New Faces at Pacific University

Alfonso Lopez-Vasquez, the University’s director for diversity, found a lot to smile about at Pacific’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration this past January. Some 250 people, both from the community at large as well as Pacific, joined the festivities with a march from Rogers Park to Marsh Hall where they remembered the slain civil rights leader’s courage and commitment to equality. (Photo by Heidi Hoffman)

Cultural metamorphoses are occurring in the U.S., and Pacific University's demographics follow suit. Students, faculty, staff and alumni—along with various partnerships and programs—see positive changes.

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Manuel Castañeda

Like many Oregonians of Mexican origin, Manuel Castañeda’s roots lie in rural West-Central Mexico. Arriving in the Northwest at 14, he “couldn’t speak a word of English.” After high school, he started a landscaping business, buying his first piece of equipment on credit, a lawnmower.

One customer, a retired businessman, impressed with Manuel’s determination and work ethic, began advising him. Under his mentorship, Manuel grew his business in spectacular fashion, adding equipment and employees and reinvesting profits. He then envisioned and developed a new business model that became PLI Systems, Inc., now a multimillion-dollar industry leader in soil retention engineering, seismic upgrades and consulting. This business serves a unique niche, providing construction resources in difficult and sometimes almost impossible areas. 

Manuel is one of two Latinos serving on the Board of Trustees at Pacific. A former Hillsboro Chamber board member and co-founder of the Washington County Business Council, he also gives time to the Albina Opportunities Corporation and the Port of Portland’s Mentor Protégé program. 

 

Enedelia Schofield ’81

In the early 1960s, many Mexican-Americans came to Oregon from South Texas, including the Hernandez family: Emilio, an Army veteran, wife Hortencia and four young daughters, which included Enedelia. Seeing great need in the underserved migrant population, they joined other families to establish Centro Cultural.

Influenced by a dentist with ties to Pacific University, Enedelia tried to enroll, unaware of entrance requirements. Her hopes for higher education might have ended had it not been for Professor Susan Cabello, who advocated for her, with the proviso that she get straight A's.

After graduation, Enedelia earned a juris doctorate at Lewis & Clark Law School, but realized her calling was education. She landed a teaching job and earned a master’s in second language learning. As principal of Cornelius’ Echo Shaw Elementary, her efforts led it to being one of the highest-achieving schools in Oregon. She was honored as Principal of the Year and appointed to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans under George W. Bush. Coming full circle, she has been a member of the Pacific University Board of Trustees, the first Latina to serve.

 

Romulo “Ruma” Perez ’78

Ruma Perez came to Pacific through the influence of his high school soccer coach who also coached at the University. Once admitted, he applied the same standards of effort and excellence he displayed as an athlete. “Pacific was like family,” he says, recalling close personal relationships with Professor Joe Story and others.

Graduating in 1978, Ruma earned an MBA at the University of Portland, subsequently working at U.S. Bank and as executive director of Centro Cultural. Later he founded and operated an industrial production and fulfillment business and worked for the Hillsboro Chamber. He remained active in mentoring young soccer players and founded Santos Futbol Club, a 30-team organization.

Today, Ruma works as a program director for Latino Network, a Portland-based nonprofit that provides opportunities, services and advocacy for Latino youth. His wife, Elma, is Enedelia Schofield’s sister. Their daughter, Mary Elma Perez Sanchez, graduated in 1996 and married Pacific alum Fernando Sanchez ’99; younger daughter, Maria “Xochi,” attended Pacific briefly; and son, Ruma ’13, continues the family tradition as a current student.