MC Speakers Bureau • First Generation to College • Dr. Michael Chavez

Establishing a new tradition

By Rebecca Bell


chavezDr. Michael Chavez has a picture of his first birthday party. He is smiling, and at a table is a birthday cake. Minutes after that cake was cut, law enforcement personnel raided his home and arrested his father for dealing illegal drugs — but not before his father managed to hide some of the heroin in baby Michael’s diaper.


Chavez, dean of enrollment management at Midland College, says this scenario was repeated several times throughout his childhood and youth. When he was born in 1973, his parents were working the fields of Nebraska with his grandparents who were migrant farm workers. During his school years, he attended 23 different public schools. Part of the reason for his attendance at so many schools was because his mother moved from town to town in order to hide from his father who was in and out of prison. When he was in junior high school, Chavez was living in Pecos, Texas, with his mother and six siblings. Chavez was tired of moving; however, his mother announced that the family was moving once again — this time to Hobbs, New Mexico.


Chavez says, “I didn’t want to move, so I asked my uncle if I could stay in Pecos with his family. They couldn’t afford another mouth to feed, especially a teenage boy, and they didn’t have an extra bedroom, but I think my uncle felt sorry for me, so he let me stay in Pecos. During my years at Pecos High School, I was shuffled from house to house staying with family and friends and sleeping on various couches and floors. My goal was to do anything I could to finish high school—I knew that if I had moved with my mom, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my high school diploma.”


Chavez did graduate from high school—not with honors or athletic scholarships, but he states that he had a good solid grade point average (GPA), about a 2.9 or 3.0. His goal was not to go to college. College was not something his family even discussed. Instead, Chavez decided to go into the military; however, due to a heart murmur, he was ineligible. So, he moved to Hobbs to live once again with his mother.


This time the move was a good one for 18-year-old Chavez. He knew he had to do something with his life, and in the back of his mind, he had toyed with the idea of college. However, since no one else in his family had ever gone to college, Chavez says that he didn’t think he would be able to attend. New Mexico Junior College (NMJC) was just a short distance from his home, but having only a seventh-grade education, his mother didn’t encourage college attendance for her children or even give it a second thought. One day, however, in late summer of 1992, while on her way to Walmart, Mrs. Chavez agreed to drop her son off at the curb in front of the entrance to NMJC.


“It’s a good thing that the college was on the route to Walmart!” jokes Chavez. “Otherwise, I might not have gotten there.”


Chavez says that it took a while for him to “settle down and find his true calling.” He states, “At first I wanted to be a policeman, then an EMT. After that it was a coach, and finally I settled on psychology. That’s when I focused on completing my degree, and I graduated in 1995 with an Associate of Arts degree in psychology and a GPA of 3.5!”


The next ten years of his life were filled with numerous milestones: Chavez, who managed to finance the beginning of his higher education pursuits through federal Pell grants and by working as a certified nurse aide at a long-term care facility, married his wife Heather, and they started a family. In 1996, Chavez graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from University of the Southwest in Hobbs, and in 1999, he obtained his Master’s degree in counseling from that same school. However, that wasn’t the end of the educational road for this young man who celebrated his first birthday with a diaper full of heroine. In 2005, at the age of 31, Chavez graduated with a Doctorate of Education in Educational Administration from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.


Today, Dr. Michael Chavez, is enjoying life in Midland with Heather and their two children, Justin, age 17, and Ramie, age 14. The family moved to Midland in June 2010 when Chavez accepted his current position as MC’s dean of enrollment management. Heather teaches sixth grade at De Zavala Elementary School in Midland.


Chavez says, “I was determined to use education to fight against my background. I knew that I needed to make an honest living, and I was not going to have my children grow up the way I did. I’m proud to be the first person in my family to attend college. Now there’s a new tradition in the Chavez family — going to college.”