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MEET THE PRESIDENT:

Linda Lara says she brings “nothing fancy” to the alumni board presidency, just a love for the school that has shaped her

 

Linda Lara portrait

Linda Lara, a double alumna and campus budget analyst, will become president of the CSUB Alumni Association July 1.

By CHRISTINE BEDELL
Alumni Engagement Specialist
cbedell1@csub.edu

Linda Lara could have moved on from CSUB, where she’s earned two degrees and works as a budget analyst, long ago. She could be going elsewhere for the MBA she’s now pursuing; she’s had a job opportunity at another CSU.

But she loves CSUB. It’s where she learned to just be herself, but remain open to change and other opinions. It’s where people lifted her up when she fell into a dark place. It’s where she got professional opportunities she may not have received elsewhere.

“Everything I have, and I know this sounds nuts, but everything I have is due to this university – and to my mom,” she said. “I really cannot say that enough.”

And so she’s here, working to make sure certain departments stay in the black and, starting July 1, assuming the CSUB Alumni Association presidency.

Leading the alumni board is taking Lara out of her comfort zone. When she interviewed for the board in 2016, she said she wasn’t a great schmoozer but was a hard worker.

Lara has no big new initiatives in mind except maybe sharing more association financial information with alumni so they can see the impact of their support. She mostly just wants to champion the great work already being done.

“There’s nothing fancy about me,” Lara, 31, said. “I’m not going to come in and try to, you know, create new events or anything like that. I think we have a phenomenal board right now, people who are involved and passionate about what they’re bringing to the table, and I just want to foster that.”

HER MOTHER’S DAUGHTER

Lara says only her family, particularly her mom, has had a bigger impact on her life than CSUB.

Martha Olivia Lara came to Bakersfield from Mexico with her husband and two sons for a vacation in 1986 and stayed when her husband abandoned the family and returned home. Linda was born not long after her father left.

Martha Olivia Lara and Linda Lara

“Do better than me,” Martha Olivia Lara, left, often told her daughter, Linda, right.

Lara’s mom, who legalized under the 1986 amnesty laws, went from cleaning houses on her own to running a crew that today cleans four to six homes and offices per day. When she was pregnant with Linda, she cleaned houses until the day she went into labor.

“My mom has been working her tail off for the last 33 years,” Lara said reverently.

Lara spent her first five years living in a one-room apartment with her mother and brothers. One room, not one bedroom, she stresses. They then upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment on Q Street.

Lara never felt poor, though. Her mother provided everything she really needed, including her time.

“I don’t ever recall my mom saying, ‘I love you,’ but my mom was always present,” she said. “At every awards ceremony, every spelling bee, everything that I could possibly be involved in, and with the very little help that she had.”

All her mother asked for in return was that Lara “do better than me.”

Linda Lara poses on a horse around age 6.

Lara around age 6.

Lara always loved books. Her mom took her to every midnight release of Harry Potter novels, waiting in the car until her daughter got through the line. During their Costco runs, Lara’s mom would drop her off in the book section to pick out something to buy and then collect her when she was done shopping.

“By the time she would come find me to check out I would tell her, ‘Oh, it’s fine. I’ve already read through it,” Lara said, laughing.

FINDING HERSELF, EVENTUALLY

At Stockdale High School, Lara says, she fluttered like a butterfly from one group to another trying to fit in, and never really succeeded. Not until joining theater at CSUB did she make friends with people who taught her “it’s OK to show everything about yourself.”

But she loved the academic side of high school, crediting an English teacher with pushing her to improve her prose.

“When something was challenging, I just went at it,” she said. “To this day I think it’s because of him that I’m a better writer.”

Linda Lara and her mother at her eighth-grade graduation

Just before high school: The Laras at Linda’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony. Linda’s mother always brings her flowers and balloons to major life events.

Lara was accepted to multiple colleges, but a relationship kept her in Bakersfield and at CSUB. She majored in English, intending to become a teacher, even though she was more passionate about theater. Theater seemed too risky a career path given the commitment she’d made to her mom “to do better.”

