Relationship building defined Jose Alvarado's Willamette experience

by University Communications,

As commencement approaches, our graduates reflect on their Willamette experience and share their plans for the future. This is the fourth of our five-part series.

When a Willamette professor personally delivered the university’s admissions application to him, Jose Alvarado ’13 knew there was something special about the school.

“I couldn’t believe he actually came to my house,” says Alvarado about Fritz Ruehr, a computer science professor who became Alvarado’s mentor.

“It showed that he really cared about the students who were admitted, and that he must really enjoy his job if he’s willing to go out of his way like that.”

Now that he’s graduating with a double major in computer science and math, Alvarado says his opinion of Willamette hasn’t changed.

In fact, he attributes its wealth of social and academic opportunities for preparing him to attend grad school at the University of San Francisco in the fall.

“I’m ending a chapter of my life and starting a new one,” Alvarado says. “Willamette has been the best part of my life.”

Active Involvement

A first-generation college student, Alvarado didn’t know what to expect when he enrolled at Willamette.

“I expected it to be like television shows, where students focused mostly on social activities rather than academics,” Alvarado joked. “It wasn’t like that.”

Instead, he found Willamette to be a place where he could explore all of his interests. For those reasons, he chose a double major and became involved in several organizations — including the Native American Enlightenment Association, Phi Delta Theta fraternity, Math Club, Alianza and the Kaneko Heritage Club.

If that wasn’t enough, he became a research assistant through Willamette’s Student Collaboration Research Program for three consecutive years. He was chosen for two Research for Undergraduate Experience programs — one at Washington University in St. Louis and another at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.

He also became a regular volunteer at Chemeketa Community College and Willamette Academy, where he helped students with their math homework.

“In high school, I didn’t have a lot of school spirit. I wanted to change that up a bit in college, so I joined a lot of clubs,” Alvarado says. “That’s how I met the people I’m friends with now.”

For Alvarado, mentoring youths at Willamette Academy has been especially meaningful because he sees many similarities between himself and the students he helps.

“I want to be a good role model for them,” says Alvarado, who attended Willamette on a Gates Millennium Scholarship. “I want them to see me and realize that if I could attend college on a full-ride scholarship, then so can they.”

Surpassing Expectations

Impressed with all Alvarado has accomplished at Willamette, his professors predict the student’s quest for knowledge is only beginning.

“Jose is a mature and motivated student. He has a clear goal for himself and he works hard to achieve it,” says Haiyan Cheng, an assistant professor of computer science. “He is a great inspiration to other undergraduate students.”

Ruehr, the professor who helped Alvarado apply to Willamette, agrees. He says he first met Alvarado five years ago, when the former North Salem High School student was touring the Computer Science Department.

After that meeting, Ruehr knew Alvarado was special — and that is why he drove to the teenager’s house to personally deliver Willamette’s application materials.

Since then, Ruehr says Alvarado — and his work — have continued to impress him. One such project is an iPhone application Alvarado developed, which helps farmers gather, track and consolidate operations data.

“This North Salem High School student has developed to the point where he can improve the lives of working people here in Salem, in Oregon, and potentially world wide,” Ruehr says. “And I know Jose will go on to even better things during and after his studies in San Francisco.”

California Dreamin’

Although his time at Willamette is coming to an end, Alvarado’s educational journey is far from complete. He was accepted at the University of San Francisco, where he will continue his studies in computer science.

He’s interested in becoming an engineer, but won’t make a final decision until he’s immersed in his grad program. In the meantime, Alvarado says he’s grateful to Ruehr, Cheng and his other professors who have gone out of their way to help him achieve his dreams.

“I have great relationships with my professors. They’re my advisors, and I talk to them continuously,” Alvarado says. “They take time out of their personal lives to help their students, and they want you to succeed. I’m grateful for that.”