Higher Ed in Silicon Valley

“Now is the time to build a firmer, stronger foundation for growth that will not only withstand future economic storms, but one that helps us thrive and compete in a global economy. It’s time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete

for the jobs of the future.”


 President Barack Obama


San Jose City College (www.SJCC.edu) is one of the oldest colleges in the State of California.  It was originally conceived as an extension of the San Jose Unified School District in 1921, and spun-off in 1958 as San Jose City College. The San Jose/Evergreen Community College District is also comprised of Evergreen Valley College. The Colleges, situated in the heart of Silicon Valley -- one of the most valued and innovative areas in the world – serve over 20,000 students per semester and thus, have a unique opportunity to develop the skilled workforce, that is crucial for this nation’s economic success in the 21st century.

In July of 2014, Mr. Jorge Escobar was confirmed by the District’s Board of Trustees to serve as the Vice President of Administrative Services at San Jose City College, joining Dr. Byron Clift Breland’s presidential cabinet.   “I am delighted to have Jorge on board.  Jorge brings a unique set of skills and experience, professional charisma, passion for educating historically under represented populations in the U.S. higher education system, and he has key community relations in the Silicon Valley.  All of it will help us take our beloved College to a new frontier in the 21st century.   Influencing higher education takes community involvement and a coordinated approach with multiple stakeholders; I am confident that Jorge will help the leadership team build new initiatives and partnerships with corporations, businesses and local foundations, to make San Jose City College a premier provider of education and job training in the Silicon Valley as well as the surrounding County of Santa Clara,” said Dr. Clift Breland.

San Jose City College is a Hispanic Serving Institution (with 30% of its extremely diverse student population having a background of Latino decent).  The College, located in an urban setting, continues to be transformed with the development of new infrastructure supported by the tax base of the local community. This community support has provided the necessary funding for San Jose City College to become one of the most modernized campuses in the system.  Additionally, the academic plans at San Jose City College include a focus on streamlining student transfer, expanding apprenticeship and job training programs, and accelerating degree and certificate completion.  Currently, the San Jose Evergreen Community College District, under the leadership of Chancellor Rita Cepeda, is engaged in plans to expand the District’s service area by building an Education Center in the city of Milpitas. The facility will serve the needs of post-secondary students and allow high school students to access college level courses while completing their high school curriculum. As a unique blend of secondary and post secondary education, this accelerated learning program includes work force development courses that will benefit students and the greater community.

As Vice President for Administrative Services, Jorge is the College’s chief financial officer, leads and oversees the work in areas of bond and facility management, technology, business services, and serves as the campus safety officer.  He collaborates with the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Duncan Graham and the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Elaine Burns. The college also has a direct relationship with several central District office functions such as Fiscal Services and Human Resources.

Escobar moved his family to San Jose, California in January 2012 to join The National Hispanic University as Vice President of Campus Operations.  Prior, Escobar worked for the financial services conglomerate Merrill Lynch now owned by Bank of America, as well as for Princeton University in New Jersey.

“I feel blessed and grateful for yet another opportunity to serve the community with my on-going commitment to influence social change and social justice.  As a Latino, I continue to bring my bi-cultural experiences and my bilingualism as additional assets in my toolkit,” commented Escobar.

Born and raised in Quito, Ecuador, Escobar also sees great opportunity in making connections with Latin America and trade partners such as Mexico.   Just last week, Mr. Carlos Ponce Martinez, General Consul of Mexico in San Jose, met with California’s Governor, Edmund G. Brown Jr. during a trade mission to Mexico.  Also, in May 2013, the Presidents of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, and the United States, Barack Obama, announced the formation of the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII).  The mission of the Bilateral Forum is to foster the mutual understanding between both countries through programs addressing student mobility, academic exchange, research and innovation in areas of shared interest and to contribute to the competitiveness and economic development of the region.

“I believe San Jose City College is in the perfect location and timing could not be better.  Less than a century ago, the Junior College Act was passed in 1917 promoting trade studies in areas such as mechanical and industrial arts, household economy, agriculture, and commerce;  This is what SJCC is doing now.  As a response to the call made to community colleges by President Obama, we are training a new workforce in the heart of Silicon Valley.  I believe the time is now to be bold and innovative in order to realign education from Kindergarten all the way to employment,” said Escobar.

