Language Professor Wears Many Hats

Fernando Oleas Spanish Professor and AFT Chapter President occupies his free time reading a book in his office Oct. 2, 2015 at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. Photo: Monica Salazar
Fernando Oleas Spanish Professor and AFT Chapter President occupies his free time reading a book in his office Oct. 2, 2015 at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. Photo: Monica Salazar


His casual faded black T-shirt is well fitted to his lean build. Charcoal silver hair falls down to his shoulders shaping his tan face with so few lines. He is a modest looking man, down-to-earth and approachable and while interacting with students or co-workers he is attentive and knowledgeable. It is clear that Fernando Oleas’ passion lies in teaching and helping students.


Oleas is a product of the community college system,  having moved from South America to California when he was 25 he was anxious and determined to learn the english language.


Los Angeles Community College was where Oleas found his love for education with reading and writing.


“It didn’t matter to me where I was going as long as I was learning,” said Oleas.


His thirst for education and love of learning lead him to the doors of University of California Los Angeles studying Italian and Philosophy.


“I know the difficulty and the anxiety that is created with a student who wants to transfer. There was no one there to help me. That’s why I want be active in the application process for students,” Oleas said.


He also graduated from UCLA with a masters as well in Romantic Literature and Culture.


Oleas came to Pierce College in 2001. Having worked his way up as a Professor for the last 14 years, he is now Chair of the Modern Language Department and the AFT Chapter President to 9 community colleges in the district.


Professor James McKeever, sociology teacher and  Chair of the History and Philosophy and Sociology department was mentored under Oleas when he first started teaching at Pierce.


“He was the one who first gave me advice when I first started. I joined him in involvements that were mostly about the union and events we did. He was always very active. He is still very active” said McKeever.


Ali Asghar, political science major and ASO member knew Oleas to not only be passionate about his classes but also enthusiastic about the campus as a whole.


“Professor Oleas is very enthusiastic about his job. I sat on shared governance committees with him for accreditation and I could tell that his passion was truly there for the students.  He was not just there to represent the union. As so few know he is the AFT Chapter President. I can tell that he is really there for the students.


Oleas has fond memories during his first years at Pierce.


“The first experiences then were I would say the greatest that I ever had because it was my first interaction with community college students,” Oleas said.


One of the ways he inspired students to get involved on campus and excited about literature and language was doing a 12 hour poetry reading, a Read-a-thon, in front of the old library at Pierce.


“We read a good portion of Don Quixote. Students and their friends and parents got involved in the reading. The podium was never empty. The true concept of a community college was there.”


Being involved with his students education is Olea’s main priority. In 2009 Oleas led his Spanish class in translating the Bull magazine from English to Spanish.


“I really wanted my students to get the hands on experience of translating. You can see that there are no mistakes in the Spanish translation of The Bull.” he said.


Before Oleas began teaching at Pierce he already had experience teaching at UCLA and Occidental College.


“The environments were completely different from Occidental and UCLA to Pierce College,” he said.


“I loved that fact that Pierce students came from an array of cultures and variety. The concept of diversity was here and I was able to interact with them. I realized we needed to work a little bit more and a little bit harder to inspire students to continue their education.”


Oleas has involved himself in helping students with the transfer process.


“I always help my students in the application process. I read their statements, correct and proofread. It’s my personal task because I’ve nurtured them and want them to move on, especially to UCLA. I always push for that,” Oleas said.


The majority of his students go to UCLA and UC schools.


McKeever believes that behind his teaching and involvement Oleas hold true to what he believes in from the political and social standpoint of things.
“He’s very smart and he is very passionate about students as well as the college and about labor issues and so on. He’s a true believer and he does things that he believes in,” said McKeever.