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Karen Vazquez wants to take the worry out of going off to college

Vasquez Portrait

Karen Vazquez, who graduated from CSUB in 2017, is now working on her master’s degree in public administration with dreams of starting a nonprofit.

Alumni Engagement Specialist

The last year of high school is stressful for the students Karen Vazquez tutors in and around her hometown of Shafter.

There’s family pressure, especially on young men, to stay close to home, work and help pay the bills after graduation, even when they have other ambitions. Those headed to college are often nervous about it, not knowing what to expect because they’re the first ones in their family to go.

So Vazquez’s long-term goal is to start a nonprofit that helps these young people transition out of high school, preferably into higher education. It would extend emotional and informational support not only to them but their parents.

“It’s an emotional experience for them,” Vazquez said of her students. “We would try to make them feel more comfortable.”

At age 23, Vazquez has already been laying the groundwork for such a career.

She’s interning at Community Action Partnership of Kern, doing data entry and marketing for the anti-poverty agency, one of Kern County’s largest. She’s volunteered with Dress for Success, helping women pick out job interview outfits and ace other aspects of the interviewing process.

And for two years she’s tutored the children of Wonderful Company employees, assisting them with their homework and preparing them for the ACT college-entrance exam.

“She’s able to connect with students really well,” said Dulce Diaz, college prep specialist for Wonderful Education, a program of the company. “I remember one time I was a little offended when I went to tutor one of my kids and they said, ‘No, I want Karen!”


Vazquez is the second of four children born to a truck driver dad and stay-at-home mom. She has an older sister who is also a CSUB alumna and two younger brothers.

Vasquez's Parents

Vazquez and her parents, Rita and Martin Vazquez.

She attended Shafter High School, where she played basketball, was on the cheer team and participated in General’s Best Friend Club, where students buddy up with special needs children and raise money for them to take a Disneyland trip together.

Like many of the teens she tutors, Vazquez didn’t always see herself as college material. She says she was an average high school student and never in the same academic league as her sister.

But Vazquez knew that if she was going to get as far in life as she wanted, and accomplish her goal of helping others including her family, she needed to go to college.

Vazquez studied sociology at CSUB, and had a rough freshman year. She received poor grades in English, her second language, and it upset her. But she sought help from her professor and the university writing lab, and as her skills improved she  reassured herself “attending college was the right choice.”

During her sophomore, junior and senior years, Vazquez performed on the CSUB dance team and got to go to Las Vegas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas and New York City to cheer on the men’s basketball team. She also was historian for the campus Sociology Club and volunteered in the community.

Vazquez on the dance team

Vazquez, third from the left in the top row, performed on the CSUB dance team and traveled all over the country cheering on the `Runners.

Over the last two years she’s tutored some 60 students through the Wonderful Company’s education programs. Diaz said she’s always volunteering to take on extra work, such as spending her Saturdays as a test proctor, and has incredible patience with the kids.

“When I tutor I’m like, ‘Let me show you real quick’ and then I’ll move on,” Diaz said. “Karen sits with them and is very patient. She goes step-by-step. I just don’t have that.”

 Karen Vazquez with her students at Wonderful Education

Vazquez, bottom right, poses with some of the seniors she tutors through a Wonderful Company education program. The students signed their names on the board after submitting their college applications.

Diaz said the young people Wonderful tutors absolutely need the emotional support Vazquez would like to one day offer them through a nonprofit. Last semester when the seniors started applying to colleges, she said, a couple of them broke down in tears “out of nowhere” because either their parents weren’t supportive or they were scared to leave home.

“We do a lot of the programming and the college application (assistance), but we don’t do too much of the social, emotional support for these students,” Diaz said.


Vazquez is also the first Runner Alumni Mentor Program participant to receive the Alumni Association’s scholarship. RAMP, started by the association in 2018, pairs up alumni and other local professionals with CSUB students who need help making that critical transition from school to the workforce.

Vazquez kept in constant contact with her mentor, Fred Plane, and tapped him for all kinds of academic and professional development. It impressed the retired county executive and Alumni Association board member because it showed a desire to grow and be open to others’ input, he said.

“She’s got her act together, she knows what she’s looking for and she’s open to guidance,” Plane said. “But she’s not looking for you to do anything for her. She just wants some reinforcement, some guidance on what direction to go.”

Vasquez Graduation

Vazquez earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from CSUB in May 2017. As a grad student she participated in the Runner Alumni Mentor Program.

Vazquez has a talent for looking at the big picture when evaluating public policy, how it affects a whole organization and even society in general, Plane said. He’s heard about her ambitions to start a nonprofit, and he’s impressed by it and her.

“She and I  have talked about nonprofits and I’ve said they’re one of the tougher ones to get money for. You also don’t make a lot of money working for one,” Plane said.

“It doesn’t seem to bother her. She wants to help kids. She has a real heart for that.”


Every year, the CSUB Alumni Association awards scholarships to CSUB graduates pursuing their graduate degree on campus.

For the 2019-2020 academic year we have awarded three scholarships totaling $7,000, and we will be profiling all of them:

Dina Saavedra: $3,000

Denisse Silva: $2,000

Karen Vazquez: $2,000

Check out our scholarship page for more information.