The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Jesús Lizarraga-Estrada Inducted into Iowa Latino Hall of Fame

En la imagen arriba es estudiante de primera generación, Jesús Lizarraga- Estrada, quien es el Director de Éxito y Retención Estudiantil. Pictured above is first-generation college student, Jesús Lizarraga-Estrada, who is the Director of Student Success and Retention.

The Iowa Latino Hall of Fame was created by the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs which is an organization that helps recognize Latiné individuals who are role models that help improve the quality of life in Iowa for the Latiné community. The University of Iowa’s (UNI’s) very own Director of Student Success and Retention, Jesús Lizarraga-Estrada, was inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame in Oct. 2023.

A native from Mazatlan, a city in Sinaloa, Mexico, Lizarraga-Estrada and his family first migrated to the U.S. when he was two years old. Living in Los Angeles, California for a couple of years, his family decided to move to Columbus Junction, Iowa for better job opportunities. “I barely remember it. So when people ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ I say Iowa. This is all I know,” he said.

Lizarraga-Estrada graduated from Columbus Junction Community High School and continued his education at Muscatine Community College. There, he met recruiter Paul Sapp, who is now the Director for UNI at Iowa Community Colleges program (UNI@IACC), during a college fair who helped guide Lizarraga-Estrada towards his next steps to be a student at UNI. “When I would email him, not only would he respond, but he would also give me my next steps and that was very important to me because I’m a first-generation college student,” said Lizarraga-Estrada. “I ended up deciding to come to UNI mainly because of him and the academic program for Business here is a good program.”

Ten years ago, Lizarraga-Estrada also started working in higher education as a counselor at UNI. He worked under Juanita Wright who was his mentor. Wright was the one who created the Jump Start program at UNI which is an orientation program that helps new incoming students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds successfully transition to UNI. Wright also created the Latiné student group on campus known as UNIdos when she was a student at UNI 40 years ago. “She took me under her wing so a lot of the work that I do, I turn a mirror after her. I try to mirror little bits of what she did but in my own style,” said Lizarraga-Estrada.

“She should be receiving this award too,” said Lizarraga-Estrada. “My award is also her award.”

Throughout his years in various positions at UNI, Lizarraga-Estrada has stayed humble. He also recognizes the way that his own ethnic background has impacted his journey. “When we don’t see a lot of people who look like us in leadership positions, it’s hard for us to envision ourselves in a certain place. I never envisioned myself in my current role, that was something that wasn’t even on my radar,” he said.

Lizarraga-Estrada was nominated by two of his former students to be inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame. The process of being nominated involved advocating for Lizarraga-Estrada and providing letters of recommendation. “These are two students who are doing amazing things. They’re very busy people and the fact that they took their time to not only think of me, but go through the process meant a lot,” said Lizarraga-Estrada. “That in itself was an even bigger honor.”

Lizarraga-Estrada wants to continue implementing the importance of paying it forward. “I don’t believe that I help people. I believe that I push you to your full potential. You are capable of it and maybe needed a push towards it, but then I want you to be that push for somebody else in return.”

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KARINA ORTIZ, Spanish Editor
Karina Ortiz is the Spanish Editor for the Northern Iowan. She is currently a junior majoring in English while minoring in Spanish/English Translation and Creative Writing. She is a transfer student from DMACC where she obtained her Associate in Arts degree. She loves to read a vast majority of genres and write poetry.

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