FREMONT -- When Kevin Bristow won a seat on the Ohlone College Board of Trustees two years ago, he said he ran to help disadvantaged students whose challenges he, a former foster child, knew of too well.
Little did he know that the same goal would lead him to resign 15 months after taking office. Bristow, 36, has stepped down to devote time to running a new UC Merced program helping foster children. He said he wrestled with the decision to resign, but the new job was too good to pass up.
"My youth has fueled my desire to succeed in life, and helping foster youth achieve their goals within the realm of education is what I love to do," he said. "Sometimes life presents you with opportunities, and you have to go with your heart."
Bristow's departure, which he announced last week, took effect Saturday. Starting next month, he will head UC Merced's newly formed Guardian Scholars Program, which offers services to current and former foster youths. He ran a similar program at Cal State East Bay in Hayward for seven years.
Ohlone leaders said Bristow leaves the college on good terms, praising his energy and enthusiasm.
"He brought a fresh voice on a lot of topics," Ohlone College President Gari Browning said. "He would ask questions others didn't think to ask."
Browning said Bristow should not be criticized for leaving his post early because his decision comes at a crucial point in a burgeoning career that benefits disadvantaged students who likely need the most help.
"As educators, it's hard for us to say, 'Gee, we're disappointed in your commitment to education,'" she said. "We want to encourage young people like Kevin who are pursuing their career goals in education, and that's what he is doing."
Board President Garrett Yee said he and his colleagues will appoint an interim trustee to fill the open seat. He or she could vie to retain the post in the November election. The seven-member board has until mid-May to make its selection. The deadline to apply is April 16.
The prospects of a four-hour daily commute between Merced and his Fremont home will lead Bristow to move soon to the Central Valley, he said. That is closer to the new job and far outside Ohlone's district boundaries, which state election law says he must live in to continue representing Fremont and part of Union City.
In 2011, former Ohlone College Trustee Nick Nardolillo was convicted of felony election fraud and forced to resign from the board after this newspaper's investigation revealed that he lived in Livermore while representing Fremont.
Bristow said he will not make the same mistake. "I can't serve on the board and not live in the district," he said.
He said the implementation of Measure G, a $349 million bond earmarked for replacing or renovating several weathered Ohlone buildings, tops the list of board accomplishments during his abbreviated tenure. "Hopefully, it gives (Ohlone) one more reason to be considered one of the best community colleges in the state," he said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
Applications for appointment to the Ohlone College board of trustees must be submitted by 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 16. To apply or for more information, go to www.ohlone.edu.