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Los Angeles

Maria Contreras-Sweet is an accomplished entrepreneur and California State University, Los Angeles alumna who serves on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. In more than three decades of service in the public and private sectors, she has promoted entrepreneurial initiatives to enable underserved community members to elevate their socioeconomic standing. Ms. Contreras-Sweet has worked tirelessly on behalf of disenfranchised communities and is the embodiment of California State University, Los Angeles’ mission of engagement, service, and the public good.

Prior to serving on President Obama’s Cabinet, Ms. Contreras-Sweet was appointed as secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. In overseeing the influential state agency she became the first Latina to hold a cabinet position in California. Ms. Contreras-Sweet later founded ProAmérica Bank, a Latino-owned community financial institution in Los Angeles that provides capital to small and mid-size businesses.

Ms. Contreras-Sweet was selected to serve on the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board, which advises the university and supports research opportunities for professors who are women. She was a founding director of The California Endowment, a multi-billion dollar philanthropic foundation that helps organizations address healthcare inequality in California.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Ms. Contreras-Sweet came to the U.S. at age five. She learned the value of hard work from her single mother, who worked at a poultry processing plant east of Los Angeles to help her family make ends meet. After attending community college, Ms. Contreras-Sweet enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles and majored in political science and public administration.

In recognition of her distinguished career, her contributions helping individuals achieve socioeconomic success and her role as a community advocate for equal opportunity, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Los Angeles are proud to confer upon Maria Contreras-Sweet the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.