March 29, 2021

Contact: Paul Feist
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — One is a former foster student who has played an instrumental role in implementing Guided Pathways at Santa Barbara City College, founded the Filipino Cultural Club and served as a student ambassador for international students and peer mentor for EOPS. Another is the student government president at Lake Tahoe Community College who has been growing student engagement and advocating for equitable educational outcomes. A third is a Moorpark College student leader who has lobbied state legislators in support of issues involving equity, basic needs and COVID-19 relief.

Meet Ezekiel Contreras Forrest, Mariela Jimenez Cardenas and Gerald Richardson III, who have earned the California Community Colleges Board of Governors inaugural Student Leadership Award.

“The Board of Governors established the Student Leadership Award in 2020 to celebrate  visionaries enrolled in the California Community Colleges who are demonstrating the highest level of commitment to student leadership and helping to realize the goals and objectives laid out in the Vision for Success,” said Board of Governors President Pamela Haynes. “We are honored to celebrate Ezekiel Contreras Forrest, Mariela Jimenez Cardenas and Gerald Richardson for their dedication and achievements.”

Recipients were recognized at the March 26-28 Student Senate for California Community Colleges Spring General Assembly, where they received a $1,250 check and a commemorative certificate.

Their accomplishments are many:

Forrest is the embodiment of what the Vision for Success represents. A former foster youth, Forrest has a 4.0 GPA and is completing his final semester Santa Barbara City College with a triple major. As a member of Associated Student Government, Forrest has worked with the vice president of the Board of Governors, the Chancellor's Office and college administration to find equitable solutions in distributing the Student Success Completion Grant and has played a vital role in aiding Guided Pathways faculty and staff to update college policies and procedures related to the onboarding process of new students, with a focus on marginalized students.

Cardenas is the President of the Lake Tahoe Community College Student Senate and has participated in efforts specifically called out in the Vision for Success, such as the Lake Tahoe Promise, Guided Pathways and the campus equity program while working to ensure that students have more access to essential resources such as food, housing and mental health care. She also mentors students at South Lake Tahoe High School as they transition to college and she is working to recruit the next generation of student leaders who can continue to affect change.

Richardson serves on a California Community Colleges Diversity, Equity and Inclusion subcommittee and is the legislative affairs director for the Student Senate for the California Community Colleges, Region VI. He also has been working in the community to raise awareness about equity for Black students through education about entrepreneurship, college readiness and mentoring as a spokesperson for Brilliant Minds Youth Foundation. In addition, Richardson founded Youthfully Evolved Society, which assists vulnerable populations. His efforts testify to the collaboration and partnership encouraged in the Vision for Success.

The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation, composed of 73 districts and 116 colleges serving 2.1 million students per year. California community colleges provide career education and workforce training; guaranteed transfer to four-year universities; degree and certificate pathways; and basic skills education in English and math. As the state’s engine for social and economic mobility, the California Community Colleges supports the Vision for Success, a strategic plan designed to improve student success outcomes, increase transfer rates and eliminate achievement gaps. For more information, please visit the California Community Colleges website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.