Featured Advisor: Mike Valenzuela

Mike Valenzuela wasn’t always headed for a future in higher education. In fact, at one point, he wasn’t sure he would even attend college.

“As a first generation student walking onto the campus of Long Beach State on the first day, I was scared out of my mind. I was so overwhelmed that I was actually leaving the campus when I was stopped in my tracks by another (former) first generation student; he physically refused to let me leave. That 30 seconds was a pivotal moment in my life. Had that person not stopped me, I would have gone back to the ‘hood. I would not be here right now.”

The person that stopped Valenzuela that day was Dr. Jose Lopez, the man who would eventually became Valenzuela’s college advisor. Lopez’s thoughtful guidance ultimately impacted the rest of Valenzuela’s life.

“I felt like I had gone into debt. I decided I was going to spend my professional career giving back. I marched into Dr. Lopez’s office and said ‘I want your job.’ He laughed and said to me, ‘When I’m done with it, you can have it!’”

Valenzuela quickly changed his path as an undergrad, getting student jobs in outreach, recruitment and peer advising. Everything he did put him deeper in love with the college campus - and made him certain he was meant to be a college counselor.

After stints at Pomona College and Yuba College, fifteen years ago Valenzuela found a home at UC Davis, specializing in advising first-generation students. He has truly found his mentor’s job – and is most certainly extending the inspiring legacy of Dr. Lopez, who passed away in 2013.

Part of Valenzuela’s work here at UC Davis has centered around front-loading services for students, like the freshman seminar he co-teaches: “The First-Year Experience at U.C. Davis.” Covered in the course: where to study and how much, the campus culture, the community culture and making the often tough transition from a semester system in high school to the fast-paced quarter program.

“Some of our students come from the toughest, least funded programs in the state of California or in the country,” said Valenzuela, “The job to get those students prepared for this very demanding research university requires a program like this.” 

Of course, Valenzuela well understands the challenge these students are facing and he’s found that his work with them – as well as being here in Davis – has created profound changes in his own life.

“I’ve always had to have my guard up. For the first time in my life, I let down my guard. It was then that I began to realize who I truly was,” Valenzuela said. “I am a lot goofier than I realized. Turns out, that works really well in Davis.”