2009 Adams State College Outstanding Alumnus is Duran
With hundreds of Adams State College graduates entering their new life every year, the search for the Outstanding Alumnus becomes ever more competitive. This year recipient Dr. Richard Duran '71, '73, president of Oxnard College in California, will accept the award at the annual Homecoming Awards Banquet on October 2.
Duran said when he first learned the news, he thought, "who me, Adams State has thousands of graduates many who have done great things. I never thought of myself as outstanding alumni. It is quite an honor."
He is humble about his greatest contributions. He says he was "just doing my job."
"My proudest accomplishments are the degrees I received in higher education," Duran said. He was the first in his family go to college. Originally from Pueblo, he said many other Pueblo teens didn't even finish high school. "Receiving my doctorate was the highlight."
He received his Bachelor of Art degree in elementary education and his Master in Art in education at Adams State and went on to earn a doctorate in educational administration at the University of Northern Colorado.
Diverse experiences in college
Mike Garcia, who retired in 2008 as the Adams State TRiO director, nominated Duran . "Throughout Richard's educational and professional career he has been an exceptional representative of Adams State. His ability to make each individuals feel comfortable and at ease around him has enabled him to motivate and inspire many in the course of his career."
As a student, Duran was involved in several clubs including El Parnaso, Semillas de la Tierra Folklorico Dance Group, and was one of the first participants of the Adams State Teacher Corps Program.
This innovative teacher education program funded by the U.S. Department of Education gave qualified education juniors the opportunity to live in a San Luis Valley community, spend the mornings with a public school teacher mentor and attend classes on campus in the afternoon. Duran was sent to Antonito. "It combined traditional education with the practical approach. Living and working in the community was a unique experience, I will never forget those lessons."
Duran believes preservation of culture is very important and appreciated Adams State's role in supporting the clubs. "It was another opportunity to grow outside the classroom. Learning is as much outside as inside the classroom."
Herman Martinez, who initiated Semillas with his wife, Patsy, said Duran was brilliant. "He enjoyed music as a musician and as a dancer. He loved performing. He was very involved in helping us in the early years Semillas De La Tierra development." Duran performed as a member of the group at two National Folklorico Festivals in the '70s.
Although he was accepted into Harvard for graduate school, he chose Adams State because he "liked Adams State and the education received there." As a graduate student he worked with Teacher Corps as a mentor.
After completing his master's, Duran became the first director of the Upward Bound Program at Adams State, a position he held for three years. He and Martinez were both administering educational programs on campus at that time. "Dr. Duran is a dedicated arts administrator and an educational leader," Martinez said.
Garcia succeeded Duran as the Upward Bound director. "Richard has always been a leader who is willing to take risks and to be the first or innovator. He understands that strong leadership means including staff and students in the ownership and responsibility of being successful."
While an Adams State student, Duran's favorite professor was Lynn Weldon, emeritus professor of psychology. "He challenged his students and really made you think. I remember he would always give you his time. He treated students with respect."
"Dr. Duran liked intellectualizing," Martinez said. "He would host evening educational topic seminars on campus. His favorite topics centered on the teachings of the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freirre, and his "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" whose book he had personally autographed for him."
"Adams State provided me with a solid foundation in which to launch my career," Duran said. "I became a critical thinker and although didn't pursue a career in elementary education found the lessons learned in classroom settings has served me well as a leader of organizations."
Successful career in higher education administration
Duran became president of Oxnard College two years ago. "The best part of my job is influencing the direction of the institution." He shoulders the trust of the taxpayers with commitment and dedication. "I, and other leaders on campus, are entrusted with the responsibility to make sure the mission and vision of the institution are met. Our campus is geared towards academic success." He said community colleges have open access and strive to take students from where they are to where they want to be.
"Richard understood the impact the success of first generation college students would have on the future generations of the extended family," Garcia said. "He approached students as complete individuals including their families in process of entering and succeeding in a postsecondary education."
Duran previously served as president of Desert Vista Campus in Pima Community College District in Tucson, Ariz., after time spent as vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Development at the Pima Community College District. He secured a Title V grant for $2.5 million and a federal Talent Search grant for $1.9 million; partnering with United Way and Head Start to create a Center for Early Childhood Education Studies, garnering $2 million in new funds for campus-related capital improvements; and established a partnership with the Tucson Unified School District's Aztec Middle College, an on-campus charter high school for Native Americans.
Duran was the founding president for Tohono O'odham Community College in Sells, Ariz. He said he always had an affinity for Native Americans and wanted to contribute back to their culture. A small, comprehensive tribal community college serving the Tohono O'odham Nation, it covers 4,000 square miles in southern Arizona. "My skill sets helped build the college and I was honored to work with the tribal government in local higher education access and helping preserve their culture for future generations."
Duran, and his wife, Elizabeth, have three sons, one each from their previous marriages, and David, whom they adopted. They were foster parents for David when he was six months old, who was born with special needs. When David was a year old, he was returned to his birth family, who soon relinquished custody. "We knew we wanted him and adopted him."
Duran said he believes his most significant contributions have been helping students achieve their academic or professional goals. "I have raised millions in grants and funds for scholarships and foundations. I do not see this as extraordinary. It is part what I am supposed to do. When I see students cross the stage and graduate, and know I have helped, in whatever indirect way, that is worth all my effort."