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After 24 years at Owens Community College, Cesar Hernandez has done just about everything except play point guard on the college's usually nationally ranked basketball team.
Mr. Hernandez, 50, the college's international student enrollment services administrator, is a few years removed from his playing days at Central Catholic High School and the short-lived college basketball program at Davis Business College in the 1960s.
Many, though, credit his teamwork skills and ability to motivate and inspire students as qualities that have transcended sports and that make him a favorite among students on campus.
Mr. Hernandez said he has a hard time calling the time he spends guiding and counseling students as work. He said he would like to refer to it as more of a calling.
"All of these years, and it's never felt like I was going to work," Mr. Hernandez said. "It's felt more like a mission in life. It's been more like a vocation. I really don't know how else to describe it. We call it work because that's the term we use, but it feels like something more."
Since 2002, Mr. Hernandez has worked with Owens' rapidly growing international student population. The school is a much different place from when he started in 1980, when 3,000 students were registered.
Owens' fall enrollment topped out at 20,160 this year, the second-highest population of higher education institutions in northwest Ohio.
"There is a different kind of energy on campus," Mr. Hernandez said. "As our programs increase, we are starting to get different kinds of students. It's definitely a younger crowd. We're starting to get the four-year students, and they are seeing Owens as their first choice."
Mr. Hernandez at times has had as many as 100 international students from 60 countries. He said growing up with strong family roots and a Mexican-American background has helped him understand the needs of someone going to another country for education. He said he spent a lot of time visiting family members in Monterrey, Mexico, while growing up.
As well as his time at Davis, he attended Pan American University in Texas before earning his associate's degree in business and marketing from Owens in 1980.
He earned his bachelor's degree in student services in 1989 from the University of Toledo and his master's in community counseling from Eastern Michigan in 1994.
Mr. Hernandez has worked on improving the college experience for Latino students as well. In 1983, he was a founding member of the statewide organization Educators and Colleges Helping Hispanics Onward (ECHHO), a group developed to help Latinos achieve educational goals.
He said many mentoring lessons came from his mother, Guadalupe, 72, a mail sorter at the U.S. Postal Service, and father, Reyes, 84, who retired from Acklin Stamping.
"I've always tried to have an open door for students here at Owens," Mr. Hernandez said. "I think part of it came from my parents. They were always there for us."
Steve Mapes worked with Mr. Hernandez from 1992 to 1995 as an academic adviser when Mr. Hernandez was director of the college's advising center.
"I was one of his first hires," said Mr. Mapes, now an associate professor of student services at Monroe County Community College, in Monroe, Mich. "It was one of the best experiences I ever had. I experienced a lot of personal growth due to my time with [Mr. Hernandez]. What you see with him is what you get. There's no hidden agenda with him. He's a real person, and I think that's infectious." Mr. Mapes said.
Jerry Carder, Mr. Hernandez's former coach at Davis and a retired University of Toledo administrator, said the things that made Mr. Hernandez a good basketball player make him a good college leader.
"He was very heady and knowledgeable, and he understood the game," Mr. Carder said. "He was a great team player, and he was the captain of our team. In a way, I guess you can say that's what makes him good at what he does today. I don't think you will find a finer person."
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