From plumber to MIT, Alvis is going places
Photos and Story by James Hill
Portland is a long way from Peru — in more than just miles. When Joel Campos Alvis arrived here at age 17, he found that learning English was just one challenge he would face. Raising people’s expectations would prove to be even more difficult
“I remember my high school counselor told me I could be a plumber or a carpenter,” Joel says, “which is when I dropped out. I don’t think there’s any disgrace in either of those jobs, but I could tell that all the counselor could see was a Latino, not an individual.”
But Joel had his personal version of the American Dream, and he knew an education was the only way to get it. “I was cleaning houses,” he says, “and I realized that I could never afford to buy a house like the ones I worked in. So I enrolled in the high school completion program at PCC, earned my diploma in 1999, and now, with a lot of help and a lot of work, here I am.”
“Here,” for Joel, is one of America’s most prestigious universities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has a fully paid fellowship — one of only four granted each year. He is a graduate student in MIT’s elite International Development Group, and soon he will continue his education at the London School of Economics. Joel plans to eventually work for the World Bank or the United Nations.
“It was really PCC that taught me how to read and write English,” says Joel, “and it was also there that a great teacher named Jim Eden got me interested in economics. In every way, PCC gave me my start. After I graduated, I went on to PSU on a minority scholarship and finished my degree in economics. I also worked full-time! I applied for and won a fellowship at Carnegie-Mellon and that inspired me to aim even higher. Like many of you, I came to this country without material wealth but with many dreams and desires to get a better life for my family and myself. Study hard and educate yourself as much as you can, always trying to do the best you can, trying to reach the stars, ‘cos even if you fall down, you’ll fall on the clouds.”
Aiming high and dreaming big is Joel’s message to anyone who might be in a position similar to his just a few years ago. “It isn’t easy, and I’ve had so much help along the way — without the early support of PCC and my teachers there I don’t know where I’d be today — but I hope everyone will really believe that they can reach their dreams. I’m the proof that it’s possible.”