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Leaving a legacy behind

By Katherine Casares | Pulse Staff Reporter

Leaving a Legacy Behind
Photo taken by Palo Alto Public Relations.

President Ana Margarita “Cha”Guzmán’s retirement on Aug. 31, 2012, gives the Palo Alto community an opportunity to reflect on what she has accomplished and the legacy she will leave behind.

Guzmán was the first woman president of Palo Alto College. She started her career at Palo Alto on Aug. 13, 2001, but she has been in educational administration and national educational programs for more than 30 years. Before that, she was a classroom teacher. Guzmán also served as a special adviser to the Secretary of Education during the Clinton Administration. She currently serves on the National Education Board, appointed by President Obama. Guzmán is a advocate of Latinos getting an education.

Leticia Neira, administrative assistant to Guzmán, manages the president’s busy schedule. She works closely with Guzmán and knows the inside and out of what she does at Palo Alto.

“She will be hard to replace. When she walks in a room, you know she walks in,” said Neira. “Everything about her is colorful; it shows through the renovations and new buildings on campus. That’s the way she is inside and out. She is a true extrovert.”

Sally Espinoza, administrative secretary, has worked with Guzmán for a year now.

“It’s been most pleasurable working with her. She’s very dedicated with students, staff and faculty,” said Espinoza. “Her handprint is all over in this campus through all the new programs, like Vet Tech, Performing Arts Building, and the rest of the new buildings, as well.”

Palo Alto Student Susan Flores, a Pre-Med major, is a member of the Student Government Association and has had the opportunity to communicate with Guzmán during meetings.

“Every time I see her, she talks to us and is always nice,” said Flores. “I am sad about her retiring. I wish she could be here next year.  That way, I could discuss with her some more ideas for the students and community."

During a scholarship ceremony on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Dr. Mike Flores, vice president of Student Affairs, spoke about Guzmán’s accomplishments.

“Everything that’s up is up and everything that’s down is down,” said Flores, who credits the college’s success because of Guzmán’s vision and dedication.

During the 11 years of Guzmán’s tenure, more students have graduated, more scholarships have been awarded, more students have transferred, more students have succeeded, and fewer students have left, he said.

Palo Alto Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Stacey Johnson has worked with Guzmán for all 11 years.

“I have so many fond memories of Dr. Guzmán,” said Johnson. “When she was first interviewing for the job as president, she and I locked eyes during her interview with the committee. I just knew she was going to be a very dynamic leader from the moment I met her. She had sparkle and vibrancy that captured your attention.”

Guzmán has supported and made a great impact in Johnson’s life.

“Dr. Guzmán pushed me to get my doctorate and supported me deeply in that process,” said Johnson. “She has championed many individuals at this campus to continue their education."

Guzmán has given her all to this institution and the college is in excellent shape.

“We are serving more students than ever before on a physical plant that is well positioned to serve our community in the years ahead. We will miss her deeply and are so grateful for all of her many contributions,” said Johnson.

Guzmán has accomplished many goals she set for Palo Alto, and these have given her the peace to retire.

“I like to build, develop and transform things,” said Guzmán. “I feel like institutions can only take so much change. I think I have brought change and higher standards to Palo Alto, so now I think it needs someone else’s touch. That way, I can give my touch somewhere else. I think I’m young enough to work some more years and find other challenges.”

“It would have been easy to stay here and be comfortable, because I love this place,” said Guzmán. “But I don’t ever do easy. I’m always pushing the envelope. You got to know when to go and I think this is a good time.”

Guzmán is proudest of four accomplishments during her presidential tenure. First, she wanted the college to purchase 35 acres of Zachary’s land located on Zarzamora Street, alongside Highway 410, which happened in November. Second, a bond program is set to fund Villaret Boulevard’s expansion with an island, lights and four lanes. Third, the annual scholarship fundraiser she started has brought in $1.3 million. Lastly, she oversaw the creation of the new buildings and renovations at Palo Alto, nearly doubling the campus’ footprint.

“This year I felt I could check things off my list,” said Guzmán. “I like to listen when the world speaks to me. When good things happened, I thought okay, maybe there’s another challenge.”

“I know this is the best job I’ve ever had,” said Guzmán. “It’ll be sad for me to leave, but I just think it was a good time. Those things got done, and now I can move on.”

Photo taken by Palo Alto Public Relations.