(May 12, 2017 — updated May 15) — Two Fresno State alumni will be presented with the Fresno State Chicano Commencement Bold Visionary Legacy Award during the University’s 41st Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at the Save Mart Center.

Manuel Pérez, retired associate dean of the Division of Student Affairs and Fresno State alumnus who is credited with helping open the doors of higher education to thousands of disadvantaged students in the 1970s when he served as director of the Educational Opportunity Program, will be honored for his 25-plus years of service to the University and community.

Also recognized will be Diana Gomez, Central Valley regional director for the California High Speed Rail Authority, a 1988 graduate with a bachelor of science degree in engineering.

A record 1,000 applications for the Class of 2017 celebration have been received, said Dr. Victor Torres, coordinator of the celebration. He said it is the largest Latino commencement celebration in the nation, with attendance last year reaching 13,640.

The Chicano Commencement award was established to recognize an individual who has contributed to the community in a significant way or achieved acclaim for their professional or community work, said Torres.

Pérez, a 1955 graduated who retired in 1994, was the first Latino hired to head then-Fresno State College’s fledgling EOP amidst campus turmoil in 1971.

Pérez was one of very few Latinos enrolled in Fresno State in the 1950s, earning a bachelor of arts in criminology in 1955 and, during his 25-year career on campus, his master of social work with a concentration in administration in 1971.

“Manuel’s contributions helped open the doors and pave the way for many students and former Fresno State employees like myself who were once students there,” said Frances Pena-Olgin, who retired in 2015 as executive director of outreach and worked under Pérez most of her career. “He has been instrumental in the development of programs that serve the low income, disadvantaged and minority students, many who would not have had an opportunity otherwise.”

In 1984, Pérez was appointed associate dean for the Division of Student Affairs, the highest ranking Latino and minority in the division at the time and for many years. In that role, he was credited with the development of many campus programs that serve underrepresented student populations such as Upward Bound, University Migrant Services (CAMP), the Re-Entry Program, Educational Opportunity Center, Central Valley California Student Opportunity & Access Program (Cal SOAP) and Talent Search.

These programs were recognized as exemplary programs, including citations in higher education publications as well as receipt of “The Thousand Points of Life Award” from the president of the United States for the UMS/CAMP Program.

Pérez was also a founding member in the early 1970s of the Chicano Staff Association, forerunner to the Latina/o Faculty and Staff Association (LFSA), which is co-sponsor of the Chicano/Latino Commencement, and played a major role in the hiring of more Latino and other minorities for the university.

“Pérez provided leadership in organizing students, faculty, staff and community members to work together on issues such as student rights, voter registration and to create equal employment opportunities for underrepresented population groups,” said Dr. Victor Olivares, Internship coordinator and employer relations in the Career Development Center who is the current LFSA president.

Among Pérez’ many professional recognition awards are the Outstanding Educator award in 1975. He also was statewide president of RACHE – Raza Advocates for Californians in Higher Education; and president of MAPA – Mexican American Political Association.

Pérez is also a veteran of the United States military, serving in the U.S. Army from 1949-1952 with active duty in the Korean War.

After retirement, Pérez moved to North Carolina where his wife Dr. Teresa Perez taught until they returned to Fresno in 2012.They were both honored as Chicano Alumni of the Year during a Chicano Alumni Celebration in the mid-1980s.

Gomez has a record of leadership and a history of inspiring youth to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Her contributions and accomplishments in engineering include extensive service in promoting and supporting the participation of diverse students in STEM fields.

In 2015, she was honored by the Fresno State Alumni Association with its “Top Dog Outstanding Alumna Award” for the Lyles College of Engineering for her commitment to engagement and student success at Fresno State.

Named the Authority’s Central Valley regional director in 2012, Ms. Gomez has built and developed new partnerships with local businesses and residents that were potentially impacted by high-speed rail in the Valley. Prior to her work with the Authority, Ms. Gomez was part of the California Department of Transportation’s Executive Team in Los Angeles. She has more than 25-years of experience in California transportation policy.

In 2013, Gomez was presented with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) highest distinction, the Jaime Oaxaca Award. Gomez volunteers on the SHPE Foundation Board of Directors and as the Vice President of Scholarship for Fresno State’s Alumni Association Board.

She also will be the keynote speaker for Fresno State’s 4th Annual Rainbow Graduation Recognition Ceremony where she will be honored for her leadership within the LGBTQ community.

For more information, contact Torres at victort@mail.fresnostate.edu.