Three Latinos leading higher education in the Valley

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno Pacific University President Pete Menjares says it's the talk of the town.

Menjares explained, "It's caught the attention of a lot of people and I think it's just a matter of time before the rest of the country hears about this and begin to look at what's happening here in Fresno."

For the first time in the city's history, three Hispanic presidents will lead some of the Valley's top institutions for higher learning.

"It's going to inspire hope, spark new dreams and aspirations in minds and hearts of young people," said Menjares. "When they see themselves in their leaders they receive the message that they're welcomed here, that they belong here, that institution is theirs."

When Dr. Joseph Castro takes over at Fresno State this summer, he'll join Menjares, another first-generation college graduate who was appointed president last year at FPU. And there's also Tony Cantu, a fellow Valley native who was named president of Fresno City College in 2012. And with Latinos making up more than half of the student population in California, Hispanic leaders hope the new Latino leadership will inspire more area youth.

"It's definitely a source of pride to people in the Valley," said John Hernandez. "I think that will come on out."

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson insists it will have the biggest impact on students who never thought college was an option.

Hanson explained, "They actually know what it's like, they know the challenges, they know the pay off and benefit, what it does for an entire family when they pursue an education."

"And to have leaders in those positions who have that background are absolutely essential."

A new California - he says - but a reflection of the community these colleges serve.

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