Going to college is a life-changing, whirlwind experience that shapes the direction of the rest of our lives. Unfortunately though, not everyone has the opportunity to get a bachelor’s degree. It is a tremendous accomplishment to get into college, but so many people believe that being admitted to college is unattainable.
Eleazar Olayo Gamez is a huge inspiration to all of us. He is the first person in his family to go to college and he has overcome so many obstacles to get to where he is now. He is majoring in Child, Youth, and Family Sciences and is working towards a certificate in Chicano and Latino Studies. After Portland State University, he’s going to use his education to help other disadvantaged minority students make going to college a reality.
“Everyone is capable of reaching success in their own personal way, but not everyone has the guidance or resources. Many students have potential but don’t know how to apply for college,'' he says. I think we’ve all felt something similar at one point.
Eleazar knows firsthand how hard it can be to grow up in a low-income, minority family. His family moved from Mexico when he was young and he had to learn English as his second language when he was in elementary school. Since no one in his family had gone to college, he assumed he wouldn’t be going to college either. He was unaware about how to apply for college until his high school social studies teacher gave him college application resources and inspired him to pursue higher education. He first heard about PSU during his time as a member of the AVID program, an organization that focuses on closing the opportunity gap for high school students.
“My social studies teacher, the AVID program and teacher and Tania Sanchez, the Assistant Director for Multicultural Recruitment at Portland State, were the three things that were important to my admittance to PSU.” Sanchez is one of the amazing admissions counselors in the Undergraduate Admissions Office. She spent time working one-on-one with Eleazar and helped make acceptance at PSU achievable.
Eleazar said he felt lost at PSU at first, both on the campus and in the college lifestyle, but he felt warmly welcomed by the professors and other students. He lived in Campus Housing his first year but now he commutes to school from Hillsboro. He said Portland State made it convenient for students who don’t want a traditional college experience to get to class and be successful. “PSU caters to more students by having the option to live off-campus and still be successful. The school is convenient for anyone, even if they are cities away from downtown. It is not a traditional university that requires you to live on campus. You can have a similar experience living off-campus as well.”
He told me that joining the Gaining Awareness & Networking for Academic Success (GANAS) program, part of Diversity and Multicultural Student Services (DMSS), helped him gain a sense of community at PSU. This program is a year-long mentor program to help students transition from high school to life at a university and reach their academic goals.
When he’s not in class, he’s busy with many campus organizations, including Omega Delta Phi, a multicultural fraternity with a focus on volunteering; and La Casa Latina, a space on campus that provides support for Latinx students to connect with community, develop leadership skills, empower their individual and collective identities, and participate in services that support academic success. “It is always going to be difficult to meet new people, but at PSU it is easy to find a community who identifies with you. There are many resource centers for any student,” he says.
After graduating from PSU, he plans to teach high school for a few years, then keep moving forward in school with a Master’s Degree and Ph.D. in Higher Education. Eleazar has also considered becoming an admissions counselor for undergraduate students and being the beginning of someone else’s success story. His goal is to work for a program that educates and mentors parents of first-generation college students and help them see that college is possible for anyone. He truly lives by example.
His advice to minority, low-income students: “There is always a way to attend PSU. Don’t be afraid to connect with the campus, get resources and talk to the admissions counselors. There is help out there for tuition and scholarships and the counselors will help you know where to look.”
What a journey. As one of the most selfless, caring and genuine people, his story is a true example of how dedication, persistence, and access to resources can make a world of a difference in someone’s life. Anyone with passion can make going to college a reality.
PSU is committed to helping students reach their dreams, no matter where they come from or where they want to go. Connect with an admissions counselor at PSU to help you get started on your journey with us.