CSUCI to bestow honorary doctorates on two county leaders whose lives were shaped by higher education

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Headshots of Vanessa Bechtel and Angela TimmonsApril 15, 2024 – Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF) Chief Executive Officer Vanessa Bechtel and retired CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) counselor Angela Timmons will each receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during CSUCI’s 2024 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 18.

Timmons’ support for the University includes developing a community for CSUCI’s Black students, and supporting countless of CSUCI students during their most challenging moments when she was a counselor with CAPS.

“Dr. Timmons has dedicated her professional life to supporting peoples’ mental health as a licensed clinical social worker and college counselor,” CSUCI President Richard Yao wrote in his nomination letter to the CSU Board of Trustees. “Her dedication extends to the local community where she is involved with several organizations that work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the region.”

Timmons was born and raised in Oxnard, developing a passion for gospel music early in her life. With that love came confidence, and inspiration.

“The ladies in church were like ‘Stand up, baby, you want to stand tall!’” Timmons said. “I am beholden to all those ladies who invested in me, who prayed for me and believed in me.”

Timmons did not grow up with privilege but was determined to attend college. She was the youngest in a blended family of five kids and two parents who inspired them all. She describes her father, Benjamin as “a gentle giant” and her mom, Pearl, as the family matriarch whose sense of generosity inspired Timmons to go into social work.

“Did the lights get turned off sometimes? Sure. We were blue collar workers, but we had what we needed,” Timmons said. “We had a close-knit family that was community-oriented and faith-based.”

Timmons attended Columbia College in Missouri, then Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) for her degrees in social work, then earned a Doctor of Public Administration from the University of La Verne. It was at Columbia College that she and several other Black students formed a gospel group called “Children of God” who performed all over the state of Missouri.

Her passion for gospel singing enabled her to make lasting connections when she served as the Director of Social Services for Ventura County and at CSUCI from 2014 to 2019, and then retired from the University and went into private practice. She is overwhelmed with gratitude at receiving an honorary doctorate, and thanks those upon whose shoulders she stands, and the CSUCI campus.

“Whenever I set foot on campus, it’s magical,” Timmons said. “I am I awe of the professors, the staff and their dedication to the students, making students the center of the equation.”

As the first in her family to attend college, Bechtel never took her opportunity to get a higher education for granted. “Higher education changed my life,” Bechtel said. “I’m from Oakland and I used to go door to door collecting cans with the idea that I could go to college one day. When I did manage to enroll in UC Santa Barbara, I put my entire freshman year on my Discover card.”

Bechtel and her sister grew up in a low-income home where Bechtel’s mom was a hospice night shift worker, and her father had many different jobs from selling RVs to doing photography during street fairs in San Francisco.

Vanessa Bechtel“He would take me with him, and I would go and play violin outside Ghiardelli Square and move to the Irish pub at four,” Bechtel said. “When I think of the importance of early childhood education, I think of how I learned the violin beginning when I was two. It became a financial vehicle for me and exposed me to worlds I would have never seen: fancy restaurants and weddings.” Bechtel still makes time to play her circa 1787 violin in a band in Santa Barbara, continuing her lifelong passion for music.

After graduating from UCSB with a degree in Law and Society, Bechtel went on to earn her master’s degree from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Prior to joining VCCF in 2015, she served as the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara City College Foundation.

She had heard about CSUCI’s mission to create fundamental access to education and wanted to be a part of it when she came to Ventura County.

“I love Cal State Channel Islands,” Bechtel said. “Having just volunteered this past semester in a communication class, I was in awe of the close rapport the professors had with their students. I would have really loved to have gone here and it would have been really helpful to me.”

According to Yao, “The impacts on our region of these two extraordinary women are as profound as they are deserving of this honorary doctorate bestowed upon them by the CSU Board of Trustees.”

Both Bechtel and Timmons are honored at the recognition, and the opportunity to support CSUCI’s vision of higher education.

This article was originally published by California State University, Channel Islands

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