Ishan Shah is running for the Ohlone College Board of Trustees.  (Courtesy/Ishan Shah)
Ishan Shah is running for the Ohlone College Board of Trustees. (Courtesy/Ishan Shah)

FREMONT -- When Ishan Shah interrupted his college studies last year to care for a parent stricken with cancer, he didn't know then that putting his life on hold would help the two dreams closest to his heart come true. Less than a year after Shah returned to Fremont, his mother has fully recovered, and coming home has helped him reach the goal of holding political office. The latter achievement became official last week, when Ohlone College trustees appointed Shah to the community college's board, making him Ohlone's first Indian-American trustee and the youngest member in the board's history.

Shah, 21, a Mission San Jose High graduate and former Ohlone student, bested two other finalists to nab the appointment.

"Ishan brings the perspective of being a recent student at Ohlone College," board President Garrett Yee said. "That's a perspective that none of the other board members can bring."

While barely old enough to legally enter a bar, he already is a political veteran. In 2009, he ran for City Council at age 16. A year later, he ran for an open Ohlone College board seat. He lost both races but gained valuable experience and a reputation as a solid candidate with fundraising abilities beyond his years.

He also caught the eye of local and state leaders.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the California Student Aid Commission, on which he served while studying political science at the University of Southern California. He also has served on the Alameda County Human Relations Commission.

"Ever since (losing the Ohlone election in 2010), a significant part of my life has been spent on fighting for students," he said. "I think the board saw in me someone who could say to the student body, 'I get what you're going through.'"

Shah plans to commute between Fremont and Los Angeles, splitting time between Ohlone College and USC until he earns his bachelor's degree later this year.

He joins Ohlone's seven-member board amid some unexpected changes. Shah fills a seat left vacant by ex-trustee Kevin Bristow, who resigned in March when he moved out of the college district boundary.

Yee, an Army Reserve brigadier general, next week will start a 12-month tour of duty in Kuwait, leaving Ohlone's board one member short. The remaining trustees likely will leave Yee's post vacant, as they have done during his past two military deployments.

While Yee departs for the short term, Shah begins what he hopes is a long political career. He shrugs off any concerns that he is too young or inexperienced for the job.

"There's never a perfect time to seek office," he said. "When you're called on it and have the ability to do so, you should do it."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.