About Us

Meet Our Team

Benjamin T. Duran, Ed.D.

President & CEO
(209) 522-5103 ext. 106

The Great Valley Center welcomed Ben Duran as President and CEO of the organization effective January 1, 2013.  A lifetime valley resident, Ben served as Superintendent/President of Merced Community College District from January 1998 until retiring in December 2011. During his career at Merced College, he chaired the Community College League of California’s 2010 Commission on the Future, and served as president of both the California Community Colleges (CCC) Chief Executive Officers Board of Directors and the CCC Economic and Workforce Development Program Advisory Committee.

His community involvement has included serving on the Greater Merced High Speed Rail Committee, Merced County Regional Arts Council, Mercy Medical Center Board of Directors, Merced School Employees Federal Credit Union Board of Directors, UC Merced Foundation Board of Directors, CSU Stanislaus Community Advisory Board, GVC Board of Directors, and the Center for Public Policy Studies.

Ben earned a Bachelor’s degree from California State University, Stanislaus, and a Master’s degree from Chapman University and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Southern California. He spent 40 years as an educator in Merced County, first as a high school teacher in Le Grand, before becoming vice principal of Le Grand High School from 1976 to 1980 and then assistant director of the county’s migrant education program. He returned to Le Grand in 1983 as superintendent of schools, a position he held until 1991 when he became vice president for administrative services at Merced College.

Jaime Cortez

Community Outreach Specialist
(209) 522-5103 ext. 105

Jaime Cortez joined the Great Valley Center as a Program Coordinator for California Connects Program in September 2011. He currently works on the CETF Get Connected Program promoting broadband adoption throughout the Central Valley. Prior to joining the Great Valley Center, Jaime worked as an inventory clerk for hospitals throughout California, handling data and taking accurate counts of various medical equipment and supplies. He also worked as an Assistant Manager for Movie Gallery. He has over four years of management experience supervising the day to day operations of employees. Additionally, Jaime’s background includes work in retail customer service, an externship with Stanislaus County, serving as an Administrative Assistant at Turlock Regional Services, and coaching tennis at Livingston High School where he was responsible for both the boy’s and girl’s programs through the Merced Union High School District. Jaime is a bilingual Spanish speaking Central Valley native, born and raised in Merced County. His education includes graphic design training and medial office training from Modesto Junior College and Kaplan College.

Rachel Cox

Program Coordinator
(209) 522-5103 ext. 101

Rachel joined the Great Valley Center (GVC) in October 2013 as a Program Coordinator for the Green Communities Program. She currently assists in data collection and analysis of emissions data, conducts research in the areas of sustainability, energy, and climate, and supports outreach to local governments regarding programmatic work. This work allows Rachel to match her interest in the environmental and social well-being of our Valley with her experience in data analysis, research, and community outreach.

Before joining the GVC, Rachel earned a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles. While there, she spent two years recruiting and providing resource assistance to patients at Venice Family Clinic and three years developing health promotion materials for the campus population. Currently, Rachel is pursuing a Master of Public Health degree at the University of San Francisco and hopes to engage the community in research to inform policy development. In addition to her work at the GVC, Rachel is currently a Health Equity Scholar with EquityRx, where she is researching health disparities related to food access. Rachel is a California native, born in San Mateo and raised in Salida.

Bryce Dias

Program Manager
(209) 522-5103 ext. 102

Bryce joined the GVC in 2010 as an intern working with local governments to develop greenhouse gas emissions inventories as part of the Green Communities program. After being promoted to a full-time GVC team member in 2011, Bryce took the lead on wrapping up the first phase of the program, and continues to manage successive phases. Working with governments to identify energy efficiency and greenhouse gas solutions has allowed Bryce to match his analytic skill-set with his interests in sustainability, governance and organizational dynamics.

