FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Dr. Robert Pimentel grew up in Huron a small town next to Coalinga, with his immigrant parents who moved to the U.S. from Mexico.

His mother worked at a restaurant while his father worked in the fields. Both of them were always supporting their son on his educational journey.

“Just like any other kid I was going to school, and trying to do the best I could and I never imagined in a million years that I would become a college president one day of course,” said Pimentel.

He attended West Hills College in Coalinga received his Associate’s degree and then transferred to Fresno State where he received his Bachelor’s degree.

“I went on to Bakersfield, got a master’s there, and then took a break and came back, and went back to Fresno state to attempt a doctorate and I finished in 2018,” said Pimentel.

In the U.S. only 7% of Latinos have a doctorate degree.

For many being a first-generation student means facing an incredible amount of obstacles and unknowns along the way.

“Without having that background and without having anyone to support you it’s really hard to navigate these spaces where they are not created for people like me,” said Pimentel. “I figured it out on my own, of course in college you meet people, you talk to people, actually none of my mentors ever said you should go get a doctorate until I was right about to get in the program.”

His career in education started as an office assistant at West Hills College eventually becoming the dean of instruction, before transferring to Fresno City College as the Vice President of Educational Services.

Now as president, he’s able to relate to students in a unique way.

“I understand a lot of the barriers that they have, I had all the same barriers that a lot of our students have, so I try to put myself in their shoes again, and try to see how do we help them navigate through this,” said Pimentel.

65% of students at Fresno City College are Hispanic, the majority of them are Mexican American, and some are also first-generation students like Pimentel.

“I’m very proud to be Hispanic, very proud to be Mexican American, and I tell my students, and my staff that all the time, and my family, it’s something that you carry with pride.”

Pimentel works each day to help students who are facing barriers such as having to work full time, taking care of children and other family members, and being the first one in their family to go to college.

“When you’re a first-generation college student you don’t even know about the college application process, you don’t know a lot of those things,” said Pimentel.

He hopes to continue his work at Fresno City College building a team that supports students and making sure his school continues to have a big impact on the Central Valley.

“I want to stay here and make a difference in this community, this is my community,” said Pimentel. “I grew up in this area, so the impact that Fresno city has on this region is huge.”