Louie Rodriguez named chair at UCRToday, Louie Rodriguez is a well-respected academic, author, associate dean of undergraduate education and associate professor at UC Riverside's Graduate School of Education, and the Bank of America Chair in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Practice, but when he first enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College in 1993, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do. 
"My major was liberal studies," he said. "I was undecided and kept changing my major. At first I thought I wanted to be pre-med, but I took chemistry and struggled. I also took several Spanish classes and ended up being inducted into Sigma Delta Mu, the Spanish honor society on campus." 
A meeting with counselor Laura Gomez changed everything, as she put Rodriguez on a two-year pathway to transfer. 
"If it wasn't for her, I might have gotten lost in the system and transferred much later," he said. "I am grateful for her guidance."  
Rodriguez, an Inland Empire native, transferred from SBVC in 1995, and attended Cal State San Bernardino before earning two master's degrees and a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Interested in psychology, he spent time as a middle school counselor after earning his first master's degree, working with students who were often truant and at risk of dropping out.  
"I became more interested in the research, policy, and sociological side of the field of education," he said. "I decided to return to school and get my doctorate in education, specifically in administration, planning, and social policy with a concentration in communities and schools."  
While back in graduate school, Rodriguez was "mentored by some amazing professors who sparked my interest in becoming a researcher and scholar in higher education," he said, and after living in Miami for four years, Rodriguez came back to Cal State San Bernardino, where he taught for seven years before coming to UCR. 
"I thrive off of students' energy," he said. "Lots of our students come to the classroom with an interest in making a difference either on campus, in the community, or both. They have an interest in leadership and service and that coincides with my interests as well." 
In May, Rodriguez was named the UCR Graduate School of Education's Bank of America Chair in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Practice, which gives him the opportunity to start a center on campus that will "be a space to engage in research with on- and off-campus partners related to issues of educational equity in the Inland Empire," he said. 
Rodriguez will be able to hire undergraduate and graduate students to build partnerships with youth, families, educators, and other community partners, in order to serve the needs of schools and neighborhoods across the region.  
"The goal will always be to transform educational policy, practice, and pedagogy in the Inland Empire and beyond," he said. "We hope to become a national model.  We are aiming to make a local impact with national implications." 
As he studies the student experience at schools and communities that have long struggled with social and political inequality, Rodriguez makes it a point to "learn from their voices and experiences to transform policy and practice." His books look at the challenges these schools are facing and what's working, and he often focuses on Latina/o/x students. 
"Our communities have rich legacies of excellence," he said. "My goal is to help create processes to help us recognize the intergenerational brilliance we bring.  My books reflect those topics. I don't do research for the sake of research.  I do research to change our schools, communities, and society." 
Rodriguez, a married father of four, is a fourth generation Chicano whose family settled near the Santa Fe Railroad in San Bernardino. His relatives were hard-working, and one great-great-uncle was part of the Federal Music Project during the New Deal era.   
"I am proud of our deep roots and want our young people to understand that we are the builders of our communities," he said. "I hope that educators can lead efforts to recover this history to inspire the next generation of leaders." 
For SBVC students who are trying to decide what path to take, Rodriguez has some advice: rather than asking what they want to study, they should change their mindset and ask what they can do to change their community. 
"That should be the driving question for our education," he said. "Good grades are necessary, but we should always think about our purpose in our communities and society."