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Joaquín Galván: Returning a favor he received years ago

By Dave Jones on May 9, 2003 in University

Joaquín Galván was still in high school when he was introduced to UC Davis by the Upward Bound program in 1971. The son of migrant farm laborers, Galván later found success as a UC Davis student with the help of Upward Bound, the Educational Opportunity Program, financial aid and the campus’s Chicano staff and students, he says.

Galván now finds himself on the other end of the spectrum.

Now he is the counselor and the one giving support to students in need.

Galván has assisted approximately 14,000 students during the past 20 years working at the Learning Skills Center. He serves as a retention coordinator at the center, where he works as a student adviser, leads workshops and is heavily involved in the Special Transitional Enrichment Program, which helps incoming freshmen adjust to college life, both academically and socially.

The Learning Skills Center offers academic support and other assistance to all UC Davis students. The center’s 20 specialists offer help in writing, math, science, study skills and more.

Galván has worked full time at the center since 1996. Before that he split his time 50/50 between the center and the Chicana/o studies program.

He particularly enjoys working with STEP every summer. The four-week program seeks to “get the students out of vacation mode,” he said. “Our hope is to get their level of motivation back to where it was when they applied to college.”

Last year 245 students participated in the program. But that number will decrease this year to about 150-175 due to budget cuts, Galván said, noting how inspiring the STEP students are. “They have this fresh, open mind. College is an adventure, and we’re helping them with that.”

Galván’s work includes not only teaching study skills workshops and advising students in academic matters, but also helping students deal with a range of issues, including family or relationship worries, financial difficulties or concerns over racism or discrimination.

Galván has experienced many of the same challenges that confront his students, which, he said, gives him an advantage when counseling. Like some of the students who have approached him, Galván has faced hardship and discrimination. “Racism and its double standards are a given,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with it all my life.”

Ironically, he said that he did not particularly enjoy school while growing up. He does, however, love to learn — enough so that he earned a bachelor’s degree in Chicano Studies and a master’s degree in education, both at UC Davis. “That’s the nice thing about working on campus,” he said. “You always have your mind working, and it’s always enlightening.”

When the Dixon resident has a bit of free time, he can probably be found woodworking or fly-fishing. He also enjoys almost weekly visits with his four grandchildren.

Still, so much of Galván’s passion is poured into his work, including his efforts in 1985 to help found the annual Chicano/Latino Graduation Celebration. The celebration is particularly special because graduates have overcome so much to make it there, Galván said. The students are joined on stage by their parents — everyone beaming with pride. “It’s very moving,” Galván said. And that, he said, “is the point when I say, this is why I’m doing what I’m doing.”