Lara was a commuter student her first couple years at CSUB, working full-time in a dental office while taking classes that weren’t always what she needed. That all changed her junior year.

She ended the relationship, fully committed to her studies and got involved in campus life, including a sorority and Associated Students Inc. activities.

“I realized how much of an impact this university could have on me and I took advantage of every opportunity that came to me,” Lara said.

2011 Homecoming queen nominees

Lara, far left, was a CSUB Homecoming queen nominee in February 2011 along with (l to r) Alyssa Simone Wiley (who won), Megan Wade, Brizette Cruz and Vanessa Kowal.

One of those opportunities was working in the Department of Nursing, first as a student assistant and then, after earning her English degree in 2012, as an administrative assistant. Students would come to her with their troubles and it inspired her to pursue a master’s degree in educational counseling.

Lara split her time between the Nursing and Student Housing departments during her graduate studies. When a close friend and colleague in Nursing took personal leave, Lara was asked to work in Nursing full-time. Her co-workers had become like family and helped her through some personal struggles, so saying yes came easy.

“I had gone down to a pretty terrible place and they had pulled me back,” Lara said.

Lara earned her master’s degree in 2016 and then hit a crossroads. She wanted to move up in her career but there weren’t any open advising jobs on campus and nowhere to move up to inside Nursing. Leaving CSUB was not an option.

“I can’t even explain it,” Lara said. “I can’t explain how much this university means to me.”

So she applied and was hired to be the assistant to Vice President for University Advancement Victor Martin. The department’s mission of advancing CSUB through fundraising, events, communications and alumni relations really appealed to her and she loved learning how all of those efforts benefited the university and its students.

She particularly loved putting together the puzzles of where money came from and went.

Lara filled a critical role in UA, which was going through a leadership transition and adding staff, Martin said. She was a liaison with the CSUB Foundation Board of Directors, helped draft updated bylaws, identified cost-savings and kept UA directors updated on their spending.

“She was the all-around glue in the office during a significant period of growth and transition,” Martin said.

‘I’LL ALWAYS BE IN SCHOOL’

Alumni board members at 2018 CSUB Caravan stop in Bakersfield

In August 2018, Lara (middle) was part of the CSUB Caravan that traveled throughout Kern County spreading `Runner pride. Here she is with fellow CSUB alumni Carla Barrientos, Sonia Silva, Nancy Solis-Vargas and Eduardo Vargas at the Bakersfield stop.

Lara wanted to do budget work full-time and so in February 2018 joined the university budget office as an analyst.  She turned down a job interview offer at Sacramento State when she learned the CSUB position was open.

She takes a birds-eye view of the budgets for mandatory and auxiliary fees, campus revenue and employee benefits, and processes paycheck information on a monthly basis, something she says “is not boring to me, but is probably boring to everyone else.”

At the same time she’s studying for her MBA. She just loves school. She hasn’t been out of it since age 4 except for one year after earning her educational counseling degree.

“I always want to learn more, grow more,” she said, “and so I think I will always be in school.”

Irma Cervantes, an alumni board member and onetime board president, was there when Lara made her pitch to join the board three years ago. She’s delivered on her promises, Cervantes said.

Linda with her boyfriend

Lara, here with her boyfriend, Francisco Lara, was the belle of the ball at the Alumni Association’s Party in the Park in October 2018, which had a Havana Nights theme. Their shared last name is a coincidence.

She’s brought organization and attention to detail to the business side of the association, Cervantes said, something that can get overlooked when you’re busy, while still helping deliver great events, mentoring opportunities and scholarships.

Lara may not be as comfortable as she’d like taking the spotlight as president, but the relationship-building she’s done on the board and her smarts prove she’s got what it takes to be a good leader, Cervantes said. And her vision for the next year is exactly what the board needs.

“I think it’s perfect she doesn’t necessarily have anything new in mind because we’ve redone the bylaws, redefined our goals,” Cervantes said. “Now we just need to make it all work and hold ourselves accountable. Linda will be great tying that all together.”

 



Open Quote
I can’t even explain it. I can’t explain how much this university means to me. Close Quote
Linda Lara, president
CSUB Alumni Association