8 CAC alumni will join the Wall of Success Nov. 21, in the Pence Center
PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. - Central Arizona College will welcome eight new members to its Wall of Success this Thursday night, Nov. 21, at 6 p.m. in the Don P. Pence Center for Visual & Performing Arts.
The induction list includes four government officials in Louis Manuel, Jr., chair of the Akin Chin Community; T.J. Shope, House of Representatives for the state of Arizona; Mary Kortsen, Casa Grande City Council; and Gilbert Lopez, vice-mayor for the city of Coolidge.
Two current CAC employees also will be enshrined - Veronica Duran, CAC's registrar, and Kristen Benedict, CAC professor of agriculture - as well as a pair of leaders who have shaped important organizations for their community in Travis Robinette (Sun Life Family Health Center) and Arjelia "Argie" Gomez (Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc.).
Each year Central Arizona College inducts outstanding alums into the Wall of Success and presents each candidate with the Extraordinary Alumni Achievement Award during a ceremony held at the Signal Peak Campus.
The first group of honorees was inducted during the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the opening of the Signal Peak Campus on Nov. 14, 2009. A special plaque entitled Wall of Success is mounted at the Signal Peak Campus to honor all of the inductees.
Many factors go into selecting Wall of Success members, including but not limited to volunteerism in the community; professional, local, regional, national or international recognition; and accomplishment in their field of expertise.
To date, 67 Central Arizona College alumni have been enshrined on the CAC Wall of Success.
Kristen Benedict - CAC Professor of Agriculture
There is little doubt that Kristen Benedict's career would be spent working and teaching in the soil of Pinal County.
It is even more natural that she has applied her craft for more than a decade at her alma mater, Central Arizona College, as a professor of agriculture.
A 1997 graduate of CAC with an associate of applied science degree in agriculture science, Benedict would go on to earn her bachelor's degree in animal science from the University of Arizona and her master's degree in agriculture business from Arizona State University.
Benedict began her career at Central Arizona College as an adjunct in 2003, teaching a variety of agricultural classes with the same enthusiasm and passion she had as a student. In 2008 she began a three-year term as the coordinator of CAC's $1.4 million STEM grant before becoming the college's biofuels preceptor in 2011. She recently moved into her current role as professor of agriculture.
Benedict remains extremely active in her field. She is a member of numerous organizations including the American Agri-Women, the National Association of Agricultural Educators, the Southern Arizona International Livestock Association, and the Sustainable Agriculture Association.
She is a past board president of the Casa Grande Valley Cotton & Ag. Women, a leader in the Pinal County 4-H Community Club, and a member of the ATF Committee in both the Arizona Agriculture Articulation and the Arizona Environmental Science/Sustainability Articulation organizations.
Veronica Duran - CAC Registrar
Veronica Duran encapsulates the motto employed by many colleges and universities of "growing your own."
The 2003 graduate of Central Arizona College has occupied so many different seats in the Student Services Building on the Signal Peak Campus that her progression to CAC's registrar position can be documented by sticky notes left in her old desks.
Duran has not only grown up at CAC, but she has helped grow Central Arizona College's enrollment in her many positions in student services over the years.
She took over the role as registrar in 2009 after serving as a community outreach coordinator from 2008-09 and as the assistant to the admissions and recruitment/veterans benefit coordinator from 2005-08. She also was the interim manager of admissions and recruitment from November 2006 through March 2007.
Duran began her career at CAC as an office assistant in Records and Registration, holding the position for three years from 2002-05.
Prior to working at CAC, Duran was employed by the Coolidge Unified School District in her hometown from May 2001 to October 2002 where she served as the purchasing/AHCCCS secretary for Special Services. She also was a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines.
Duran is a member of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, as well as multiple internal and external committees. In 2007 she graduated from the Hispanic Leadership Institute (Pinal), Valle Del Sol.
After graduating from CAC, Duran earned her bachelor's in elementary education in 2005 and her master's of education in counseling/human relations in 2007 from Northern Arizona University.
Arjelia "Argie" Gomez - CFO of Chicanos Por La Causa Inc.
