A Marine Corps veteran and a recent high school graduate were officially seated Tuesday as the two new student trustees on the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Governing Board.
The student trustees, who are elected by their peers as non-voting board members, are Grossmont College student Rafael Navarrete, 29, and Cuyamaca College student Evan Esparza, 18.
Navarrete and Esparza took their oaths of office for the one-year term at Tuesday night’s board meeting at Grossmont College. They join the board at a time of rebuilding as the colleges continue to add classes, staffing and other resources lost to the budget ax in recent years.
“The role of student trustees to be the student voice on the board is very important,” Governing Board President Bill Garrett said. “The Governing Board values the input that the student representatives provide as we consider new policies and initiatives to guide the direction of the college district.”
A start in politics
Navarrete, who began attending Grossmont College three months after he was honorably discharged from the Marines, was eager to be a student leader as soon as he arrived in fall 2013. He immediately became active in student government, joining the Associated Students of Grossmont College. By the following spring, the political science major was elected student body president.
Navarrete came to Grossmont College after serving in the Corps for eight years, reaching the rank of sergeant. He had joined the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) as a high school student and enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after graduating from Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach.
He was handpicked to serve as a member of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-member team that performs in parades and exhibitions across the country. The platoon, which wows audiences with its precise rifle drill that involves tossing and twirling the weapon in perfect unison without any vocal prompts, has become an effective recruiting tool. Navarrete’s two years with the Silent Drill Platoon was followed by an assignment to the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines based at Camp Pendleton, the last infantry battalion of Marines to leave Iraq in February 2009.
Soon after Navarrete started at Grossmont College, he became involved with the Student Veteran Organization. Now in his final year at Grossmont College, Navarrete plans to continue serving as a voice for fellow veterans, as well as taking on the new challenge as student trustee.
“I found serving as ASGC president to be very rewarding and I decided to seek this new post as student trustee because I was interested in serving the student population at a different level,” he said.
Navarrete said he wants to increase student awareness of Governing Board actions and the issues addressed by trustees. “Students don’t generally know what happens at the board level and I would like to try to make that information more accessible and relevant to them,” he said.
He plans to transfer to a university and envisions getting a job in local government and someday holding elected office.
An exciting new challenge
A freshman at Cuyamaca College, Evan Esparza is among the youngest to have been elected as student trustee, a fact he regards with a shrug.
“I like to be challenged – I don’t like things to be simple,” said the Jamul resident, who graduated from Steele Canyon High School in 2014. He is a good friend of 2014-15 Cuyamaca College student trustee Jocelyn Estrada, and it was at her urging that Esparza decided to run for the post.
Accessible classes and affordable textbooks are two issues students are most concerned about, Esparza said, so he plans to monitor those issues closely.
“One thing I want to actively pursue is to engage students more in what’s going on with the college and district,” he said. “It would be great if more students got involved with student government.”
Esparza’s brother graduated from Cuyamaca College and his sister is a nursing major at Grossmont College, so Cuyamaca College was a natural pick for him. The political science major has his eyes set on a legal career, practicing international or civil law. Like his Grossmont College counterpart, he is interested in getting involved in politics.
The political arena, he points out, is where the decisions are made that most impact people’s lives.
Living with his family in the mountains on six acres of land, Esparza considers himself a conservationist and said his interest in politics was piqued by local government actions affecting the county’s rural regions. The family home was evacuated during the Harris Fire of 2007 and the current drought conditions are worrisome, but Esparza loves the tranquility of the backcountry.
His father, who operates an automotive repair business, moved the family from their earlier home in the San Diego neighborhood of Encanto when Esparza was in grade school because of his concern over inner-city influences on his children.
Whether the future delivers on the two student trustees’ political aspirations, they both are excited about their introduction to local government in action.