"Students are the reason he is in education. That's the purpose of his career," said Alonso-Garza.
Training future administrators has been Merino's passion since he started teaching at SDSU.
Merino started both the master's degree in educational administration and the administrative credentialing programs at SDSU's Calexico campus.
Merino estimated he has trained more than 40 school administrators in the Valley through the educational administration master's degree program he started in 1977.
He estimated at least four of the 40 administrators are now local school superintendents.
"He was really good about shepherding everyone through the program," said Blaine Smith, superintendent/principal of Magnolia Union Elementary and Merino's former student.
"He was genuinely concerned about each individual and he took the time to get to know everybody," Smith added.
Merino didn't intend to become an educator. His path, with its many twists and turns, finally brought him to the place he calls home, the Imperial Valley.
Out of high school, with no prospects, Merino enlisted in the Navy with a friend to get out of his small town of Santa Rita, N.M.
"There were no jobs in our town," said Merino.
After four years, and a stint aboard the USS Princeton during the Korean war, where he was an assistant to the captain, Merino decided to go to college with the intent of returning to the Navy as an officer.
In college, realizing his love for architecture, he majored in drafting and decided not to return to the Navy.
He has no regrets of leaving the Navy.
"There was a lot of discipline and I liked that. It taught you organization. But teaching is where it's at," said Merino.
"Since I was in the Navy, I liked San Diego and thought ‘I have to go back,'" said Merino of why he chose to settle in Southern California.
His teaching career began in San Bernardino, where he taught drafting for five years at Franklin Junior High.
Merino moved from teacher to counselor and eventually ended up principal of the junior high.
As the youngest faculty member and the youngest principal ever at the school, Merino had some doubts.
"I was concerned about how the faculty would accept me," he confessed.
He was accepted, even applauded by staff on his first day as principal.
"It was during the desegregation, so it was mainly a minority school," said Merino of some of the issues he faced as a young principal.
After deciding to become a superintendent, Merino attended the University of Massachusetts, where he completed his educational doctorate in two years.
"Tomas Arciniega, the dean of the school of education in San Diego, told me, ‘If you're interested in promoting principals, then the university is where you need to be. The university is where you train principals,'" said Merino.
When he joined SDSU in 1974, he had two students from the Imperial Valley.
Realizing they had to drive two hours over the hill to attend educational administration classes for their master's degrees, Merino decided to organize a degree program in the Imperial Valley.
He recruited local superintendents to teach.
Dick Fragale, Joe Vogel, Joe Maruca, Glen Sarot and Nancy Livingston were a few of his first professors.
"The superintendents were great teachers with a lot of experience," Merino said of his early staff.
Livingston, a professor in the teacher education department, described Merino as "sterling."
"He is sterling in character and sterling in values. He is a good and decent man," she said.
"He is a leader in terms of graduate professional development, enhancing faculty roles … and concern for students," said Livingston.
Former student Sue Hess, superintendent/principal of Mulberry Elementary School said, "He was always very, very encouraging to us prospective administrators."
One of the first women in the educational administration program, Hess said initially she was intimidated by the male administrators she met in San Diego.
"I didn't think I could be that powerful," she confessed.
Hess went to Merino to let him know she was quitting.