Arjelia "Argie" Gomez has spent her entire career in the service of her community - a career that began in 1974 after she received her associate of arts degree that focused on criminal justice administration and sociology from Central Arizona College.
The Superior, Ariz., native is currently the chief financial officer (CFO) of Chicanos Por La Causa Inc. (CPLC). As CPLC's CFO, she is responsible for the strategic operational leadership of the company's core services, which include finance, legal, information technology, human resources, quality assurance, corporate compliance, marketing and strategic planning, research and evaluation, and resource development, as well as CPLC's national community stabilization program. Prior to her appointment as CFO, she served as chief economic development officer and chief operating officer for CPLC.
Gomez began her career as a probation officer with the Pinal County Juvenile Court before progressing to the Foster Care Review Board and then to the position of program manager, and later to director of, the Juvenile Justice Services Division with the Arizona Supreme Court. She also has served as legislative liaison, public information officer and chief of community services for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.
Her work continued as the chief operating officer of Southwest Key Program at its corporate office in Austin, Texas.
For more than 30 years, Gomez has successfully led community development initiatives in the government and judicial sectors, child welfare, legislative action committees, the Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority, and Tribal Regional Behavioral Health Authority. She is committed to sustained economic growth and effective service provision for underserved communities.
Gomez holds a B.S. in criminal justice from Northern Arizona University, public relations and leadership training from the University of Texas in Austin, and an MBA from Grand Canyon University's Ken Blanchard College of Business.
Mary Kortsen - Casa Grande City Council
Central Arizona College has left an indelible mark on the life, family and career of Mary Kortsen - and the city of Casa Grande. Her husband, Dan, was a member of the first graduating class of CAC, while her two daughters also attended the college.
Although she attended Eastern Arizona College and then the University of Arizona in the late 1960s, the two years Kortsen spent earning her paralegal studies certificate from 1984-86 has led to a career spanning almost 30 years that includes starting her own business.
From 1986 to 2007, Kortsen worked as a paralegal for various law firms in Mesa, Ariz., specializing in wills, trusts, probate and family law. In 2007 she hung her own shingle as owner of Kortsen Legal Document Preparation as a certified legal document preparer.
Around 2005, the state of Arizona began requiring all independent paralegals and document preparers to be licensed. Kortsen credits her certificate from CAC in greatly assisting her in obtaining that key document - and ultimately starting her successful business.
Kortsen has given back to her community by serving in key leadership roles, including her current position as a member of the Casa Grande City Council where she is in her second term.
She previously served on the Stanfield Elementary School Board for eight years and was a member of the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center Board for more than a decade.
Kortsen also holds an office with the Cotton Women of Casa Grande Valley, is a graduate of Project CENTRL (Center for Rural Leadership), and is a Bronze Member of the Leadership Training Institute - a national training program for elected officials.
She is part of the Mayor's Reading Club and serves as a board member of the Main Street program in Casa Grande.
Gilbert Lopez - Vice-Mayor, City of Coolidge
Gilbert Lopez serves his community on the local, regional and national level. As the vice mayor for the city of Coolidge, he is responsible for providing policy direction and fiscal oversight, addressing municipal issues, and positioning the city to meet future needs, goals and expectations.
He also is part of the Community and Economic Development Steering Committee for the National League of Cities, serving as the vice chair of the committee in 2010 and as the chair in 2011.
Lopez has worked directly with Congressional members and staff to advocate economic and community development, the Farm Bill for local farmers, and many other important initiatives. He also met with key White House staff to advocate for regulatory changes or ask for assistance, and had an opportunity to meet President Barak Obama.
Lopez is the Community Revitalization Administrator for the city of Glendale who works with a team of professionals to administer the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the HOME investment Partnerships program, the Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG) program and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). He has been with the city of Glendale for 23 years.
Lopez has studied a wide variety of subjects at CAC, including agricultural sciences, surveying, construction technology, computer aided design, real estate, public participation, and law. His bachelor's degree is in business administration with concentrations in finance and marketing.
Lopez has studied and trained in public participation and is certified through the International Association of Public Participation. He is a member of the Coolidge Florence Elks, Coolidge Lions, and the St. James Knights of Columbus.
