Story by Dezare Lozano
In the early 2000s, opportunities started to arise for educational leaders across the North County region. Mark Evilsizer, a Trustee for the Governing Board at Palomar College, was one of the leaders destined to make a change for better education. He was responsible for the many changes that Palomar went through.
Now, Evilsizer prefers to stay home with his wife and cat, planning for traveling trips to celebrate his retirement. After 20 years of working as a Governing Board Trustee, he is ready to pass the baton, both at Palomar and the non-profit organization he helped found: Encuentros.
In 2003, The North County Times sent out invitations to superintendents from colleges, K-12 districts, and more. The invitation was to a meeting to discuss educational matters in the North County district. Evilsizer took up the offer and attended the meeting located in Oceanside.
“The topic of conversation was the high dropout rate among Latino students,” said Evilsizer, who reflected as we both stared at our laptop screens via Zoom. He dressed comfortably, his clothing mirroring his relaxed posture and nostalgic mood. Evilsizer smiled the entire time he spoke, remembering the event that changed his life for the better 19 years ago.
While discussing the rate of Latinos suffering in their education, Evilsizer and his colleagues decided it was time to make a change. “We said, ‘You know what? That’s just a train wreck waiting to happen, and our society will not benefit by not engaging all of our citizens in getting a good education and preventing them from dropping out of either middle school or high school.’”
The meeting was filled with harmonious agreements. It was then that the nonprofit Encuentros was born, a volunteer-driven group that would change the lives of Latino males for the best. Their goal: “To create Latino leaders through education.”
This would boost the education game by the hundreds. Latino students do not have much success in California statistically, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable than they are. Unfortunately, “The national dropout rate for Latino students is substantially higher than for others…” according to the National Center for Education Statistics 2002. Evilsizer knew he had to work with the students to have them become successful.
Latinos were referred and allowed to continue their education, starting at Palomar College, and working their way up to a UC or other four-year institutes. With campuses reopening to accommodate in-person classes, it is a perfect time to promote new beginnings.
“This year, we’re back into planning on having a Teachers Academy at Cal State San Marcos and having Engineering Academies at both UC San Diego and at Cal State San Marcos,” said Evilsizer. “We’re going to have three academies this year, maybe four, because we want to resurrect the Leadership Academy.”
Considering that barely a fifth of the Latino population in America decide to complete a four-year degree, Evilsizer knew he had some work to do. Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a political scientist and Latino scholar at Berkeley University said that fewer than 20 percent of Latinos complete a four-year degree “although more than 40 percent of Latinos enter some sort of postsecondary educational program.”
That was no challenge for the Encuentros leader. This passion for betterment in the Latino community came from Evilsizer’s fluctuating childhood. “My dad worked for a savings and loan institution… and about every two or three years I and the family would move to different cities up and down the state of California,” he said. “I grew up being exposed to a lot of political discourse and wanting to change the status quo and to be more aware of the needs of people.”
He married his high school sweetheart and bounced around several different jobs from a gas station worker to a waiter at Bob’s Big Boy. “I got a job at TWA washing dishes and I worked at a chemical plant.” Eventually, in 1973 during college, Evilsizer landed his first long-term job at Northrop Grumman, an aerospace company in Hawthorne, California. It was perfect since Northrop could help pay for tuition expenses and classes. However, there was one problem for the young undergraduate: Northrop didn’t accept zoology as one of the majors they would cover. “Northrop at the time said we don’t pay for zoology majors, but we’ll make sure we will pay for your education though,” said Evilsizer. Previously, he planned to major in biology, saying that being a wildlife biologist or a veterinarian was his first goal. Considering that wasn’t going to happen without drowning in debt, Evilsizer decided to change paths.
“You have to be taking either a business course of study, or an engineering course of study… So I took up business administration and ultimately got my bachelor’s degree in business and then a master’s degree in management.”
Evilsizer finished with a master’s degree in Management at Claremont Graduate University and a bachelor’s degree in Business at the University of Redlands while working at Northrop. His new professional career was now in the Aerospace Defense Industry. “The things we did…It was the unmanned systems division of Northrop and we made vehicles, aeronautical vehicles that didn’t need a pilot,” Evilsizer boomed through my laptop speakers. “And what’s funny is the Navy was really nervous about that. Like, what, you’re gonna land on a vehicle full of fuel on my flight deck of my $3 billion aircraft?! Well, once we prove that thing could land on a dime, you know, more accurately than a human pilot, because of all the laser-guided guidance systems and stuff.”
