Ramon Ortiz isn't quite sure how he came to attend the summer residential program at UW-Whitewater as a seventh grader. Every day he went to class at McCutchan Hall where a professor took him and other middle schoolers through computer skills training and other activities. Living among college students in the residence halls changed his life.
"Their presence shattered the myth of college. I could see all these men who looked like me - not rich, not white. Suddenly college seemed like something that an average person can do, if they focus and do the right things."
When he eventually enrolled, he kept a regimented routine and ended up making the Dean's List his first year. That garnered the attention of John Dominguez, an economics faculty member and eventual mentor in the McNair Scholars Program, an undergraduate research program.
"He reached out to me. Here was a guy who looked like me and talked like me - he grew up in east L.A. - and had a Ph.D. in economics from MIT. That raised the bar for me in terms of the expectations for academic rigor. It was a powerful experience."
The program also exposed Ortiz to the idea of graduate school. After he earned his undergraduate degree, he returned to campus to pursue an MBA.
"My plan was to get a cushy corporate job, but I realized that I had a knack for administrative work and a deep appreciation for programs that transform lives. It's the American Dream in the 21st Century - education as a path to upward mobility."
Ortiz went on to earn a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis from UW-Madison and now serves as associate dean of Arts and Sciences at Madison College as well as vice president of a dual-language charter school, Nuestro Mundo. He is married to Mariana Pacheco Ortiz, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at UW-Madison, and they have three children.
"UW-Whitewater has been my second family at every point in my professional career where I came to a crossroads and there was a moment of truth. Whitewater was always there to nudge me in the right direction."