Newman Award Recognizes Stanford Junior Committed to Closing the Education Achievement Gap

Stanford Junior LUIS ORNELAS is determined to ensure that every child in the United States has access to a high-quality education regardless of income or background.

Luis Ornelas
Luis Ornelas

Ornelas spent his freshman summer teaching with Breakthrough Santa Fe, a nonprofit that helps motivated students in grades 7-12 from public schools be the first in their families to go to college. Last summer, he was selected to serve a Cardinal Quarter as an Education Achievement Fellow with the Community Foundation Boulder County in Colorado, where he designed a Latino Parent Summit to raise awareness about the importance of early childhood education. In addition, he drafted a business plan and bylaws to prepare Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Student Outcomes (ELPASO) to transition from a foundation program to an independent nonprofit.

Ornelas serves as a peer adviser for the Cardinal Quarter program, connecting Stanford students with more than 450 opportunities to pursue a quarter of full-time service with Stanford support. This coming summer, he plans to serve with the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, approaching education from a policy and advocacy standpoint.

Ornelas is being recognized for his work through selection as a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, a national coalition of nearly 1,100 colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne recommended him for the award, which honors inspiring student leaders committed to finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.

“My passion for educational justice comes from my own experience in the public education system as a Latino son of immigrant workers. The unfair treatment of my community and the education system’s failure to support our students have motivated me to be an educator,” Ornelas explained. “My parents, who did not have the opportunity to receive an education themselves, taught me the importance of education in making a positive impact in the community. This strong belief inspires me to do work that empowers low-income youth of color as individuals and members of their communities.”

In addition to majoring in urban studies, Ornelas has taken a leadership role in campus programs. As an Education Partnerships fellow for East Palo Alto Stanford Academy, Ornelas teaches and mentors local middle school students—including developing the curriculum, designing lesson plans and leading an English Language Arts class—and manages program logistics for Stanford student volunteers.

“In addition to serving as a role model for local youth, particularly as a first-generation student, Luis models ethical and effective service for other Stanford students,” said Haas Center for Public Service Peter E. Haas Faculty Director Deborah Stipek. “He brings an ethos of genuine humility to leadership, as well as unique insight into what it means to empower the people who will benefit the most from change.”

A key focus for Ornelas has been shifting the culture at Stanford and more broadly to change students’ perception that going into the field of education is not prestigious or desirable. He says his goal is to help Stanford students see education as a viable career path—whether as teachers in the classroom or policymakers addressing educational inequality through legislation.

“For me, education is about building capacity and broadening access to resources within communities. If we are interested in bringing about social change, I believe we need to explore ways that place communities at the forefront of this change and provide them with the tools necessary to make it happen,” Ornelas said. “As students and future leaders, we should start seeing ourselves as supporters of community empowerment, rather than as the champions of social change.”

The Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes undergraduates nationwide for their efforts to seek solutions to community issues. The fellowship is named for the late Frank Newman, co-founder of Campus Compact and founding member of the National Advisory Board of Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service. The program provides training and resources to help students develop the strategies and skills to take leadership roles in addressing public problems and building equitable communities.

“I am incredibly honored to receive the Newman Fellowship and look forward to becoming a part of a national cohort of students who are passionate about community empowerment,” Ornelas said. “As a Fellow I hope to continue leveraging the education that I am fortunate to receive from Stanford to ensure that students with backgrounds similar to mine have the same educational opportunities as their peers.”