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GCC Board Candidates State Their Case

The Glendale Community College board of trustees, which follows a by-area election system, has two seats to fill — one in Trustee Area 1 and one in Trustee Area 5 — in the March 5 Glendale Municipal Election.
Area 1 makes up North Glendale and dips into the Verdugo Woodlands, while Area 5 is south of the 134 freeway, covering the City Center, Citrus Grove and the Vineyard-Moorpark area.
Running for Area 1 are Harry Leon and Desirée Portillo Rabinov, who is the current board vice president. The candidates for Area 5 are Sevan Benlian, who is the current board president, and Armine Pogosyan.
The News-Press asked each candidate questions regarding their goals for the GCC board. Pogosyan did not respond for comment. Answers from the three candidates who responded can be found below.

Q: Why do you want to serve on the GCC board of trustees?

Benlian: Serving on the GCC board of trustees is not just a role for me; it’s a deep-rooted commitment to the community I’ve proudly called home for over 25 years. As the current president of the board, my journey has been intertwined with the college’s challenging era during COVID-19. Through collaboration and innovative measures, I’ve ensured uninterrupted enrollment, particularly focusing on student support services like the food pantry and housing assistance. My primary objective as a trustee is to foster success stories among students, akin to my own educational journey that started at Glendale Community College. I consider my time at Glendale Community College the catalyst that propelled me toward pursuing higher education. I am dedicated to maintaining GCC’s excellence, affordability and accessibility.

Leon: I have served the youth in the community for many years and have seen that some feel they must pursue a four-year degree, even if that is not what is in their hearts. Several students I have spoken with and mentored have wanted to go on to a trade. I feel these students need to have a voice. We can’t paint all with one brush. I want to see each student as an individual and want to promote GCC as a successful path to their future.

Portillo Rabinov: I am committed to serving another term on the GCC board of trustees because I believe in the value of community college education. I am a proud alumnus of a community college where I discovered my passion and potential for learning and leadership. I understand community college students’ challenges and opportunities, especially those from underprivileged or underrepresented backgrounds. My professional experience aligns with the college’s strategic plan, including financial management, student support services and environmental sustainability. I will continue to use my skills and expertise to help GCC achieve its mission and vision of providing quality education and fostering social responsibility.

Q: What do you believe are the most important issues within GCC?

Benlian: During my tenure as a trustee, I’ve focused on the following critical issues:
Fiscal: We have balanced the budget, bolstered college reserves and enhanced the institution’s credit rating.
Facilities: We have achieved significant milestones in the past few years, completing major projects like the Vaquero Athletic Complex, expanding the Garfield Campus and upgrading the Verdugo Fire Academy.
Academics: We have supported initiatives like the GCC Promise Plus program and navigated the challenges of the pandemic through online learning, showcasing our unwavering commitment to student success.
I plan on expanding these programs and building on the success we have achieved thus far.

Leon: Budget is always important. GCC must continue to expand programs and classes, but I feel the most important issue is to promote GCC’s campus. I don’t feel there has been enough community outreach promoting this college. My background has been boots on the ground outreach. I think there are many community events that could benefit from hearing about GCC.

Portillo Rabinov: Some of the key challenges that GCC has faced and continues to face are related to enrollment and funding in the pre/post-COVID-19 pandemic context. We have had to adapt our teaching and support services to different modes of delivery, such as online, hybrid and remote, to meet the diverse needs of our students. We have also invested in upgrading our technology infrastructure and security, which is an ongoing process. Also, we expanded our wraparound services to provide holistic support to our students and their families, such as food assistance, housing vouchers and free public transportation. However, these improvements depend on securing adequate funding from various sources, such as grants and state advocacy, which is not guaranteed yearly.

Q: How do you plan to ensure students are prepared for the professional world once they leave GCC?

Benlian: Making sure students are well-prepared for the professional world is a central component of my vision for GCC. Approving projects, such as the virtual reality learning center, equips our students with cutting-edge tools necessary for the modern workforce. Continued support for initiatives like the GCC Promise Plus program ensures that students not only receive a quality education but also seamlessly transition into the professional realm, equipped with the skills and confidence needed for success.

Leon: They need to be prepared in their specific field of study, but also need to be emotionally supported as they enter and exit GCC. I would like to have more outreach including seminars connecting professionals with the students who are studying in that area. The college has a Student Success and Support Program, I would like to expand that. Students need to feel they are supported as they transfer to a four-year or move on to a career. I want them to know they still have a home and support at GCC. I would like to expand and retool the alumni association to be more active with students, including creating a professional mentorship program.

Portillo Rabinov: I have confidence in our faculty and staff in preparing our students. Our campus provides various programs and activities that enhance the educational experience and prepare our students for their future goals. Whether through the speakers’ series, College Corps fellows, campus clubs, internships or mentorships, our students can find ways to grow and excel. Our staff provides excellent student support services to help them transfer and complete a degree or certificate with career guidance and assistance. We host job fairs and college transfer events every year. Our transfer success rate is among the highest in the state.

Q: What experiences/qualities of yours have prepared you for this role?

Benlian: My journey, encompassing both small business ownership and the oversight of housing project design and construction, has endowed me with a diverse skill set essential for this role. My academic path at GCC ignited my passion for community service, leading to a bachelor’s in architecture at Woodbury University, followed by a master’s in architecture/real estate development and a master’s in construction management from USC. My commitment to education culminated in pursuing a doctorate in policy, planning and development from USC’s Price School of Public Policy. My leadership during the challenging era of COVID-19 has showcased my ability to navigate complex situations and prioritize student well-being, further reinforcing my preparedness for the responsibilities of a trustee.

Leon: I believe in paying it forward. I was lucky to immigrate to this country and appreciate all that it has offered me. Service to this country and my community has always been important to me. I am a U.S. veteran and have served on the boards of many local organizations including Crescenta Valley High School Prom Plus, CV Town Council as both president and vice president, spearheaded the CVTC youth council and worked to fund scholarships. I have served as a county commissioner with the L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, chair of GCC’s Measure G Oversight Committee and a former chair of GUSD’s Measure S oversight committee. I am a volunteer on patrol for LASD CV Station, was on the advisory board of the CV Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition and am on the advisory board of HealWithin International. I believe that showing up is one of the most important things you can do for your community. I believe in rolling up my sleeves and getting the job done.

Portillo Rabinov: I have a diverse and extensive background in public and private sectors and serve on nonprofit organizations’ boards. I’ve participated in leadership training academies, learning to work effectively and technically with others to evaluate and address policy and budgetary issues. I’ve worked for 30 years as senior planning manager at Los Angeles Metro, where I have developed skills in being objective and collaborative and building partnerships with external and internal stakeholders to secure project funding, development and delivery. I co-founded and managed a nonprofit, Project Amiga, for 19 years, serving the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles. The program was dedicated to helping young at-risk women, men and their families through bilingual and bi-cultural education in life skills, GED preparation and vocational training certification. I hold a bachelor of science degree in business administration from CSULA.

First published in the January 20 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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