Meet New Vice Presidents Dr. Mercedes Gutierrez and Dr. Wei Zhou
Cerritos College welcomed two new vice presidents recently. Dr. Wei Zhou joined us in May as Interim Dean of Academic Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, and now serves as Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs. Dr. Mercedes Gutierrez assumed her role as Vice President/Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources in June. We asked five questions to Dr. Gutierrez and Dr. Zhou to get to know them.
1. How have your first week/month been at Cerritos?
Dr. Gutierrez: "Wonderful! Mother nature attempted to divert my mission on my start date of June 22, 2022, sending showers and a thunderstorm to challenge my traveling path. As I was driving to work, I was advised of the power outage. Upon my arrival to the campus, I was greeted by the HR staff who were champions with making lemonade out of the lemon brought on by the rain. Rain in Southern California?!! We all had a great laugh over my first day starting out as my shortest working day on campus. I was here for roughly 30 minutes before we were all sent home with equipment and keys in tow. Now, I can say I walked into work with a “thunder”. Things have been great. Employees have all been very welcoming."
Dr. Zhou: "I appreciate the warm welcome that I have received across the campus. I am thrilled
to join such a great institution where we have first-class faculty supported by outstanding,
dedicated classified support staff and administrators to provide quality education
regardless of programmatic areas, locations and delivery modalities, and also where
we have hardworking and always ready-to-provide-help students and a community that
values and supports college education. I also very much enjoy the state-of-the-art
facilities, the diversity and the appreciation and celebration of diversity on campus."
2. Why did you choose a career in education?
Dr. Gutierrez: "I was raised in East Los Angeles to parents with very modest means. My father was the hardest working man I knew, and my mother stayed at home with my sister and I because of the lack of resources to afford a child care arrangement. The community in which I was raised lacked exposure and access to individuals with advanced education and professional backgrounds. However, my parents and teachers invested greatly in my development and growth, with my parents placing a great deal of faith and trust in my teachers to help guide me through the development of a sound educational foundation. Educators influenced my decision to become an educator and I viewed the profession as a vehicle for contributing to my community. In addition to my parents, my teachers, two in particular, had the greatest influence on me. Mr. Jimenez, who was my 7th grade teacher, was the first teacher to encourage me to go to college. And my high school Spanish teacher, Ms. Cabrera made learning fun. Both instructors greatly influenced my decision to pursue a career in education. At the age of 17, I cemented my decision to become a teacher and poured much time into researching colleges to guide my higher education pursuits. This year will be my 28th year in education. I did not realize until I began working as an educator, that other opportunities existed within the education field that would afford the ability to make an impact outside the classroom. And here I am today. It has been a great journey and I look forward to continuing my travel down this road for many more years."
Dr. Zhou: "I chose a career in education because of its impact on social and economic mobility in knowledge-based economy. I once wanted to be a doctor so that I can help support basic healthcare needs for the under-resourced population. But later I realized that a strong mind is a lot more powerful than a strong body in terms of fighting for economic mobility and fighting against social injustice. So, I became an educator."
3. What was the most and least rewarding moment in your career?
Dr. Gutierrez: "The most rewarding moment in my career occurred when I worked for LACOE in its Division of Juvenile Court Schools. I was an assistant principal at the time. My director at the time asked me to coordinate an academic competition for the incarcerated students wherein they would have the equivalent of the County Academic Decathlon. The event was known as the Academic Bowl. I worked with a team of administrators as co-chair of the event. The director challenged us with having the final competition at a public venue. It had never been done before. With the help of my colleagues and partners with the LA County Department of Probation, we were able to hold its first off campus competition at the Los Angeles County Library in Downtown Los Angeles. It required the cooperation of the Los Angeles Children’s Court due to safety and media concerns. We had to work extensively with library officials in order to ensure that the students did not pose a safety risk or had an opportunity to escape. The day we held the event, we had students who proved to themselves that they could overcome numerous challenges in order to make it to the final event. Their families were able to join them for a few hours. Due to all the planning involved with multi-agency support, there were no incidents. The event became the Division’s premiere event for over 10-years, even after I left to begin my work in human resources. I am hesitant to describe an event as a least rewarding moment because I am a firm believer in that the adversities we experience and like the least, are still necessary to help achieve our most rewarding moments. "
Dr. Zhou: "The most rewarding moment was when I saw the larger-than-before number of graduates from diverse backgrounds at the commencement. This means our collective efforts in increasing college access, improving student success and closing equity gaps have achieved intended outcomes. The least rewarding moment was when we tried to do the right things and achieved outcomes that we were proud of, but were not being recognized by the public or some elected officials who tried to force mandates to us."
4. What do you do for fun?
Dr. Gutierrez: "For fun, I enjoy various hobbies. I make my own cold press soap, candles, and other things. I also enjoy making floral arrangements, going to the movies, and reading various books. Most recently, I attended the Maná concert at the Los Angeles Forum and had a great time with the company of my loved ones."
Dr. Zhou: "Traveling with family, visiting friends, playing and watching sports, gardening, reading ... I can have fun with a lot of different things so that I am always able to find something to do for fun."
5. What are 3 things that make you happy?
Dr. Gutierrez: "1. Spending time with my husband and daughter.
2. Traveling whether it is a small road trip to get away for a few days or traveling to a destination with my family.
3. Being able to spend time with friends who have been a part of my life for many years."
Dr. Zhou: "1. Working at an institution committed to student and employee success, such as Cerritos
2. Living in a community where people value and support education and multiculturism.
3. When I see people around me are happy -- because happiness definitely permeates."