Q&A by UO student Chelsea Fullmer
UO Alumni Association board member and Executive Director of the Latino Network in Portland, Oregon, shares her experience as a first-generation college student and her continual involvement in the Latino community as a student and post-graduation.
Where are you from originally? What brought you to the UO?
I was born and raised in Hillsboro, Oregon. My grandparents came to this country from Durango and Chihuahua, Mexico, in the mid-1940s as braceros, or migrant laborers. For more than 20 years they were farmworkers, picking cotton, grapes, lettuce, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables while living in labor camps in Texas, New Mexico, Northern California, and Oregon. Both sides eventually settled in Washington County, where most of my extended family resides to this day. I came to the University of Oregon because they were the first and only university that I had exposure to in high school, and it left a huge impression on me. Today I tell people this so that they can fully understand how important exposure is to underrepresented students. It was my first choice, and I was fortunate to earn a scholarship that allowed me to enroll.
What was your major and why did you choose said major?
When I enrolled I thought I would major in journalism. I probably changed several times after that, but ultimately landed in political science. This was because I became very active both on campus in student unions and governance, as well as volunteering on political campaigns.
What were you involved in while attending school?
I was very involved in student activities during my time at the UO, including MEChA, the Multicultural Center, what was formerly the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and also the EMU Board and other ASUO roles under two student presidents. I met some amazing people here as student leaders, and we continue to work with one another in our professional capacities to this day.
What are some of your favorite memories at the UO?
My best memories were groups of us studying together in the MEChA office for finals, rallying about a local or national issue to raise awareness, or organizing our student groups to advocate for student fee funding every year. Interestingly, those three examples are really relevant in my work today, but with much with higher stakes involved.
How has life been post-graduation?
I’ve been really fortunate. My involvement as a student opened doors for me post-graduation. I started at Metropolitan Group, worked for several local campaigns, and served on the administrations of Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz, Portland Mayor Tom Potter, and Portland Commissioner Nick Fish. Nearly four years ago I undertook the Executive Director role at Latino Network, where my background and relationships in public policy are helpful in raising important issues that affect the growing Latino community and finding allies to help create solutions.
Tell us about the Latino Network and your involvement.
Latino Network is a culturally specific, community-based nonprofit based in Multnomah County that serves more than 1,500 adults, youth, and children every year. Our mission is to provide transformative programs and advocacy for the education, leadership, and civic engagement of youth, families, and communities in the Portland Metro area. We offer a continuum of programs to children and parents beginning in early childhood and extending through high school graduation, including academic and cultural enrichment, leadership, skill building and violence prevention activities for youth and families. I assumed directorship in the fall of 2009, and since that time we have grown nearly 155 percent in operating budget and staff. Our staff is amazing!
You're on the UOAA Board of Directors...why did you choose to be on the Board?
I am on the UOAA Board because my experiences at UO were such a foundational time in my life. It’s also a way to reconnect with others that shared this time with us. As a first-generation college student, I was overwhelmed, and was fortunate that I found the social and academic supports that I needed. It’s now my turn to support our faculty, staff and other student leaders who will be there to support the next generation of first-time students. I know my colleagues with similar experiences to mine feel the same way.
Why is membership important?
For me personally, membership is important because it’s an opportunity to demonstrate to the next generation of incoming students that our alumni is (and has been) incredibly diverse and are doing interesting things—in part due to our time at the UO. It’s a way to acknowledge the rich history of student activism, student leadership and institutional changes that have occurred over time that resulted from this involvement, and we have a chance to relive this through reconnection, storytelling and engagement with students whom share our experiences.
Tell us about being the recent recipient of the PDX Hispanic Metro Chamber - Latino Community Service Award and what it entails. What was your reaction to being honored with the award?
The award was to recognize contributions that advance the Latino community. It was such an honor because the folks that I have turned to for advice and mentorship, or to teach me about community accountability, were the ones to nominate me and were there to celebrate with me. I was truly humbled and grateful to have so many great teachers in my life.
What other organizations are you a part of?
Last week I was appointed by the Governor to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. I also serve on the Portland Housing Advisory Commission, am co-chair for the Coalition of Communities of Color, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, executive committee for All Hands Raised, and Multnomah County’s Cradle to Career Council.
To learn more about Carmen and the Latino Network, visit http://www.latnet.org/