When Ricardo Alvarez received his diploma from Central High School in Little Rock, he initially planned to accept scholarships to play college football.
Today the 22-year-old business management senior is set to graduate Saturday from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. But coming out of high school, his plans were derailed when he realized he would be treated as an international student, more than doubling the cost of an American education.
Although Alvarez and his family had been in America since he was 10, Alvarez needed to return to Mexico to address his legal status. By the time he came back to the U.S. an American citizen, he had lost all of his scholarships and other academic opportunities.
To save money, he stayed at home with family and enrolled in school at UALR in 2010. Alvarez said he couldn’t help but notice he was one of the few Hispanics on campus.
“I was about two or three weeks into that first semester and was able to talk to Dr. (Terry) Richard about coming to a meeting of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens),” said Alvarez.
Alvarez said he expected 20 or 30 students would be involved in the campus chapter. Instead, he was met by only two other students and two or three faculty members.
“At first it was just something I wanted to join so I could meet other Hispanics,” Alvarez admitted. “But it eventually turned into something that presented a great opportunity.”
Alvarez, who first served as vice president and eventually became chapter president of LULAC at UALR, began a grassroots effort to increase the vitality and presence of the organization.
Under his leadership, the membership has grown to more than 30 members, and a record number of area Hispanic and Latino students chose UALR after receiving generous scholarships to study here.
“It feels great,” Alvarez said. “The Hispanic population is growing tremendously, but often Hispanics and Latinos don’t have that extra support once they get to college. LULAC can be that support and link back to community.”
Alvarez and his classmate, Carlos Sepulveda, even returned to Central High School to encourage other Hispanics and Latinos to pursue their college education.
Alvarez said one of his greatest satisfactions was knowing that some in that group weren’t even considering college at the time, but had a change of heart after hearing the two speak.
Alvarez also works for the UALR African-American Male Initiative, a mentoring program to improve retention and graduation rates for male African American students. Through AAMI, Alvarez became involved with the launch of the Hispanic/Latino Initiative and served as a student coordinator.
More recently, he was chosen from a field of eight students from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee for a paid management training internship with Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Little Rock.
Alvarez, who hopes to graduate with a 3.6 grade point average, will work for the company full time following his December graduation and a two-week vacation with family in Mexico.
Eventually, he wants to return to school to pursue a master’s degree in business administration and hopes to hone his communication and leadership skills.
Alvarez offered words of advice for other students:
“Education is the most important thing you can have,” he said. “Money, friends, and luxuries, these things come and go, but an education is the only thing you carry with you forever. It shows you things you would never see without it.”