Champion Spotlight: Alma Gutierrez
Empowered by her experiences as a TGR Learning Lab alumna and first-generation college graduate, Alma Gutierrez has been a champion for students navigating their college and career journeys through TGR Foundation’s Earl Woods Scholar Program for the last six years.
What started as a visit to the Learning Lab with her golf team at Western High School turned into a decade of involvement that helped Alma change the trajectory of her life and her family’s legacy.
While preparing for the relaunch of the flagship TGR Learning Lab, Alma reflected on her journey and the foundation’s impact on her life.
How did you learn about TGR Foundation?
I went to the same high school as Tiger Woods and Tiger donated all our golf equipment, shirts, and golf balls through Nike, and it was something we truly appreciated.
I remember stepping into the Learning Lab for the first day; we actually had a bus that would pick us up from Western High School and drop us off, which was nice because I didn’t have transportation after school. The second I walked into this building I just loved it. I became hooked on being here. It was nice having staff who knew your name, or even if they didn’t know your name, who would talk to you and just ask you ‘how was school?’ It was something I’d never had before; all the instructors were so kind. It felt like a really safe spot to be after school.
What made you want to be more involved?
I loved the idea that I was already coming all the time, so then I started volunteering. I would come anytime anyone needed my help. I loved meeting new students, showing them around the building and just being able to talk with them and make them also feel very heard. It’s weird because I became a role model to a lot of the younger students. It was nice because it became a family atmosphere, to be quite honest. So I did that for a year and then I started thinking about getting a part-time job at a grocery store because everyone in my family did that. That’s when an opportunity came and I was offered a part-time position at the Teacher Learning Lab. I was an instructor’s assistant when I first started, and I was helping with the nutrition and fitness curriculum. That was very special.
I’m so blessed to have gone to Cal State Fullerton, which is just down the street. So when I would be done with classes, I’d just come to work in the after-school program with academic support. It was such a marvelous experience, and I did that for about four years. I graduated from Cal State Fullerton, and I applied for a position in the Earl Woods Scholar Program as a program coordinator. Time just flew by; it’s been six years that I’ve been working for the Earl Woods Scholar Program and every single day I feel like I’m learning something. To be quite honest, the thing I love the most is just really talking with the scholars and listening to them. It kind of reminds me of [my years working in] academic support.
You’ve been involved with TGR Foundation’s programs from a student to a professional over a decade, what’s a skill you learned as a student that you still use today?
I think a skill that I learned as a student was communication, and I feel like that has really played a huge part in my life, especially now in the role I have.
I guess I wasn’t really accustomed to having someone check in on me. When I was here [at the TGR Learning Lab], the instructors would and I really think that’s the biggest thing I took away as a student, feeling heard. My scholars and our CBA students, come from similar backgrounds as mine, so I try to use that now with my students.
How did your involvement with TGR Foundation impact your family?
TGR Foundation really helped me find a pathway for myself and, by helping me, changed my family legacy. I have three older siblings who were attending community college and when I was accepted to Cal State, Fullerton they realized they could too. My sister had been attending Cypress College for 4-5 years and transferred to Cal State, Fullerton. We graduated together. My siblings tell me to this day that if I hadn’t gone to Cal State Fullerton, they would’ve stayed in a community college or stopped there. Because I was the first one to take a leap and do something that was unknown to us by attending Cal State, Fullerton, my mom is now a single parent with four kids who graduated from college and a daughter who has graduated with her master’s. Those are odds you don’t really see a lot and I do credit the Foundation.
At TGR Foundation we believe everyone can be a champion. Do you see yourself as a champion? If so, how?
I do see myself as a champion. There is a quote by Audrey Hepburn that I love, and it goes “As you get older you discover you have two hands, one for helping yourself and one for helping others.” I feel as I’m getting older, I am way more invested in helping my community.
My passion is to help students find their calling. I feel that many of our students have this idea that because they’re a scholar they have to become doctors or lawyers or maybe they made a promise when they were five years old that they want to be a lawyer and then they get to college, and they don’t like any of their law classes or political science classes so I just like being able to have those vulnerable conversations with them.
I think it took me a long time to understand that life doesn’t have to go according to plan, and sometimes I see that in students. I let them know it’s OK not to be perfect or maybe not to go in the path that many are going. It’s OK to be your own advocate; it’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to share information. I see myself as a champion by understanding and listening to her students.
Who have been champions in your life and career journey?
I feel like I’ve had a lot of champions and one of the biggest ones I could think of is Kelly Jordan. She’s actually the staff member whom I was the teaching assistant for, and I helped her with the nutrition and fitness curriculum.
She was she is still one of the most amazing women I know. She saw something in me that I didn’t really see in myself. I don’t even think I believed in higher education until I met her. I remember she sat me down and helped me do my applications and for the UCs (Universities of California) and the Cal States (California State Universities) and she’s always there for me. She wrote my letter rec (recommendation). And she would even help with transportation to get to important events. So, she is my champion forever and my biggest role model to this day.
At TGR Foundation we believe everyone can be a champion. In this series, we highlight champions in our community from educators, volunteers and corporate partners to students lifting as they climb.
Visit TGRFoundation.org/champions to learn more about our programs’ impact and ways to get involved.