This weekend marks the end of Hispanic Heritage Month – an annual celebration that pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have and continue to make a difference in our community and our nation. Hispanic Americans are one of the fastest growing parts of our community.
West Michigan is lucky to have a diverse group of Hispanic leaders across many industries. We reached out to two of those leaders to learn more about how their universities are reflecting and honoring Hispanic Heritage Month and how they’re making an impact in our community.
Dr. Alicia Córdoba, President of Aquinas College
Aquinas College is proud to celebrate Latino and Hispanic Heritage Month with the Grand Rapids community and our students of Latino and Hispanic descent. “Community” is an essential component of Aquinas College, and the institution strives to follow the footsteps of its founding Dominican Sisters in ensuring that members of the Latino and Hispanic community feel a sense of belonging at our campus.
This month the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity alongside the Latinx Student Association, will be hosting our annual LatinFest. This event celebrates the diversity of Latino and Hispanic cultures and welcomes students and their families onto our campus for an evening of food, music, and community. We’re proud of the collaborative efforts that our departments and students make to bring this celebration to our campus each year.”
Dr. Juan R. Olivarez, Interim President, Grand Rapids Community College
Dr. Juan R. Olivarez has been a leader in West Michigan education for decades, serving at the K-12 and collegiate levels, guiding Grand Rapids Community College and Aquinas College.
Olivarez became the first Hispanic president of a Michigan college or university when he was tapped to lead GRCC in 1999. The son of migrant laborers, he has degrees from Aquinas College, Wayne State University and Michigan State University.
After working in Grand Rapids Public Schools for more than 20 years, Olivarez became GRCC’s dean of Institutional Research in 1991. He was named the college’s eighth president and is known for his efforts to develop community partnerships and boost minority enrollment so all West Michigan students have the best opportunities for a strong education.
“We are a better college today because of Dr. Olivarez’s leadership,” former GRCC President Bill Pink said when Olivarez was named president emeritus in 2018. “I continue to see his influence on how we work with the people we serve, and with each other. He brought people together and made sure that we are truly the community’s college. That’s a legacy that he can be proud of, and that we can celebrate with this honor.”
After retiring from GRCC in 2008, Olivarez became president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, guiding the organization through an economic downturn by developing staff and creating programs with a focus on sustainability. He became Aquinas’ seventh president in 2011, working to increase academic and athletic opportunities for students.
He retired from Aquinas in 2017, then served as the distinguished scholar in residence for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Grand Valley State University’s Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy from July 2018 through June 2021. He was named GRCC’s interim president in 2022, serving until the college has a new leader.
“Dr. Olivarez knows this college because he helped shape it to become the success it is today,” said David Koetje, chairperson of the GRCC board of trustees. “He has long been respected for his leadership here at GRCC and in our greater community. There are challenging times ahead of us, and GRCC’s mission remains vital. Dr. Olivarez is remembered for bringing people together and expanding opportunities for students so more people could take advantage of a quality education. His experience and vision will ensure this college continues moving forward at full speed while we select our next president.”
Learn more about our diverse West Michigan community at some of these upcoming events:
Latina Connect is a new program that meets our Latina business professionals and community members where they are. Presented in Spanish, this program works to support Latinas in making new connections and growing as leaders. Join us on Saturday, November 5 for a powerful morning focusing on the skillsets needed to get there to “yes” in the steps of negotiation, while also taking a step back and spending time reflecting on who we aspire to be to develop those skillsets.
The Chamber Inclusion Institute is a 21st century workshop learning experience based on the Institute for Healing Racism. It is designed to give participants tools to enhance their capacity to engage in conversation about racial equity, race, racism, and through an intersectional lens. Register for this two-day workshop on October 24 and 25.
The Grand Rapids Chamber’s annual Diversity & Talent Summit explores the latest DEI trends and builds upon foundational knowledge to enhance business success in an increasingly diverse and global community. Join us Tuesday, November 15.