Opportunities for students in South Valley, Avila says

By Keira Silver

Dr. Pedro Avila

After closing his first year as superintendent of Gavilan College, Dr. Pedro Avila seeks to continue his goal of inspiring students and supporting the college district’s community.

He spoke to members of the Rotary Club of Gilroy at the Aug. 15 meeting, stressing that Gavilan has made headway in improving its programs for students and strengthening its budget. In the past, Gavilan has struggled with its fiscal state, he said. The community college’s ‘23-‘24 fiscal budget is $48 million.

“For the next few years, we’re very confident our finances are in shape,” he said. “That’s really good for the college and for the students because we’re able to provide resources for students.”

Avila, 49, started his job as superintendent July 1, 2022, replacing Dr. Katherine Rose.

Increasing student enrollment serves as another important agenda item in Avila’s goals. After a drop in enrollment the past three years due to the pandemic, Gavilan College is now seeing more growth in recent semesters. Out of 75 community colleges in California, Gavilan ranks second in the state for enrollment growth, he said.

“I’m glad to report this last spring semester, we had a 23 percent growth in enrollment,” he said. “We had about a 10 percent growth in summer. And then our fall semester, it’s looking really, really strong too.”

Gavilan’s fall semester started Thursday, Aug. 28.

Avila credits the college’s faculty, management team, and professional employees for the improvements Gavilan achieved the past year. With transparency and a “philosophy of inclusion,” Gavilan accomplishes many of its goals, he said.

“It’s really been a collaborative effort to get to where we are today,” Avila said. “It’s ongoing, because we still have some work to do.”

Avila hopes to make Gavilan more widely known and seeks to encourage more enrollment next year. It has a one-year free tuition program, which Avila believes is the wisest choice for students looking for two years of education.

“I want Gav to be the college of choice for all local students,” he said.

Gavilan is full of opportunities for students, and Avila stressed they receive a high quality of instruction and multiple options for further education after graduating.

“It’s really about creating excitement about Gav,” he said. “My goal is to make sure we provide the best for students and education, but also facilities.”

Gavilan broke ground June 16 on a new campus site in Hollister, which he said will likely be ready next year. It also will add a new library student resource center that will likely be completed in a couple of years at the Gilroy campus. In addition, a new STEM Center will be built on the main campus, which he believes will be popular because of the college’s connection to Silicon Valley.

The facilities are funded by the $248 million Measure X bond passed in November 2018.

“We want to be the go-to college for science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Avila said. “STEM is really the program I think a lot of local students are looking into going into. We want to provide some state-of-the-art facilities around STEM. That combined with the great quality of instruction our faculty provide, I think, could be a great choice for students.”

Gavilan also has many programs for students looking to volunteer in the Gilroy community, along with opportunities to make an impact through student government, Avila said.

“Our students do volunteer hours in the community,” he said. “Our student government is also very involved. And we also have different clubs and organizations on campus that get involved with the community.”

Avila appreciates the support from the community, and he is excited for the future in leading the college, he said.

“It’s been extremely fulfilling for me to have the honor to lead this past year, just being able to bring everything I’ve learned from two decades of working at community colleges,” he said. “The community has embraced me, has welcomed me back.”

Avila looks forward to his second year as superintendent because of the endless possibilities it offers, he said.

“In my first year, we laid the framework to be successful in the years to come,” he said. “There’s so many possibilities with Gav that I’m excited to explore with our community, our faculty and our staff, and our students.”

Avila came with his family to California from Mexico when he was 9 and grew up in Castroville picking fruits and vegetables. The experience as an immigrant gives him perspective for students facing similar hardships.

He dedicated his career to working in community colleges across the state. His last job was as vice president of Student Services at Santa Rosa Junior College. Avila’s 20 years of experience in education empowers him to give back to Gavilan students and to the college’s community, he said.

Avila’s presentation to Rotarians served as part of the process of his becoming a member of the club, which is connected by helping the college during the decades, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity to interact with the community,” he said. “They invited me to come in and be a member. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and network and be part of what Rotary does, which is support the community.”

Keira Silver is a senior at Christopher High School. She wrote this story with mentorship from Marty Cheek.