Educator Carmen Guerrero of Santa Paula, shown here with her son Marco Cadena, was recently honored with an El Concilio Leadership Award.

Carmen Guerrero honored with El Concilio Latino Leadership Award

April 20, 2011
Santa Paula News

It was sheer luck for thousands of students that Carmen Guerrero unknowingly was set on the path to becoming a teacher, and the Santa Paula resident was recently honored by El Concilio Family Services at its 22nd Annual Latino Leadership Awards held at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.

Guerrero, Oxnard Community College’s (OCC) Dean of Career and Technical Education Oxnard College and an educator for 40 years, was one of the nine recognized at the annual event, this year themed “Excellence in Education,” reflecting positive impacts to the Latino community in the field of education.

Guerrero - who has served in a variety of educational positions at all three Ventura County Community College District colleges - has also served as event planner and marketing specialist for the De Colores Art Show & Festival and Fandango, both held in Santa Paula.

She also served as president of the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce, and was honored by Santa Paula Latino Town Hall in 2006 for her contributions to cultural arts. When presented with the prestigious LTH award, Guerrero was described as having helped put Santa Paula on the state entertainment and cultural arts map.

An admired community activist, Guerrero, whose father worked in the orchards of Oxnard, also served on the Ventura County Star Editorial Advisory Board.

Guerrero became an educator “actually quite by accident,” when as a district secretary she received a call asking if she wanted to work at a bilingual educational center in Fillmore. When she asked if the caller wanted a secretary, he said, “ ‘No, I want you to teach....’ ‘Teach what?’ I asked. ‘To be a secretary,’ he told me. I was only 24 years old.... The funny thing is the first day in class I was so scared I stood in the doorway the whole day... and after I got over my fear I realized I was pretty good at it.”

Guerrero had an AA degree, but decided to go back to school even as she taught school. She eventually earned a Masters in organizational management.

While teaching marketing, Guerrero was approached by General Motors, which had a marketing internship program that matched students with dealerships. Guerrero and her students worked with an Oxnard dealership crafting an outreach program to encourage students to purchase GM products, an effort that garnered a tremendous amount of print and media exposure. Ultimately, Guerrero’s OCC students were awarded the General Motors 1995-1996 Scholastic Achievement Award, beating out major universities nationwide.

In the early 1990s, Guerrero joined Oxnard Community College counselor Margarita Corral - also a Santa Paula resident - in the Puente Program, a partnership between the University of California and community colleges to increase the number of Latinos who transferred universities. The program used a mentor model that combined partnering each student with a Latino professional in the community, and provided career/academic guidance with strong English composition skills.

Under the leadership of Corral, “Our program was exemplary and we were asked often to present at various conferences throughout the state.” As secretary of the Puente Mentor Council, Guerrero developed a program brand through the strong use of graphic arts and various Latino and indigenous educational symbols and imagery.

“Many of our students attended UCSB, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine; and others” earned graduate degrees at Columbia University and Harvard and are now teachers and counselors” throughout Ventura County. In spite of such innovative success stories, Guerrero said she was “really surprised at the El Concilio award... I do my job, and you don’t expect to be recognized for doing your job. I was flattered, as I consider El Concilio” to be the leading Latino advocacy group in the county. The mother of two and a grandmother, Guerrero said that overall being honored by El Concilio was “Truly humbling....”

But meant to be: At Camarillo High School Guerrero was president of the Medical Leaders of America. “I wanted to be a doctor until I had to dissect a fetal pig in physiology class.  After that I settled on a business career - no blood and guts in that field!”

Even then she had found her true calling, combining imagination with visual imagery to stimulate interest and enthusiasm: “I was a member of the Scorpion Drill Team and was instrumental in the decision to change our uniforms for the traditional majorette type to a sharp blue and black with black boots and a Spanish hat... a salute to our Adolfo Camarillo heritage.... My marketing skills,” Guerrero noted, “began to take shape here.”

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