Daughter of Punjabi Sikhs from India gets powerful leadership post at America’s largest system of public higher education
California Governor Gavin Newsom has appointed Indian American community leader Raji Brar to the California State University Board of Trustees, a powerful leadership post at America’s largest system of public higher education.
A first-generation American and Kern County businesswoman Brar — a California State University, Bakersfield double alumna — will join the board at its meeting in Long Beach in May.
Brar is the oldest child of two Punjabi Sikhs from northern India who came to the United States with nothing in the mid-1970s and first raised their children in Central Valley farm labor camps.
Her mother only got as far as the fifth grade and can’t read or write, according to Brar as cited by CSU campus news.
“They said, ‘What’s the point? You’re a girl,'” she said. “My mom felt so limited in her opportunities. She worked in the fields and at Burger King, which is the only fast-food place she could work because you would say the orders into the mic, and not have to read the screen.
She would tell me in Punjabi all the time, ‘You have to get an education. It’s your life partner, it will never leave you and no one can take it from you.’”
Brar attended CSUB because it was close to home, affordable and accessible, a top priority for the new trustee.
“The Valley has to be part of the conversation,” Brar said. “We can’t get 10 or 15 years down the road and realize we should have focused more on the Central Valley. It’s important that the other trustees hear the stories of Kern County students, what we face. I’m grateful the governor understands that we need to be included.”
CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny praised the governor’s selection of Brar, who serves as president of the CSU Bakersfield Foundation Board.
“There is a light inside Raji that she shares with our entire community through her many acts of kindness and tireless commitment to public service,” Zelezny said.
“She will bring a unique perspective to the Board of Trustees, and this Valley that we love will be well-represented through her voice. This is a proud moment for the Roadrunner family and our region.”
Owner and chief operations officer of Countryside Corporation since 2003, Brar also holds many leadership positions in Kern County and is co-founder of the Bakersfield Sikh Women’s Association.
She served on the Arvin City Council from 2006 to 2008. Brar was executive assistant at Clinica Sierra Vista from 2002 to 2003, and a chemist at BC Laboratories from 2000 to 2002.
Brar is also a member of the Kern County Hospital Authority Board, Kern High School District Education Foundation Board, KERO Channel 23 Community Advisory Board and the Advisory Board of Kern Venture Group.
She earned a bachelor of science degree in biology and a master of science degree in health care from CSUB and is a member of the CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame.
“The CSU is so special because your professors get to know you,” she said. “They help open doors for you and mentor you at a level that you can’t get at a UC. Many folks that do end up going to a CSU need a mentor, and I was blessed to get that at CSUB. I felt so confident after having a degree and a master’s, and there’s a gazillion stories like mine, of student who have obstacles to overcome.”
Brar noted that the CSU leads national surveys that measure the social and economic mobility of its graduates.
“We have to have a strong middle class, and that’s the promise of this country,” she said. “I graduated from CSU Bakersfield and got a job, my husband graduated from CSU Bakersfield and got a job, and after a year, we bought a home. I don’t know if that’s possible anymore and we have to ensure that’s happening for our kids when they get out of college. Ultimately, the goal is to enhance the quality of education and accessibility to everybody regardless of where they come from or what they look like.”
Brar is the third person affiliated with CSUB to serve on the Board of Trustees, following terms by student Krystal Raynes and alumnus John Nilon.
The appointment requires Senate confirmation.