By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager
Timothy Alvarez was managing a Jack ‘n Jill Grocery Store in Scottsbluff, Nebraska back in the late 80s. Doing a bit of future casting, he decided neither Jack nor Jill should be a part of his future. Flash forward to 2018 and Dr. Timothy Alvarez is the recently appointed President of Otero Junior College.
Bellevue University was the first stop on his journey on a new career path. With an associate’s degree from Western Nebraska Community College already in hand, Alvarez, at 32 years old, decided he needed to change directions and that a bachelor’s degree was going to be a necessity to make that happen. After some research he decided on Bellevue University.
“I told my wife, “I don’t really love what I do. I want to go back to school. And, of course, she’s looking at me thinking ‘what are you, crazy?’” he said.
Alvarez convinced his wife it was a good idea when he discovered a school that would allow him to work full time, while taking a full load of classes, as well. Alvarez ended up working 52 hours a week and earning 67 credits in a year. He graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts in Management of Human Resources.
“Bellevue University was the answer and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. If it wouldn’t have been for the structure of the program, I would have never been able to finish,” he said. “From that point on my life just took a different trajectory and I was so fortunate.”
A number of folks had an impact on Alvarez during his time at Bellevue University, including then President John Muller, and Jan Hansen, who was Dean of the College of Professional Studies during Alvarez’s time as a student.
“Those two people made a difference,” he said. “Jan Hansen, in particular, was very instrumental. She had a conversation with me and helped me feel comfortable where I was at. As a non-traditional student, you have a lot of ‘impostor syndrome’ when you come back to school. Jan was really helpful and helped me manage it.”
From there Alvarez was off and running. He earned his Master’s in Developmental Counseling at Chadron State in 1993 and completed his Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in 1999. He worked at Eastern Wyoming College while earning his master’s degree and at UNL before starting his Ph.D. program. He had long runs at Western Nebraska, UNL, and North Dakota State in a variety of positions before landing the top job at Otero.
“It’s always been an interest and a passion for me to help the vulnerable populations and populations who would have been like me when I earned my associates degree,” Alvarez said. “I’d like Otero to be an engine of social mobility. I don’t care who you are, what walk of life you come from, if you come to this campus, I hope that we’re able to help you achieve whatever goals you might have and that once you leave here that you have the skills to either be fully employed or go on to finish a four-year degree.”
Otero is located in La Junta Colorado, a town of a little less than 7,000 people southeast of Pueblo. The median household income is $31,999, about 51 percent of the average across the state.
Alvarez wants his students to start thinking differently. He eschews the traditional ‘what’s your major?’ question and instead asks ‘what difference do you want to make in the world?’
“Oftentimes, students are not prepared to answer that question, but they’ll come back later and say ‘I’ve thought about it. Here’s what I want to do.’ Ninety percent of the time it has nothing to do with the major or discipline, it has to do with their purpose and their passion.”