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Alum Abel Ahumada Alaniz is proof that education can transform one’s life

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Abel Ahumada Alaniz’s journey to America sounds impossible. But his personal story is showing what is possible for hundreds of Portland Community College students.

Ahumada Alaniz arrived to the United States in 1985 as an undocumented 15-year-old. As scary as that sounds for any youth, it didn’t frighten him because Ahumada Alaniz was on a mission to better himself and help his family. He found work as a beet harvester in California and then as a berry picker in rural Oregon, jobs which enabled him to send money home to his family in Mexico.

“I was a DREAMer before DREAMers happened,” Ahumada Alaniz said with a smile. “It was hard, absolutely. I came to this country with nothing but the clothes on my back. I couldn’t speak the language, and didn’t have an education or a place to live – talk about coming from nowhere. But I found myself in a country that is rich with people who are generous, and I seized every opportunity.”

While happy to earn money as a migrant worker to support his nine brothers and sisters, Ahumada Alaniz had bigger professional dreams – he wanted to become a dentist. But first, he needed to learn how to speak and write in English, then earn his high school degree.

He did just that – and then some. After obtaining his GED, he enrolled at PCC and earned his associate degree. From there he moved on to Portland State University for his bachelor’s degree, followed by his acceptance at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Dentistry.

Throughout his studies he regularly volunteered and assisted in the community – as a community health educator for the Virginia Garcia Health Center in Cornelius, as a guest speaker at local schools and for youth groups, as an advocate and health educator in migrant camps, and more.

Last month he spoke at the PCC Foundation’s scholarship reception. It was a chance for Ahumada Alaniz to speak to Foundation donors and perhaps even more importantly, to this year’s scholarship recipients. Similar to presentations he’s given to community groups, Ahumada Alaniz shared his personal story with the hope of inspiring students attending the reception to continue to reach for their dreams.

“I enjoy sharing my journey with students because many of them are in similar positions to the one I was in, where I had a lot of questions and this fear of the unknown,” said Ahumada Alaniz. “Hopefully, I can serve as a role model to them.”

That shouldn’t be a problem. Ahumada Alaniz graduated from OHSU in 2005, and the following year he opened a private practice in Southeast Portland that serves mostly the local Hispanic community. He welcomes local area students to “job shadow” at his office so they can determine if dentistry is right for them. It’s a way, he said, for him to help youths who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, to give them chances similar to what he was afforded when he was their age.

“Dentistry has been rewarding to me and has given me a happy life,” he added.

Today, the 2014 PCC Diamond Alumni Award winner seeks to open doors for others and to give them the courage and confidence to pursue what’s behind those doors: to offer reassurance that anything is possible if you just go for it.

“Just keep working hard, and good things will happen,” Ahumada Alaniz advised. “You continue growing, and the learning should never stop.”

How PCC Foundation Supports Student Success

The Foundation makes opportunity happen by supporting students’ academic pursuits and college leaders via:

  • Scholarships.
  • Program Support.
  • Alumni & Friends Network.

For more on scholarships or giving, visit the PCC Foundation homepage.


About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Director of Public Relations at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic... more »