoba is the ninth President here at Aquinas College. She is the second Hispanic president and the first female president. She hopes to help this gem of an institution thrive and help students get their education without going into deep debt.

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Gerson Moreno-Riaño is President of Cornerstone University. On October 27th he celebrated his 42nd anniversary in the USA
When he was nine, his family immigrated to the United States from Colombia in South America.

“It’s been an incredible journey, we have the real immigrant story, we came with no English, no resources, no family, no friends,” Moreno-Riaño said. He is grateful for this country because it has given him many opportunities. You taught him that education is essential. He was the first in his family to get a PhD. An emotional but rewarding milestone.

“I’ll never forget running and crying during graduation because I realized my parents never had the opportunity,” Moreno-Riaño said. This accomplishment made him feel like pointing the way for future generations in his family.

That’s how he fell in love with education and served as faculty chair, dean, executive vice president and now president of Cornerstone University for more than 20 years.

He never intended to become president of a university.

“When I was nine years old, it probably took me a decade to figure out what this country is about and all the traditions and things, but I don’t think I could have done it anywhere else than here,” Moreno- Riano. He says it’s because of the opportunities he’s been offered and the people who have helped him. That’s why West Michigan holds a special place in his heart.

“I’ve used my Spanish more than I’ve ever done anywhere in the United States, and I’ve preached in Spanish, taught in Spanish, and spoken in Spanish,” Moreno-Riaño said.

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He adds that it’s nice to see a very strong Hispanic community here and that being one of the few Hispanic college presidents in the area symbolizes progress; Demonstration of the changing landscape of the state and western Michigan.

Juan Olivarez is the interim president of Grand Rapids Community College.

“It’s an honor and a privilege and great to represent our people, and I say that because I think students need to see themselves in leadership positions,” Olivarez said.

He is originally from south Texas but moved to Indiana with his parents when he was seven years old. His entire career has been training here in Grand Rapids. From primary school teacher to administrator and even school psychologist, 51 years in total.

“I keep telling young people, you know, you just never know where your career is going to take you and you try to take advantage of any opportunities that might come your way,” Olivarez said.

He has served as interim president of Grand Rapids Community College since June. Before that, however, he served as president from 1998 to 2008 after resigning his position as president of Ferris State University.

He says that since he first served as President of the GRCC, he could see the excitement of young students who could actually see themselves as leaders somewhere.

Well, three leaders at three different colleges with a message for future leaders:

“If you really try hard and ask people to help you and really only do what you’re supposed to do, just keep moving as you see fit.” – Alicia Còrdoba/President of Aquinas College

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“My father has a saying he taught me when I was younger, he said, always go forward, never back down; Always try to improve yourself, always realize that you have so many resources at your disposal, but the greatest is your own courage, your own strength, your own perseverance; When you have these things, no one can bring you down.” – Gerson Moreno-Riaño/ President of Cornerstone University

“I always say to young people: education, education, education, nobody can take this from you and it will open many, many doors for you.” – Juan Olivarez/Interim President of Grand Rapids Community College

All three presidents cite hard work and education as reasons for their success. Interim President Juan Olivarez’s term ends in January.

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