Making it count

Luis Patron

Luis Patron sees his college experience as more than just personal ambition. It’s about finding a greater purpose in life.

Luis Patron was a 12-year-old boy living with his family in Mexico when his mother, suffering the recent loss of her husband and wanting to provide a better way of life away from violent drug cartels, moved the family north. They settled in Woodburn, an agricultural and heavily Hispanic community near Salem, and she did whatever she could to support them.

“There were four kids in the family and Mom was determined to give us a better life,” he says. “Mom did housecleaning, farming, factory work – you name it. She wanted us to have a roof.”

Now 29, Patron has taken everything from his upbringing and turned it into mission for his future. And for him, education is the key.

As a senior in Portland State’s School of Business, Patron decided to specialize in finance. Money was tight growing up, so he has a special appreciation for its value.

“When I realized I could learn about how money works, its impact on people’s lives and how to manage it, that was for me,” he says.

He also has a strong interest in law, and is applying to some of the top law schools in the country. He sees himself practicing corporate law or doing work in government policy. But what really piqued his interest was seeing the contrast between the legal system in the United States and what he observed in Mexico.

“The reason I want to go into law is because I really admire our criminal justice system in America,” he says. “The criminal justice system in Mexico is nothing. If you have a couple dollars, you buy them off; money gets to dictate who gets justice or not. When Mom brought us up here, I saw how the system kept people accountable and safe.”

It took awhile for Patron to get to this point in his education, only because he spent much of his time working to help his family, both during high school and in the years after graduating. He did customer service, landscaping and painting, eventually becoming a regional manager for Subway restaurants in Portland. He tried working full-time while going to Portland Community College until he decided that education had to come first. He quit Subway, got his associates degree at PCC and transferred to Portland State.

He quickly got involved with student groups, and is now the executive recruiter for the business school’s Financial Management Association. He also caught the attention of Erica Wagner, associate dean of undergraduate programs at the School of Business. On the recommendation of a former student, Wagner recruited him to be part of her Future Leaders Group – a select assortment of students who show great potential. The students receive mentorship from Wagner, and they in turn mentor current and prospective business students as well as get involved with service projects in the community.

“For me, college is about learning who I am,” he says. 

“When I met Luis, he was honest, dedicated to finishing school, vulnerable, and is one of the hardest working students,” Wagner says. “He doesn’t have a lot of role models who look like him and come from his community who are attempting to go to law school. He is hungry for mentorship and he is eternally hopeful.”

Patron’s hard work includes getting involved last year in PSU’s Explore the Law program. The program enabled him to mentor with a practicing lawyer and meet prosecutors, judges and others in the legal profession. This year, he’s working as an intern in Student Legal Services.

Shalini Vivek, program coordinator for Explore the Law, says Patron has a natural affinity for networking – an essential skill in the legal profession – but what really stands out is his curiosity.

“Every time he would come to a panel, he would ask a number of insightful questions and would be very engaged throughout,” he recalls. “He so impressed one of our panelists that he offered to be Luis’ mentor – which was in addition to the mentor Luis already had.”

Luis Patron

Patron sees more to his college experience than just personal ambition. He says one of the reasons he’s pursuing an education is to be an example to his siblings and encourage them to go to college, but also to see beyond himself to some greater role. It’s that mindset that led him to minor in philosophy.

“For me, it’s about learning who we are,” he says. “We have a bigger purpose in this world. We should always try to help our surrounds and other people.”