Evilsizer was working with the X-47B drone, an unmanned aircraft that eventually joined the Navy to survey areas without a pilot. He also worked on numerous fighter jets, commercial aircraft work, and much more from the 1970s to the 1980s. He sighed and smiled contagiously, shaking his head, “Yeah, computerized electromechanical systems on that thing. It was more accurate, and they finally thought: You know what? You proved your point.”
One of Evilsizer’s good friends, Phil Di Trapani, who worked with him at Northrop in 2005. “He’s a very caring person, especially with the Latino community,” Trapani said over the phone. “But, his worst quality? Some of his jokes are pretty bad.” Trapani laughed.
But Northrop wouldn’t be Evilsizer’s main work source anymore. He was laid off after Northrop decided to close the plant he worked at and move out of San Diego. Not wanting to move to northern California, Evilsizer stayed and looked around for jobs. Thankfully, Palomar College opened its arms out, and Evilsizer gladly took the opportunity.
“One of the things I did was I taught part-time at Palomar College,” Evilsizer said. “I taught courses in supervision and courses in the business department. Organizational theory, you know, business communication. Yeah, things like that.” He worked for five years as a part-time instructor. During that time, Evilsizer noticed how unfairly Palomar was treating their faculty—especially the part-timers. “They did not have any union at Palomar, it was a meet and confer. It was really just for the full-time faculty,” he said.
For Palomar College to become successful, he became actively engaged with the American and California Federation of Teachers. “I and several others decided to petition the part-time instructors at Palomar College to begin a union for part-timers…We worked with a woman who was a full-time AFT person. That kind of helped secure a vote for a union and then form a Union.”
It was then that Evilsizer’s colleagues looked up to him and gave him more opportunities to change Palomar for the better. “Some faculty members asked me, ‘Hey, Mark, would you be interested in running for one of the three seats that are going to be open on our governing board?’… So I just started going to some of their meetings. Then I saw that they were making important decisions about employees and policies and fiscal matters. So I said, yeah, I can probably do that.”
The role of a Governing Board member requires a passion for change and a good voice, the qualities Evilsizer had. According to the Tertiary Education and Management, “The Governing Board can be viewed as an important arena for institutional change and is also responsible for quality assurance, efficiency, and effectiveness.” Evilsizer’s colleagues agreed: He was the key to change.
In 2002, the Governing Board elected Evilsizer to become their Trustee, and changes at Palomar College were starting to become noticeable. The rewards of being a Trustee were nothing more than being able to hear the success stories of students around, and for Evilsizer, that was what he needed to keep going.
“From the single mom that was struggling, you know, who came and studied for the nursing program, got support from a parent to watch their child succeed in their goal. Or a Marine Corps veteran, you know, was transitioning from the military to civilian life and wanted to become a policeman or actually worked as a military policeman.” Evilsizer’s eyes sparkled as he spoke, excited to relive those memories of past students and speak of their change. “So, there’s a lot of rewards seeing those successes.”
Evilsizer expanded his and Palomar College’s success over the years. He became the Chair of the Governing Board for the first time in 2008, he has worked with the California Community College Trustees Association, and he has worked statewide through the Community College system to improve things in different colleges. He used his platform to open a nonprofit organization for Latino students in California, going to meetings at the County Office of Education to make noise of the Latino Advisory Committee.
Dr. John Halcón, a retired Professor and Trustee of the Governing Board, who had worked with Evilizer, said that he was “patient” during our brief phone call. “I tend to be a little bit more non-patient as he is. Usually, he would frustrate me, but, y’know, nine out of ten times he’s right. He’s a fantastic guy.” Halcón said with a bit of nostalgia. “There isn’t a particular incident or story that stands out [about Evilsizer], he’s a very well-respected person statewide… Everyone knew when we were in town. They would come and greet us, and we would greet people. He knows everybody.”
Even though Evilsizer is five years into his retirement, this will be the last year of his time at Palomar College and as a Governing Board Trustee. He has travel plans and has started already when he visited Vegas in the last couple of months. He has created change for the world, and now it is time for the world to give back to him.
“It’s time to pass the baton to some other person,” Evilsizer said as we were finishing our interview. I remember looking at him on my screen, not wanting his story to end. However, not everything lasts forever, and it seems he’s aware of that. He took note that there will always be someone there after him, looking over the Governing Board as he did.
“It’s important for board members to keep first and foremost and all of their deliberations and all their decisions that, you know, we’re there to serve the educational needs of our students and the needs of our communities in terms of what kinds of jobs they need workers for,” he said, nodding his head. “It’s important that we keep that in mind and not get too bogged down in union stuff and collective bargaining stuff. I mean, that’s all important but first and foremost that everyone keeps the student focus and the fact that we’re there to serve educational goals I think that’s the one thing I would urge any of my predecessors to keep in mind.”