We know how special it is to be a Son or Daughter of Lanai is to be in an exclusive group – by family ties or association. All accomplishments, success and good fortune by any Lanaian is received with pride and aloha. Here is another spotlight on one of our extended family members, Dr. Derek Vergara.
Derek, is the son of Elipido “Pete” and Juanita “Nita” (Remiticado) Vergara. Both Pete and Nita were born and raised on Lanai. When it came time for them to raise a family, they made the decision that many have made to move to the States to seek more opportunity. Eventually, the Vergaras set their roots in Torrance, California, and were blessed with their four wonderful sons – Derek, Glen, Robin, and Wayne.
As the third oldest, Derek began his educational journey by earning a Bachelors and a Masters Degree at Azusa Pacific University, then his Doctorate in Education at the University of LaVerne. During his course of study, Derek identified what would become his lifelong calling in Social Work and in College Student Development.
Throughout his studies, Derek would take on positions that would strengthen his understanding and practice his goal of guiding and assisting his charges through what can often be a daunting higher education system. He recognized that college is a life-changing period for many students and he undertook to guide many in an often daunting process. Derek has helped to enrich many students’ lives to understand the importance of getting involved and staying on course.
Derek has worked in numerous positions in higher education institutions including his aforementioned alma maters, and at the University of California-Irvine, at Pepperdine University, and currently at the Concordia University, in Irvine, where he is an Associate Vice President of Student Affairs/Assistant to the President for Campus Diversity Initiatives.
All of his experience has lead up to his current position which focuses on student development, both individually and within the community. His broad background includes work from a Resident Director to a Director of Housing and Residential Life to a Dean of Students. Derek has organized and/or overseen Student Counseling and Testing Centers at each stop. In addition, his resume is heavily dotted with examples of his involvement with students who, without his caring hand, would easily fall into the category of “most -at-risk-to-fail” whether it be first-generation college students, ethnic minorities, or socio-economically underserved populations to access of services and programs or with student-athletes who may be affected without Derek’s tireless work with Title IX (equal opportunity for women in sports) compliance.
The overwhelming common thread of kokua and compassion has been Derek’s focus in helping students to assimilate, to get involved with school and the community, and to learn the art of networking.
Derek’s work is built on caring for his students inspired in turn by his own parent’s emphasis on higher education. He says, “What I would like emphasized is my parent’s unwavering support for my education throughout my entire life. While I recognize their limitations in completely understanding how to navigate and guide me through my college journey, they were always supportive and encouraging to me. There is much to be said of the extremely hard work of my parents, who were two laborers that worked in the pineapple fields of Lana’i and moved to the Mainland to ensure more opportunities for their family. Much of my life accomplishments, especially my ability to obtain my doctorate degree, are due to my parent’s unconditional love and support.”
The LACA ‘ohana applauds Dr. Derek Vergara who has made his family proud. Derek and his wife, Michelle, are the proud parents of a son, 14-year old Jared, in whom they instill the strong value of ohana that has been passed down through generations of family, both blood and through community.
Indeed the work ethic of many Lanaians is exemplified in the many generations who have continued on to higher education despite their family’s humble beginnings in the pineapple fields of Lana’i. Kudos to all Lanaians who strive towards higher education!