Before joining the GVC, Bryce obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from California State University, Stanislaus. Coincidentally, a large portion of the research he conducted for his senior project relied on publications developed by the GVC. Bryce decided to continue his education at CSU Stanislaus, and received a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree in May of 2012. During his time as a graduate student, he completed internships at the City of Merced and CSU Stanislaus, as well as a service-learning project for the Turlock Police Department, each focused on organizational development. Bryce is especially proud of his two-year service to CSU Stanislaus as a student leader, where he was named Student Leader of the Year in 2010 for, as the Office of Student Affairs put it, “working tirelessly to improve participation and awareness in a student-led initiative on campus”. Bryce is a second-generation Central Valley native, born at Castle Airforce Base in Atwater and raised in Hilmar.

Kathy Halsey

Senior Director,  American Leadership Forum – Great Valley Chapter
(209) 522-5103 ext. 111

Kathy joined the Great Valley Center (GVC) in 2011 as the Senior Director of Strategic Planning.  She is now responsible for program development for the American Leadership Forum – Great Valley Chapter. Prior to joining the GVC, Kathy worked at AT&T for 32 years, the last 12 as Director of External Affairs, responsible for government, business and community relations and corporate giving in the Central Valley. Prior to that, she spent 13 years in customer service and seven years as an IT project manager, helping develop several key software applications for AT&T.

Kathy serves in many leadership roles in the community.  She is a past chairman of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, on the Executive Board for the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance; President of Modesto Rotary, and currently provides leadership for the Great Valley Chapter of the American Leadership Forum. She also serves on the board for the Boys and Girls Club of Stanislaus County, the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way of Stanislaus County, and the ALF national board of directors. She is a graduate of Modesto Junior College and San Francisco University, where she received her degree in Organizational Behavior. She is a Class I graduate of the Great Valley Chapter of ALF. Kathy is a lifetime valley resident, and currently resides in Turlock with her husband and two children.

Jennifer Hidalgo

Community Outreach Specialist
(209) 522-5103 ext. 114

Jennifer joined the Great Valley Center (GVC) in July 2013 as a Community Outreach Specialist and Certified Educator for Covered California. She works on community outreach and education regarding the new Affordable Care Act. In addition to working with the GVC, Jennifer also works with Imagen Public Relations as an independent contractor, as well as with the non-profit UNeed2 as a youth computer trainer. Prior to joining the GVC, Jennifer worked at the Children’s Crisis Center as a case manager responsible for enrolling clients into the respite program as well as the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program.

Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of the Pacific. She is currently working on her Master of Business Administration degree through the University of Phoenix. Jennifer’s involvement with Modesto Junior College and the University of the Pacific’s Speech and Debate teams has given her extensive public speaking and writing experience.  Jennifer is Spanish/English bilingual and has lived in the Central Valley for the past 15 years. She likes to spend her leisure time drawing, reading, and playing sports.

Rosa Padilla

Community Outreach Specialist
(209) 522-5103 ext. 103

Rosa joined the Great Valley Center in July 2013 as a Community Outreach Specialist for the new “Get Connected” program funded by a CETF grant.  The program’s focus is to get those still not connected to the Internet to become broadband subscribers for free or at a very low cost.  This program gives under-served residents of the San Joaquin Valley the opportunity to become digital citizens, able to search the Internet and become up-to-date with available technology at home or even on-the-go.  Rosa’s outreach efforts are specifically targeted to low income Spanish speaking adults in Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.  She attends events and holds free workshops in both English and Spanish to educate the targeted population on Internet basics and the importance of subscribing to broadband.

Most recently, Rosa worked as a Community Trainer for the California Connects digital literacy program for 18 months.  Previously she worked for the non-profit Center for Human Services for nine years doing a variety of programs, including capacity building with the Neighbor-To-Neighbor Program, training volunteers for the workforce, managing the yearly health fair and enrolling children to low cost medical insurance.   Rosa was raised in Sacramento and attended a Catholic high school.  She took courses through Computer Tutor to learn the Microsoft Office software, as well as accounting and other classes relating to computers.  Her passion is to be able to help others access needed services within their own community.  Rosa is also bilingual and a notary public.