She estimates Merced College probably has 14,000 students in credit classes, plus another 6,000 taking other courses. Now there are more than 1,000 full-timers at its Los Banos campus.
"We're embedded in the fabric of this community," Duran adds, figuring that out of 140,000 adults in Merced County, 20,000 of them are somehow affiliated with Merced College.
Average age: 27 to 28. That means a lot of them are in their 30s and 40s. Merced College students have transferred to some 90 four-year institutions around the country.
Duran himself is walking, talking proof that the California community college system has served as a launching pad for tens of thousands of successful careers. After he graduated from Los Banos High School, he went straightaway to Merced College. He got his A.A. there, then a B.A. at Cal State Stanislaus, a master's at Chapman University and a Ph.D. at USC.
Besides teaching people like Corinne Mead a highly technical skill, the college offers classes and other activities to senior centers around the county.
Its hacky-sack club goes to area high schools, preaching the virtues of real workouts versus virtual games. Since 2001 the college has made a special effort to reach out to military veterans returning to the county.
"It's a way to transform our work force," Newins explains, "and help them become more focused, productive citizens."
English as a Second Language courses and a plan to help newly released inmates take useful classes also bolster Merced College's emphasis that it is a "community" college.
One of Duran's major influences has been Uri Treisman, now a mathematics professor at the University of Texas and a former MacArthur Fellow. Over a long and varied career, Treisman at one point taught math and science in south central Los Angeles, mainly to black and Latino students.
In a paper he wrote after that experience, he captures some of Duran's own thoughts and goals about Merced College:
"The time has come to re-examine undergraduate instruction and to make it more responsive to the needs of today's students. We can no longer offer courses that half of our students fail, nor can we lower our standards. The challenge is to reconfigure undergraduate science and mathematics education in ways that will inspire students to make the choices we have made. This can happen only if we change the boundaries of faculty responsibility. It is the faculty that must take the lead."
Says Duran, "His work still resonates with me."
Just as Merced College resonates with our entire community.
Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at (209) 385-2427 or firstname.lastname@example.org