2023 California Community Colleges Distinguished Alumni Honorees Announced
This year's honorees represent Irvine Valley College, Monterey Peninsula College, and Long Beach City College
The Community College League of California (League) will honor three California Community Colleges (CCC) alumni with the Distinguished Alumni Award during its Annual Convention in Indian Wells this November. Jimmy Panetta (Monterey Peninsula College), Advaith Thampi (Irvine Valley College), and Blas Villalobos (Long Beach City College) were nominated by peers and mentors to receive this prestigious honor.
The California Community College Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes and honors individuals whose attendance at a California community college assisted them in achieving their educational goals and subsequent professional aspirations. The award celebrates their post-academic accomplishments and their impact on the communities around them.
"Each of this year's honorees found part of their life's calling during their time at a community college," said Larry Galizio, President & CEO, Community College League of California. "Their inspiring stories remind us how transformative a college education is for many of our students, meeting their educational needs and supporting their growth as thriving professionals and community members."
The League has recognized more than 260 Distinguished Alumni honorees from California's community colleges since 1964. Past recipients include educational leaders, healthcare officials, honored military heroes, writers, elected officials, actors, business leaders, and professional athletes.
The Distinguished Alumni recipients will be honored at a luncheon ceremony on Friday, Nov. 17, at the League's Annual Convention at the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells.
The 2023 California Community College Distinguished Alumni Awardees include:
Jimmy Panetta | Monterey Peninsula College
U.S. Representative, 19th Congressional District
United States Representative Jimmy Panetta has proudly served California’s 19th Congressional District since he was first elected in 2016. Representative Panetta understands the importance of giving back to the community and country that gave his Italian immigrant grandparents, his family, and him so much opportunity.
During his time in Congress, Representative Panetta has fought for affordable housing, immigration reform, environmental protections, accessible health care, the agriculture industry and its farmers and farmworkers, the reduction of gun violence, a fairer tax code, major infrastructure investment, sustainable conservation practices, military installations that are an integral part of our community and our country’s security, and the deserved and promised benefits to our veterans. He has passed into law legislation to promote clean energy, protect California’s forests and pollinators, support frontline health care workers, tackle hunger among military families, and provide legal services to homeless veterans and veterans at risk for homelessness.
Prior to Congress, Representative Panetta served as a prosecutor in Monterey and Alameda Counties and as an Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. In 2007, he volunteered for active duty and was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service. Representative Panetta attended Monterey Peninsula College before transferring to the University of California, Davis, where he earned an undergraduate degree in International Relations. He later earned his law degree from Santa Clara University.
Advaith Thampi | Irvine Valley College
Stakeholder and Engagement Liaison, Department of Veterans Affairs; Board of Veterans Appeals
Advaith Thampi is a dedicated veteran and advocate who embodies the military ethos "got your six" in civilian life. Inspired by the events of 9/11, and after graduating high school in Bakersfield in 2005, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Thampi served as a fixed-wing crew chief on C-130s from 2010, and excelled in systems support, aircraft operation, and maintenance while flying missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2010, he was honorably discharged but faced the challenge of transitioning to civilian life. Thampi found solace and support at the Irvine Valley College (IVC) Veterans Services Center (VSC), which helped him reintegrate into civilian life and with VA benefits. He regularly volunteered at the VSC and participated in its expansion, demonstrating his commitment to fellow veterans. Thampi earned an associate degree in U.S. History at IVC, a bachelor of arts in political science from University of California, Irvine, and a juris doctorate from Chapman University.
In 2019, Thampi become an advocate for the American Legion, working with Congress as a veteran’s legislation advocate in Washington, D.C. He was instrumental in the passage of the PACT Act of 2022, which improved healthcare access and benefits to veterans exposed to toxics, particularly burn pits. The PACT Act also led to the establishment of new VA healthcare facilities, expanded healthcare eligibility, and enhanced research on toxic exposure. He continued his advocacy with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, serving as a legislative counsel and senior advocate.
The VSC at IVC inspired him to serve veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers through public policy and advocacy. Thampi continues his engagement today, at IVC by mentoring veteran students. His journey underscores the transformative power of veteran support services within California Community Colleges.
Dr. Blas Villalobos | Long Beach City College
Chief Executive Officer, Centerstone Military Services
Dr. Blas Villalobos is a decorated military hero, an advocate for our country’s veterans and a true California community college success story. While serving in the United States Marine Corps (1999- 2003), Villalobos was deployed to Iraq as a Squad Leader, earning several awards while serving in combat operations: The Combat Action Ribbon; Presidential Unit Citation; Meritorious Unit Commendation; Iraq Campaign Medal with two bronze campaign stars; and the Humanitarian Service Medal.
After his time in the Marine Corps, Villalobos attended Long Beach City College (LBCC) where he completed his associate degree before transferring to receive his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach, and his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Southern California. He credits much of his success to the support he received as part of a tight-knit community at LBCC’s Veteran Resource Center, where he found passion for service that has defined his career. In 2021, he was appointed to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. Villalobos was recognized with LBCC’s most prestigious alumni honor in 2022 when he was inducted into the LBCC Hall of Fame.
Villalobos established Chapman University’s first Veterans Resource Center and served as the Executive Director of Community Programs and Veteran Services for U.S. VETS Patriotic Hall. He continued his career as the Veterans Affairs Manager for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office, assisting more than 12,000 veterans with employment services. In his current role as the Chief Executive Officer of Centerstone’s Military Services, Villalobos leads the organization’s delivery of mental health and substance use disorder services to veterans, active-duty personnel, and military families.
The Community College League of California (League) is a nonprofit public benefit corporation whose voluntary membership consists of the 73 local public community college districts in California. We support locally elected trustees and community college CEOs to serve their students and communities by advocating on their behalf at the state and federal levels, providing continued professional development, and delivering services that employ economies of scale to minimize cost.