William Alfred Chavez

It was the early ‘70s, and William Chavez was editor of City on a Hill Press student newspaper and active in the California farmworker organizing efforts. “The interaction and mentorship between the faculty and the students provided tremendous influence for a young man like my brother,” his sister Olivia Chavez said. “Think of it. He actually got Cesar Chavez to speak at the UCSC Arts & Lectures series.”

February 09, 2011

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As a lobbyist, Bill Chavez championed the cause of quality education for under-served populations. The William Alfred Chavez Student Award established in his honor helps to support those students who wish to attend UC Santa Cruz.
Thus began a successful career that was defined by Bill’s dedication to the “have-nots,” as Olivia put it. “Bill strived to give young people access to the political process. Everything he worked for was focused on what young people did and their learning environment.”

When he died in 2004, the Chavez family and his good friend Dr. Dale Shimasaki wanted to find a way to memorialize the dedication that Bill Chavez, a former UCSC Foundation Trustee, embodied.

“It didn’t take long for us to choose UC Santa Cruz as the place we wished to honor Bill. He was quite proud of his affiliation with the campus,” Olivia Chavez said. “We wanted to create a legacy for helping the next generation of young leaders fighting for education, especially in the poorest communities.”

For that reason, Shimasaki and the Chavez family established the William Alfred Chavez Student Award. The award is granted to academically outstanding students from the San Joaquin Valley who show commitment to increasing the understanding or improving the welfare of Chicanos and Latinos in the United States. It provides financial support to students who have been accepted to internships at the University of California Center in Sacramento or the University of California Center in Washington, DC.

Though Chavez studied politics at UC Santa Cruz, eligible students include any with strong extracurricular experience and academic achievement in the fields of Latin American and Latino studies, community studies, and other social sciences, as well as politics.

“Bill felt strongly about involving everyone in the political process, especially for those who never had access to it before. He was particularly proud of his background, his culture, and his heritage and sought to encourage his community to participate actively in the political process,” Shimasaki said.

Legacy of Involvement

In 1976, Bill Chavez had only just graduated from UCSC’s Merrill College when he started his political career as an Assembly Fellow in the California State Legislature. He was passionate about education and supporting the inclusion of Latino and Chicano leaders in the political process. For many years, he worked for politicians and political interest groups, supporting positive education legislation as well as Latino and Chicano issues.

Chavez served as chief of staff for Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, as well as the director of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, said that Chavez “left his imprint on a lot of important legislation.”

With Dr. Shimasaki, Chavez later founded Strategic Education Services, a prominent Sacramento-based lobbying firm. “Bill was an inspiration to all he came into contact with. He cared deeply for those who were needy and less fortunate than he,” Shimasaki said.

From 1998 to 2002, Chavez served as a trustee for the UCSC Foundation. His goal: to help UCSC develop enrollment capacity to accommodate the next generation of students.

“Bill knew that young people are the future of our society. They can offer so much with their energy, intelligence, and innocence to the political process,” Shimasaki said. They “are a vibrant resource to revitalize the political process and to overcome the cynicism that often infects our institutions of governance.”

“I’d like to think that the person who receives this award shares some of his values,” Olivia Chavez said.

To learn more about this student award or to support its goals at UC Santa Cruz, please contact John Hopkins at 831-459-3822 or jehopkin@ucsc.edu.