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Mesa presidents panel: A blast from the past

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Frankie Mann
Dr. Ashanti Hands with Dr. Rita Cepeda (left) and Elizabeth Armstrong (right)

Faculty and students took a walk down memory lane at the Mesa College Presidents Panel, in which four of Mesa’s previous presidents sat for a roundtable discussion with current school president Dr. Ashanti Hands. 

The event was a part of Mesa’s 60th anniversary celebration, which featured several similar events and gatherings throughout the week of April 15. Featured at the panel were Dr. Constance Carroll, Dr. Rita Cepeda, Elizabeth Armstrong, and Dr. Pamela Luster. The team of inspirational women were happy to share the highs, lows, and unforgettable experiences of being presidents of Mesa for any length of time. The event was split into two parts: an hour for the panel discussion (which ended up going a half-hour overtime), and an hour for a reception with food and drinks provided. 

President Hands fielded open-ended questions to each of the women throughout the duration of the event.

Dr. Constance Carroll was president of Mesa from 1993 to 2004, served as chancellor from 2004 to 2021, and was later appointed by President Biden to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. All of the former presidents stated at some point that Dr. Carroll was one of their biggest inspirations, just as Dr. Carroll cited each of them as her inspirations. Carroll stated that she came to Mesa admiring its diversity, and wished for her legacy to be within the many new staff members she hired and the best journey possible for future students. 

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Dr. Rita Cepeda was Mesa president from 2005 to 2010. She has received several accolades, such as being voted one of the 25 most influential people in Orange County and receiving the 25th Assembly District’s “Latina Heritage Award.” Cepeda was heavily motivated by Dr. Carroll, who first appointed her to the position. She stated that a major learning opportunity for her came during the wildfire scare of 2008, in which the entire school and its valuables had to be evacuated under her direction. Cepeda stated it was then that she became truly aware of how a large community like Mesa needs an equally large amount of people to keep it running smoothly. Her experience with the Border Angels (a group that travels to the Mexican border to observe and record daily happenings) was also a point of learning for her, and she wished that she could have shared more of the harsh realities of the border crisis with her students, who could have organized to make positive change.

From left to right: Dr. Constance Carroll, Dr. Rita Cepeda, Dr. Ashanti Hands, Elizabeth Armstrong, Dr. Pamela Luster. (Frankie Mann)

Elizabeth Armstrong was Mesa’s interim president from 2010 to 2011, during the search for Dr. Cepeda’s permanent replacement. During her short time in the position, she is most proud of Mesa receiving its official accreditation, along with her work to develop Mesa’s Fast Track program for graduating high school students looking to take advanced college classes.

Dr. Pamela Luster was Mesa’s most recent president, having been president from 2011-2022. She looked back fondly on her enrichment within her “Mesa familia,” including her experience of wearing a hijab for a day with fellow Muslim students during Ramadan. When asked about one thing she would do differently, Luster said that she would have been more proactive within the construction of the Mesa language center. On this point, she advised audience members to “always deliver your own messages!”

President Hands took detailed notes on each woman’s stories and advice, stating that “it is not just the things left for people, it is the things left in people.” The joy and gratitude from President Hands was palpable throughout the room, as made evident by Hands’ many words of thanks for the women sharing their wisdom and experience from their years of serving the community.

Each of these remarkably accomplished women had accolades and admiration to share with one another, along with faculty and students. Their service to the Mesa community will always remain valuable for the institutions put in place. As the event drew to a close, Hands said that she planned to closely study the notes she took during the event in order to “be able to speak from where you are sitting, another 11 years from now.”

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About the Contributor
Frankie Mann
Frankie Mann, News/Opinions Editor
Frankie Mann, is the News and Opinions Editor of The Mesa Press. She is a second year student at Mesa, and plans on transferring to SDSU at the end of the 2023-2024 year under a journalism major. While not in class, she is most likely at work as a barista at S3 Coffee Bar (the one struggling behind the bar to make some decent latte art). In her free time, she enjoys ballet, surfing, skateboarding, and spending time in nature and with friends. Frankie hopes to use her journalistic skills to further peaceful relations amongst the people of the world, and bring about positive change and social justice for all.
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