Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D. was named the first Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Johnson Center in 2018. Throughout his career, Olivarez has been a passionate champion for equity and inclusion. He was the first Hispanic president of any college or university in the state of Michigan, serving as the eighth president of Grand Rapids Community College from 1999 to 2008. He later became president of Aquinas College, his alma mater, from 2011 to 2017. Between these two presidencies, he served as president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (2008–2011), where the educational needs of the community were a top priority.
In 1971, Olivarez was hired as one of the first bilingual/bicultural teachers in the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) for its first Title VII Bilingual Program. After earning his master’s degree, he returned to GRPS as the first Hispanic school psychologist in the district. His deep passion for assisting underrepresented students and families helped drive him on to earn a Ph.D.in Family and Child Ecology from Michigan State University.
Olivarez has served on many national, regional, and local boards, including the National Institute for Literacy appointed by President George W. Bush, Council for Independent Colleges, Educational Testing Services, National Commission on Adult Education, Early Childhood Investment Corporation, Van Andel Education Institute, St. Mary’s Hospital, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, First Steps Kent, Kalamazoo Country Ready 4’s, and the Economic Club of GR.