Giving a lift

Cesar Alvarez

Photo By Tang Lor

Cesar Alvarez has worked for the Upward Bound program at Chico State for seven years. He first started as a temporary student worker and became permanent staff after graduating in 2003 with a degree in business administration. Now he’s the program adviser. Even though his career isn’t related to his degree, Alvarez said the passion of helping other kids who come from a similar background is rewarding. “At one time in my life I was in the situation where I was in high school and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said.

What is Upward Bound?

It’s an academic program for students who are highly motivated to pursue an education past high school. Because we are federally funded, we have to provide services that meet certain criteria, which is low-income or first-generation students.

What’s one of the best things about your job?

When I get phone calls from past alums who have now graduated from a UC or CSU [or otherwise pursued education past high school]. They talk to me about the struggles in college, but now they have a degree and work for a nice company or a nice organization, which is giving them the opportunity to help out other people in their families.

The worst thing?

There are so many applicants that apply to the program that when it’s time to do our recruiting and our selection, I find it very difficult because I can’t provide the service for everyone that I interview. Basically we interview about 200 applicants, and knowing that some of these kids have the potential but we just don’t have the space really affects me in a negative way. It’s part of the job; I have to do it. But I hate to tell kids, “Sorry, you didn’t get in.”

How does your background help you?

I grew up in a farming community. My parents never went to college. I was the first one in my family, low-income, first-generation. I know what these kids are going through. I had a counselor in high school who was very good, but sometimes they don’t push kids in the right direction even if they see that they have potential. I talk about my counselor very highly. He helped other kids, but I didn’t get that from him. I can relate to the kids who are shy, who are not able to go to the counselor or speak up and say, “This is what I want to do,” so they just kind of fall through the cracks.

What’s the most important thing the community should know about UB?

We’re not an at-risk program. We’re not a program that’s meant for minorities. It’s a big misconception that we’re a minority program. We’re not. It just happens to be that the people we serve happen to fit that category, but we will basically provide services to anybody regardless or race, color, religion or whatever it is as long as they meet the criteria.