When you ask Margarita Gutierrez Lemus about the favorite part of her job with College Possible Oregon, she’ll tell you about running family engagement workshops, specifically for Spanish-speaking families. During these workshops, she strives to break down barriers by sharing her personal experiences and allowing families to help lead the workshops to foster a sense of shared learning.
“Those experiences and those workshops have been extremely meaningful and often make me think: ‘This is why it’s important,’” says Gutierrez Lemus.
Born in Mexico, Gutierrez Lemus and her family moved to Salem, Oregon at age five so that she and her sister could have access to higher education opportunities.
“We knew that (education) wasn’t going to be possible in Mexico, and so they left all of their extended family and came to the U.S. for that reason,” she says of her parents. “They really promoted education.”
In seventh grade, Gutierrez Lemus participated in Willamette Academy, a college access program at Willamette University that provides students with tutoring, summer enrichment programs and college admissions support. Although applying to college was still challenging, the program provided her with important resources and mentors.
“I don’t think the process was easy because of it, but I had the support I needed to be able to go through it,” she says.
Gutierrez Lemus went on to attend Willamette University, majoring in American ethnic studies. After college, she worked at Willamette Academy as a program assistant, then later as a legal assistant for Immigration Law Group. In 2016, she returned to the education field with her work at College Possible, first as college program coordinator, then as program manager.
“One of the reasons why College Possible was so exciting for me was because they had that a college success side,” says Gutierrez Lemus. “It was really exciting to see a program that supported students all the way through to graduation.”
In April, Gutierrez Lemus was named program director of College Possible Oregon. In her new role, she supports the program team in training AmeriCorps members, who serve as the coaches for high school and college students, in addition to building and strengthening relationships with college partners. She’s most excited to build up the college program, ensuring that students are supported not just through the college admissions process, but throughout their entire time at college until they earn their degree.
“I believe strongly in the work we do here at College Possible,” says Gutierrez Lemus. “As Program Director, I hope to be able to provide a positive experience for underrepresented Oregon students as they work to and through college.”
This article was written by Sophie Hauth. Hauth is an intern for College Possible Oregon this summer, working in development and communications. Born and raised in northeast Portland, Sophie is a current student at Barnard College, majoring in Sociology and minoring in Education Studies. She is passionate about making higher education more accessible for all students and hopes to pursue a career in education equity in the future.