Louis Manuel, Jr. - Chairman, Ak-Chin Indian Community
Chairman Louis Manuel, Jr.'s, career as a leader in his community began on the fields of CAC where he was a student-athlete competing for the Vaqueros' baseball team.
Today, he is the chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community featuring a membership of 949 people spanning an area of more than 22,000 acres. The Ak-Chin Indian community is located near the city of Maricopa and was instrumental in creating CAC's new Maricopa Campus.
Ak-Chin is a farming community that has gaming as a leading economic revenue generator; however, the community in recent years has diversified its economic ventures. In addition to gaming, the Ak-Chin Indian Community has a focus on farming, has developed an industrial park known as the Santa Cruz Commerce Center, and operates the Ak-Chin Regional Airport - among many of its ventures.
Manuel is an advocate for education, as well as social and health services. He feels a strong foundation not only in the direction of higher education, but in providing lifelong learning opportunities to anyone. He feels providing opportunity to those who have had challenges ultimately helps build a stronger economy for the community.
Manuel has served in various capacities within his community and the region, including Housing Board commissioner and chairman, Planning & Zoning commissioner and chairman; and as a member of the First Things First Pinal Regional Partnership Council.
The Ak-Chin Indian Community is a member of ITCA (Inter Tribal Council of Arizona) where Manuel currently serves as 1st Vice-President. He is a member of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association and serves as the delegate for the Western Region. He also is the vice chairman of ATG2 (Arizonans for Tribal Government Gaming).
Manuel's diverse professional career includes working in the casino industry as a hotel and restaurant manager in the Ak-Chin Indian Community, as well as serving as a heavy equipment operator and trainer for a copper mine in Tucson.
Travis Robinette - CEO, Sun Life Family Center, Inc.
Travis Robinette began his career in the grocery field after attending Central Arizona College in the mid-1970s.
His participation in DECA and his interest in the retail field ultimately led to his purchasing a grocery store on the Tohono O'odham Nation's reservation in southern Arizona in 1981.
The experience provided rich exposure to cultural differences as well as an introduction to sole proprietorship in a highly complex business environment.
Robinette actively managed his business until 1990 when he made the decision to pursue a bachelor's of science degree in the accountancy program at Arizona State University.
In 1993, with a degree fresh in his hand, Robinette accepted a position with a CPA firm in Tempe, Ariz., specializing in all aspects of tax return preparation. In 1995 he moved to a business manager position with the Picacho School District but continued to seek a greater challenge.
In the latter part of 1998, Robinette accepted the chief financial officer position with Sun Life Family Health Center in Casa Grande.
It did not take him long to realize that this position in the community health center world was exactly the challenge he had been seeking.
Challenges included learning the center's business cycle thoroughly so that management direction could be applied to produce a chosen outcome.
In 2006, Robinette was promoted to chief executive officer with Sun Life, a position he continues to hold today.
T.J. Shope - Arizona State House of Representatives (District 8)
Before he has even reached his 30th birthday, T.J. Shope already has recorded significant accomplishments in representing his city, his county and his region.
A member of the Republican Party, he currently serves in the Arizona State House of Representatives from District 8.
Shope is a resident of Coolidge and has long been active in the community. He was born in Florence in 1985 but has lived in Coolidge for the overwhelming majority of his life.
He is a 2003 graduate of Coolidge High School and a 2005 graduate of Central Arizona College. In 2008, he earned a bachelor's of science degree in political science from Arizona State University.
Shope's journey into politics began in 2008 when he was elected to the Coolidge Unified School District Governing Board, and then re-elected in 2012. He was voted vice-president of the board upon taking office in 2009, and in 2013 he was elected the board's president.
Shope credits his elections to the grassroots work of his volunteers and his family's longtime roots in community service and business in Coolidge, Florence and the Gila River Indian Community.
Shope currently serves as the vice president for the Coolidge Chamber of Commerce and also serves on the board of directors for the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance.
He is the proud son of Coolidge Mayor Tom Shope and Luz Shope, and he continues to help run their family business, Shope's IGA Supermarket, in Coolidge.
Shope is an active member of St. James Roman Catholic Church and its Knights of Columbus organization.