Making a Difference in North Carolina

In February of 1999, six North Carolinians came together and recognized the need to serve the new and growing population of Hispanic students through education.  These six individuals were a part of a small but emerging community of Hispanic professionals in North Carolina, a community that they knew would only grow if they took action.  Marco and Susan Zárate, professional engineer and high school teacher, respectively, Fernando and Maria Elena Rodriguez, scientist and Kindergarten teacher, respectively, and Roberto and Gladys Santiago, IT administrator and Pre-K teacher, respectively, founded the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals (NCSHP), a statewide 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, with the intention to bring together Hispanic professionals that could aid the success of Hispanic youth of North Carolina - with the sole mission of “promoting education among Hispanic youth”.

When NCSHP was founded in 1999, five out of every ten Hispanic students were dropping out of high school.  Students were faced with barriers such as language, parental involvement, and lack of cultural sensitivity in the school systems, while the growing Hispanic community possessed a lack of overall awareness of the importance of education as a dire tool to thrive in the United States.  NCSHP looked closely at these barriers and developed educational initiatives and programs to address them.

In the last 15 years NCSHP has served over 11,000 Hispanic/Latino students from more than 50 school systems in North Carolina by offering annual educational summits, seminars, mentors, tutors, motivational presentations, and scholarships; awarded nearly $250,000 in college scholarships to 170  deserving and promising Latino students; provided an annual forum for more than 2,400 teachers and school administrators from school systems across North Carolina to discuss methods and practices to help Hispanic students overcome barriers to academic success; promoted Tu Vida, Tu Futuro, Tu Destino… Es Ahora… Educate! (Your Life, Your Future, Your Destiny ... is Now... Stay in School) Awareness Campaign in every county of North Carolina since 2002 and has reached more than 175,000 Hispanic youth and their parents; Launched the first “Stay in School” video contest among middle and high school Hispanic students; implemented ¡Gradúate!, a dropout prevention after-school program for Hispanic students and parents in two North Carolina counties; implemented “Good Stewards of the Environment,” an extracurricular science program designed to pique the interest of Hispanic students in order for them to pursue science as a career; provided educational advocacy and represented interests of Hispanic students in key organizations, task forces, and advisory committees at the county and state level; delivered more than 25,000 volunteer hours by members, volunteers, and friends of the Society valued at more than $450,000  for the benefit  of Hispanic students in North Carolina; and established a professional Chapter in the TRIAD area (Greensboro, NC) to expand the reach of the organization’s mission.

Recent data show great improvement in the dropout rate for Hispanic students since 1999.  For the academic year of 2012-2013, approximately 3 out of 10 Hispanic students in North Carolina were dropping out of high school – a remarkable decrease compared to 1999 – while the graduation rate in 2013 was at 75.3 percent.  Census data show that North Carolina has the 11th largest Latino population in the nation that grew by 111 percent with a median age of 25.  These statistics tell us that NCSHP was proactive to recognize the growing population some 15 years ago, and that the focus on education was the right focus, as we now see more Hispanic students graduating high school and enrolling in college in North Carolina.

While the data reflect improvements in the academic success of Hispanic students, NCSHP still continues to pioneer for improvement and positive change.  In an effort to analyze the data and discuss what’s next for this young and growing population in North Carolina, NCSHP recently held the first-ever public forum on “The State of Latino Education in North Carolina - Successes and Challenges”.  Recent statistics reflecting growth and economic impact Hispanics have had were presented and education leaders of North Carolina’s K-12 public education and higher education systems participated in a panel discussion on this topic.  These leaders not only came together, in a public setting, to acknowledge the growth and impact this population will have on the state and what an important role education plays in the economic impact they have, but also recognized the barriers that still exist for the Hispanic student population in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals will continue playing a leading role as a non-profit organization regarding Latino education in North Carolina and continue to advocate for and assist the Hispanic students that are an integral part of the state and the Nation’s future economy.  It will keep the conversation going among education leaders to address the barriers Hispanic students face and it will continue promoting education and working alongside the school systems and educational institutions to ensure the academic success of these students.  For more information about NCSHP visit www.thencshp.org.

Brienne Pasick is the Director of NCSHP.