Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas’s father did not go to college. Instead, he moved his family from southern Mexico to Oregon with a dream for a better future.
“He believed in education because it’s a way to achieve success,” Octaviano says, and he’s found that success through education and a career with Oregon State University.
Octaviano earned his master’s degree in contemporary Hispanic studies from Oregon State in 2007. He now has dual roles at the university: he leads the 4-H Tech Wizards program in the Portland metropolitan area for the OSU Extension Service, and he has recently been named an associate director for the Center for Latin@ Studies and Engagement in the College of Liberal Arts.
In these positions, Octaviano says he’s come to understand education as a way to not only transform individuals, but communities as well. He recognizes the importance of connecting Portland’s Latino/Latina population to Oregon State and that a more diverse environment will make the entire university better and stronger. However, he knows minority youth face more obstacles getting there.
The students Octaviano works with through the Tech Wizards program are mostly at-risk minorities in the Portland metro area. The after-school mentoring program for grades 4 through 12 capitalizes on students’ interest in technology to develop life skills and encourage them to complete their education. Developed by Oregon State in 1998, Tech Wizards has been wildly successful — 95 percent of participants finish high school and 75 percent go on to a community college or university — and it has since been replicated in 24 states.
Octaviano can cite multiple instances where participating in youth development program has helped steer students in a positive direction.
“A young person from Washington County for example was going to be part of a gang,” he explains. “But I found him in an after-school environment. He started by helping me move chairs before the after-school program, and three years later, he’s on the road to becoming an engineer and helping us with youth development activities during the year. If that’s not a success story, I don’t know what it is.”
Still, Octaviano sees countless others falling through the cracks, and he is determined to reach as many as he can. He believes the youth of Portland — regardless of cultural or ethnic background — are part of a bright future of the university, the nation and the world.
“What happens in Portland can contribute to changing the face of Oregon and the world as we know it.”