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Gaddi Vasquez - Former Peace Corps Director, U.S. Ambassador - Santa Ana College

Gaddi Vasquez was so eager to get his college education started that he took community college core courses while still a high school senior and graduated early so he could enroll for the spring semester at Santa Ana College.

For Vasquez, a college education was a way out of crippling poverty.

The son of migrant farm workers, Vasquez was the first in his family to get a college education, first at Santa Ana College and then a bachelor’s degree in public service management from the University of Redlands. Since graduating, Vasquez has had a varied career. He became a policeman but then got involved in politics, first as Governor George Deukmejian's Hispanic liasion and then deputy appointments secretary. He then became chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

But his two highest profile jobs came as he was nominated by President George W. Bush as Peace Corps director and later as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy. Both times he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Vasquez has traveled to more than 60 countries, but he credits his start at Santa Ana College for setting the stage for his life's great accomplishments.

“My Santa Ana College experience was fulfilling and insightful,” said Vasquez, who currently works as vice president of public affairs for Southern California Edison, one of the nation’s largest public utilities companies. “Back then, the classes were smaller and the interaction with professors was frequent, and their good council had a great impact on me.”

Vasquez said he witnessed how valuable community colleges are to educating the workforce, so much so that when he became Peace Corps director in 2002 one of his major initiatives was to team with the American Association of Community Colleges to increase the number of community college students in the Peace Corps. Much of the workforce training taking place at community colleges was exactly the type of skills and experience needed to help third-world countries. By 2004, the Peace Corps had more people working (nearly 8,000) in more countries (71) than at any time in the past 30 years.

Vasquez liked the initiative so much that one of the community colleges he stopped at to announce the partnership between the Peace Corps and the American Association of Community Colleges was Santa Ana College.

“Santa Ana College was defining in so many ways,” Vasquez said. “It gave me a strong foundation for life-long learning and I am grateful for the education I received there.”

Vasquez has not only experienced the power of education, he's seen its power around the world. He’s seen children in Africa sit for hours in the dirt under a brutal sun determined to get an education and perhaps a way out of crushing poverty. He's seen Afghani children travel long distances to learn. Much like when he was a child growing up in poverty in a little trailer outside of Watsonville, those children knew an education was their best hope to rise up and end the cycle of poverty.

In 2006, Vasquez  was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food & Agriculture, a job not unlike his Peace Corps posting. He served for three years until the Obama administration came into power. In 2009, Vasquez was director of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and later that year was named by Southern California Edison as vice president of public affairs.

Once again, Vasquez’s experience and familiarity with the California Community Colleges paid dividends as one of the major initiatives of the power-producing behemoth has been to recruit certificate holders and community college graduates.

"We have been proud of the partnerships we have with the community colleges in our service area,” Vasquez said. "We are constantly looking to recruit and retain top talent and we often find that at the community colleges. That’s where you get life-long learning experiences that reach beyond specific coursework. (Community colleges) teach you discipline, to use your curiosity and to foster a love of learning.”

 

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