Estefan Cervantes Rivera is a civil engineering major at George Fox, and he’s loving every minute of it: his friends, his professors, the community – not to mention seeing his future plans to become a structural engineer start to become a reality. Just one thing was missing: None of his engineering professors spoke fluent Spanish.

“At my high school I was so used to talking with my teachers in Spanish,” recalls Rivera, who was raised in Woodburn, Oregon, where more than 50 percent of the population identifies as Hispanic. “It’s just a different way of communicating about your experiences, and it was pretty tough coming here and not having that outlet.”

Then, one day, he took his first class with professor Jeff Walters. It was Mechanics of Materials, and in the midst of talking about the complexities of the subject, Jeff told a story where he made a reference in Spanish. “I remember thinking, ‘I have to go talk to him,’” Rivera says.

He doesn’t recall what that first conversation was about. Instead, he remembers a feeling: “Just a sense of relief, you know? Like, finally!” That first conversation would be one of many more to come, with topics ranging from a date that didn’t go well, to Rivera’s desire to give back to his community, to his faith journey and so much more.

“I would stay back and talk with him after class, just goofing off,” he says. “It was just nice because it felt more like a friendship than a professor. It felt really good to truly be understood.”

The feeling is mutual. “Getting to know and work with Estefan has been a complete joy,” Walters says. “Students like him are the reason why I get excited about this job. He inspires me forward as a teacher.”

And recently, Walters was able to inspire Rivera to pursue his dream of giving back to his high school in Woodburn by showing students that they could go to college and become an engineer, too. Rivera began to work on a presentation, but doubt crept in. “Who am I to do this?” he thought. For the longest time he didn’t share his presentation with anyone, then finally he showed Walters.

“He gave me words of affirmation and words of encouragement,” Rivera recalls. “It just made me smile and gave me confidence that if someone I respect so much thinks that, I know I can do it. He’s had such a great impact on me.”

Estefan Cervantes Rivera
Major: Civil Engineering
Year: Senior
Hometown: Woodburn, Oregon