NOCCCD’s Center for Entrepreneurship Director Receives “Woman of the Year Award” Feature Story

April 13, 2024

Cathleen Greiner, Ph.D., director of  the Center for Entrepreneurship at North Orange County Community College District, has spent her entire career connecting people and creating collaborations that increase access to education, expand business opportunities, and support economic development. 

For her passionate and influential work, Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) named her a recipient of the 2024 “Woman of the Year Award” for Senate District 29. The award honors extraordinary women whose work and efforts have profoundly impacted their communities. Newman said in a written statement, “Their commitment to service and their positive impact on the lives of others are examples for us all, and we thank them.”

Greiner, who has held a variety of administrative and faculty positions at community colleges and also served as a regional chair for the former Los Angeles Orange County Regional Consortium, and a regional director of employer engagement, business and entrepreneurship for the Orange County region, was deeply honored to receive the award.

“I am energized to serve the diverse workforce and array of businesses across the district as we unite to bolster, support, and expand solo and small business economic development,” said Greiner, who received the award at a ceremony in March.

She added, “This recognition allows me to put a voice to and put an exclamation point on service to our community and to students, always. This is an acknowledgement of how important education and business — and the bridges that connect them — are to making access and opportunity a reality and not just something we talk about.” 

Launched last year, NOCCCD’s Center for Entrepreneurship provides support, resources, access to professional mentors, business basics, and networking opportunities to students, community members, and the region.

“It creates a genuine sense of community for participants and partners,” Greiner said.

Greiner also praised the partnerships she has with organizations across the region who have supported this work, including the Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies, Advance OC, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, One OC, and CSU Fullerton.

According to Greiner, community college students have a lot on their plate like balancing family, work, school, a side hustle, and more. She is proud of how the work she and her partners do helps them reach their goals, start new businesses, and contribute to the economic and cultural life of Orange County. 

“Education unlocked the door for me,” said Greiner, whose unique education background includes a BS in economics, a MS in educational policy and business management, and a MS in philosophical systematic theology. But it is her PhD in higher education administration and public policy that brings these diverse threads together—her research revolved around the question of how to measure a program’s access and equity.

“That is why I love the community college system and the access it provides for Californians to get employed, to get re-skilled, and to improve their lives and the lives of their families,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that California is the fifth largest economy in the world and we have the most comprehensive educational scaffolding system that is adjacent to that economic power.”

One of Greiner’s proudest moments was when she worked in career and technical education in the central coast where she helped establish a mobile welding program. A bus van outfitted with training equipment brought much-needed training to workers in agriculture who did not have the resources or time to get to campus for the classes. Like most of her work, the program was a win-win that benefited both employees and businesses.

“What I am most proud of is my focus on what access really means and how to make it happen,” she said. “Access means not only being able to enroll in a program, but it also means access to child care, giving someone a bus pass for transportation, or food assistance. It is hard to believe that we are still talking about food banks in 2024, but it is absolutely essential.” 

She is also proud of her efforts to make a difference in people’s lives, always leaving her door open to have conversations with students or community members.

“It’s important to take the time and energy, and make the effort to have genuine safe harbors to listen and help people find solutions. It takes a similar investment in time and genuine effort to build bridges with businesses,” she said.

She credits her parents for modeling the importance of helping your neighbors. Growing up in a small town in Oregon, she was taught to help people when they needed it.

“That’s what community colleges do,” Greiner said. “And I’m proud to be a part of it. ​​If you help people be successful, the ripple effects will be plentiful.”