The “Non-Traditional Journey” with Luis Vicencio, ’21, President of ALPFA UW

foster undergraudate Luis Vicencio, class of 2021

Luis Vicencio, ’21

When Luis Vicencio describes his journey to higher education, he uses the term “non-traditional.” At 30, he’s finishing up his senior year studying operation supply chain and marketing with a diversity minor. His path to this point includes nearly a decade working in the food service industry after high school and earning his AA in business administration from Shoreline Community College.

Being a first-generation student, he had to figure a lot of things out on his own. But instead of letting that bring him down, Luis has found inspiration in his journey to help his peers and those just starting their own journey.

“My experience has definitely pushed me to be somebody who can provide support for other students,” said Luis. “It’s helped me do some really fun things.”

An unconventional route

Luis was born in California and grew up in Mexico. His family moved to Shoreline, Washington so his mother could renew her green card. The plan was to stay for a year. Nearly 20 years later, his family still calls Shoreline home.

When it came time for high school graduation in 2007, Luis applied to the University of Washington. But being the first in his family to apply to college, he had no idea how to finish the application or prepare for financial aid.

“I had a pretty good job at the time working as a manager at McDonald’s, so I decided to keep doing that,” he explained.

Nine years and several food service jobs later, Luis was working for a catering company when a manager approached him about going back to school.

“They were willing to help cover tuition and gave me a new role that allowed me to make my own schedule,” he said. “I couldn’t pass it up, everything was coming together.”

“I remember signing up for classes and thinking, ‘Whoa. Are we really doing this?’ I had plenty of friends who had gone on to college, but no one in my family had done it,” he said. “Three weeks later I was on the bus to UW.”

Luis started working towards his AA in business at Shoreline Community College. As he approached the last quarter, he started thinking about getting a bachelor’s degree. He talked to his employer, sent a completed application, and was accepted to UW and the Foster School of Business a few months later.

“I remember signing up for classes and thinking, ‘Whoa. Are we really doing this?’ I had plenty of friends who had gone on to college, but no one in my family had done it,” he said. “Three weeks later I was on the bus to UW.”

He spent his first year at Foster focused on classes and work. As Luis began his second year, he decided to get more involved. “I realized the way I was doing thins wasn’t really working. The academics were there, but I needed to put more effort into everything else that came with the college experience.”

He joined the Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA) his first year. His second year, Luis was a VP of communications and delved into everything ALPFA stands for and started helping others.

“ALPA has probably been my favorite part. I realized this was exactly what I needed, it was a really great support system,” Luis explained. “It was people that understood what I was going through in class and as a person of color. The ALPFA members have been a vital experience and made my experience worthwhile.”

Paying it forward

Now in his third and final year at UW, Luis is the president of ALPFA. His work focuses on creating a space for LatinX students and students of color. Luis says he always makes times for students seeking help, hoping to provide the same support ALPFA members have given him.

On top of cultivating space and community for students, Luis is also a mentor for high school students in the Young Executives of Color (YEOC) program. Some of his mentees already know they’re coming to UW in the fall. Others aren’t so sure the big university experience is right for them.

“A lot of people think if you go to community college and transfer, it looks bad. But the reality is you may thrive as a community school graduate. Nobody ever tells you that. That’s why I make sure to tell them that,” Luis said. “I thrived at community college, struggled my first year after transferring to UW, but then I found my way, and everything clicked.”

Getting his bachelor’s, working, and participating in different groups on campus, Luis has taken on a lot in his three years at Foster. He says the thing that keeps him going is knowing he’s making the experience better for students in the future.

“I want to make sure the person who comes after me understands that the space is there for them. I want mentees at YEOC to be excited about providing that space for other students that come after them, I want them to be excited about being mentors in the future,” he said.

Luis’ desire to help others doesn’t stop with his education. With graduation on the horizon, Luis says he’s not 100% sure what’s next. But when it comes to career goals, it’s not a huge surprise that Luis wants to find a job that helps others, like logistics for a food bank or helping with emergency relief for The Red Cross or FEMA.

“Looking back at it now, almost three years later, I don’t know what decisions I’ve made, but [my time at Foster has] been a really good ride,” Luis said. “I’ve learned, not necessarily as a student, but as a person and I am prepared to take that next step and make some choices I think will be worthwhile.”