Editor's note: This story was first published in 2014

Felipe Delatorre didn’t realize just how focused he was on academics until he tried to complete a scholarship application in his first year at OSU-Cascades. The questions about his classwork and grades were easy. But he struggled with the questions about how he worked on a team and collaborated with others. That was a wake-up call for this business major.

Grades had always been a priority for Delatorre. His father—a long distance truck driver who always regretted not finishing his college degree earlier—pushed Delatorre and his brothers to strive for college from an early age.

Born in Texas, Delatorre spent most of his childhood in Campeche, on the Gulf of Mexico. So when he returned to the States at age 13 with his family and landed in Central Oregon, he had to work doubly hard in school to understand the new subjects and keep up with the language. He took ESOL classes and his instructor opened his eyes to some of the activities of typical Central Oregonian middle-schoolers, like snowboarding. But Delatorre was a driven student and spent most of his time focusing on his studies. He worked hard enough at Redmond High School that he earned free tuition to his first year at Central Oregon Community College through the Advanced Diploma program. Now entering his senior year at OSU-Cascades, Delatorre is on track to becoming the first person in his immediate family to graduate from college, and the first person in his extended family to graduate from college in the US.

He doesn’t credit his success with his academic achievements though. To Delatorre, what has been more rewarding is the time away from classrooms and his books. “I didn’t know how to answer those questions about working with other people and that bothered me. To get anywhere in the business world, people are the important part,” he said. Plus, he wanted his verbal English to improve and to feel more comfortable talking in public settings. “I’m not where I want to be.”

Today, Delatorre is hitting the books hard, but he’s also at the center of lots of collaborations with others. It started when he was at COCC, by joining the Latino Club. He helped manage club events for students. “I liked it a lot and wanted to be more involved,” he said. When he transitioned to the upper-division programs at OSU-Cascades, his eyes were opened to more opportunities.

His advisor, Kristin Coleman, encouraged him to connect with the Student Success team who recommended he look into the Student Fee Committee and student government, called the Associated Students of Cascades Campus. “Felipe was one of my first students as an advisor. His questions were really good and I could tell he wanted to be involved,” explained Coleman.

This spring and summer, Delatorre has traveled throughout Central Oregon, staffing a 4 Central Oregon booth at county fairs, farmers markets, and festivals. He’s now secretary/treasurer of the ASCC. Together with his fellow student government leaders, he connected with students at other growing campuses around the west to learn how they created student lounges and built a student community. “You need a lot of support from students because it’s their student fees. That’s where good listening and people skills help,” he said.

“I’m learning and exploring so much. All of these opportunities and the people I meet help me grow as a person and a team member,” he said. What surprised him and what he likes most about his new involvement is that everything he does as a student affects the community. “Managing an event at a smaller campus is different from an event at a larger campus,” he explained. “We deal with vendors who are off-campus and need publicity off-campus, too.” He now feels like he’s part of the larger community.

If he could, Delatorre would stay in school forever. “I like any subject—even if it has tons of assignments!—with an engaged and passionate professor—it’s the teacher who makes the difference,” he said. “I’m a business student, but one of the classes I’ve loved most was in Human Development and Family Sciences, and it was because of the instructor –she was so enthusiastic!”

After graduating from OSU-Cascades, Delatorre wants to get his MBA, then go into consulting, perhaps helping businesses market their products and services. Most of all, he wants to stay in Central Oregon. “Bend and Redmond are young and growing towns. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for young professionals.”

His next goal picks up from where his ESOL instructor left off. Delatorre said, “I want to take more advantage of the outdoors around Bend. Like snowboarding and hiking and rock-climbing. There’s so much to still explore.”