Julian Nava was a trailblazer. He was the first Mexican American voted to the Los Angeles Board of Education, the first Mexican American appointed ambassador to Mexico, among the first Mexican Americans to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University, and a founding faculty member at what is today Cal State Northridge.

Before reaching those heights, Nava first enrolled at East Los Angeles College.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nava served as combat air crewman in the Navy Air Corps before attending and graduating from East Los Angeles Community College. From there, he earned an undergraduate degree in history at Pomona College and a doctorate in Latin American history from Harvard University in 1955. He taught in Venezuela, Spain and Puerto Rico, and he founded Centro de Estudios Universitarios in Bogotá, Colombia.

In 1967, Nava won a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, becoming the first Hispanic to serve on the board. In 1980, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico by President Jimmy Carter.

“I saw my dad break a lot of barriers,” said his daughter, Carmen Nava, History Department chair at Cal State San Marcos.

Nava still lectures widely about multicultural education, and serves on the board of directors of Encuentros Leadership, which promotes education among young Latinos.