Celina ZacariasJuly 9, 2021—As a young girl working in Oxnard’s strawberry fields alongside her mother, CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) Senior Director of Community & Government Relations Celina Zacarias could not know that she would one day become a prominent voice in the tri-county area.

Zacarias is also the first Latina ever to be elected to the position of Oxnard Harbor Commissioner, a role she fulfills alongside her career at CSUCI. According to her campaign manager, David Maron, Zacarias made history by receiving 44,748 votes—the most votes ever cast for the position of Oxnard Harbor Commissioner.

This spring, the Pacific Coast Business Times recently named Zacarias one of the 50 Most Influential People in the Tri-Counties and one of the Top 50 Women in Business for 2021.

“We deeply appreciate the extraordinary effort Celina has made to connect CSU Channel Islands to the region’s business community,” said Pacific Coast Business Times Editor Henry Dubroff. “She’s a force to be reckoned with—on campus, in the boardroom and at the Port.”

CSU Channel Islands’ Interim President Richard Yao reinforced that message, saying, “Celina is such a valuable member of our campus community. The breadth and depth of her connections in the county and state, and in Washington, DC, as well, are the result of the time and care she invests in building and honoring relationships. Our students are ultimately the ones who gain from the ways in which she works to connect our campus with the many communities we serve.”

Zacarias said she was honored, humbled and “tickled pink” to be in the company of the 49 other prominent individuals named on each of the Top 50 lists.

 “I never considered myself an influential person, but I’ve been fortunate to have two careers in two completely different industries, and I have loved, loved, loved them both,” Zacarias said. “I felt the work I did and do now was impactful on people’s lives, and I’m thankful for that.”

Zacarias’ position as Harbor Commissioner is the latest in a work history that began in the fields of Oxnard and now takes her everywhere from Washington D.C. to local, regional, national and international gatherings of business, academic and civic leaders.

Zacarias has been at CSUCI for 14 years following a 25-year career in mortgage banking in which she was able to help a lot of families who might not have otherwise been able to afford a home.

“I worked with first time home buyers and on affordable housing projects. These were complicated loans and projects not the most profitable for the person who works on commission,” Zacarias said. “But it meant a lot to me that I got to help hardworking individuals buy a home and keep it.”

Her deep understanding of the lives of those who struggled financially came from growing up in a farm-working family.

“I was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. when I was three years old,” Zacarias said. “My grandfather and father were part of the bracero program. My dad and brothers picked lemons and I would go with my mother to pick strawberries.”

The bracero program was an agreement between Mexico and the U.S. in which nearly 4.6 million Mexican citizens were allowed to enter the U.S. temporarily to work on farms, railroads, and in factories between 1942 and 1964 with the promise of decent living conditions and a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour.

With the help of her teachers and counselors and encouragement from her parents, she became the first in her family to attend a four-year university. Zacarias graduated from UC Santa Barbara with degrees in Hispanic Civilization and Spanish Literature.

In mortgage banking, at CSUCI, and as Harbor Commissioner, Zacarias is doing all she can to give others opportunity just as opportunity was given to her. She helped create educational partnership agreements with Naval Base Ventura County at Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, has arranged Memorandums of Understanding (MOU)s for CSUCI with various organizations in the county, and helped create the Migrant Summer Leadership Institute at CSUCI.

Another recent award for Zacarias was in 2020, when she was named the Woman of Distinction for the Central Coast Girl Scouts.

Zacarias says none of her accomplishments or her rewarding work experience would have been possible without a college degree, and she hopes to continue to serve as a living example of all that is possible by pursuing higher learning.

“I’m living a life I never could have imagined,” Zacarias said. “I’m living the transformational power of higher education.”

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