The Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently honored Cornelio “Corny” Rodriguez, Bakersfield College’s dean of instruction, as this year’s Businessman of the Year for his work within the community as a champion of small businesses and higher education. KCHCC President and CEO Jay Tamsi says Corny is “one of Kern County’s cream of the crop.”

“Corny is a strong advocate for higher education and we are proud to have a Latino as the dean of instruction at Bakersfield College,” Tamsi said. “He is a role model to many students, he’s a realist; people admire Corny and his contagious personality. Corny has never lost sight of where he came from and credits his parents and family for the man he is today. By honoring him with this award, I hope it inspires our business owners and our future leaders — anything is possible.”

Rodriguez began his career at Bakersfield College in 1991 as the director of the Chicano Cultural Center. Throughout the years, he has held a number of different positions on campus, including president of Academic Senate, director of the Delano Center, director of outreach, director of the Association of Cultural Centers for Student Success and professor of political science.

“Over the past 28 years, Corny has been a well-respected and flexible leader on campus who always brings a smile with his leadership and prioritization of our students,” said Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian. “Corny never fails to jump in where he’s needed. We are fortunate to have Corny as a part of our BC community. He inspires our students to see their greatest potential and recognize the contributions they can make for others.”

No matter what title followed his name, Rodriguez kept working toward one of his lifelong goals: to increase the number of graduates participating in college commencement ceremonies. In 1994, Rodriguez began the annual Chicano/Latino Pre-Commencement at Bakersfield College, which encourages students to join in a celebration that provides a cultural, bilingual and celebratory atmosphere for family and friends.

“I can relate to many of the students who attend BC today. In my neighborhood and family, no one had previously attended college so I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it,” said Rodriguez. “It was awfully intimidating and as a first-generation college student myself, I know the struggles of balancing finances, family commitments and higher education. I also know the lifelong benefits of achieving an education and want to help every student have that opportunity.”

Rodriguez plans to continue his work with Bakersfield College and the local community to remove barriers that might face students’ educational endeavors.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this award. It is somewhat difficult because I do what I do because I care and enjoy my work, not for the recognition,” he said. “But please know that I am honored to be recognized. I accept this award on behalf of my BC family. And I thank my family and friends for their support.”

Bakersfield College is a Hispanic-serving institution with over 64 percent Hispanic students. To be a recognized Hispanic-serving institution, Bakersfield College must meet specific criteria according to Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965. BC has been focused on improving student efficiency to completing a degree or certificate while also reducing the costs for students and tax payers.

For more information about Bakersfield College, visit www.bakersfieldcollege.edu and to find out about KCHCC, visit www.kchcc.org.

— Vaun Thygerson works as an adjunct faculty professor at Bakersfield College in the Department of Communication, teaching both interpersonal communication and public speaking courses.

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