Oscar Montemayor, 53, was associate director of Academic Success with Diversity and Cultural Engagement at Oregon State University and co-chair of the Council on Academic Counseling. He died of a stroke on October 22.
Montemayor was a strong advocate for underserved students and had served OSU as an academic counselor since 1988, after graduating from OSU with a BA in philosophy. He first arrived at OSU in 1982, as part of the first College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) cohort. His family worked as seasonal farm workers, migrating to Yamhill County in 1968.
Janet Nishihara, director of OSU’s Educational Opportunities Program, shares thoughts on Montemayor’s lasting impact.
Q: What’s your connection to Oscar?
A: I was working at EOP when he came here as a freshman, after finishing his GED. He was part of the very first CAMP cohort. And even then, he was influencing his peers. Another student in the same class tells a story about how she left after the first term and Oscar called her and convinced her to come back. It was pretty amazing for him to do that as a first-term student. But it set the tone of the next few decades of Oscar’s life.
Q: What made Oscar a good academic counselor?
A: He believed in people and helped them believe in themselves -- even when all the messages around them would be the opposite. Messages like “maybe you should join the army.” He never worried that students were reaching too far. He never tried to spare students disappointment like a lot of people would. He saw the potential in everyone.
Q: What do you think helped Oscar when connecting with students?
A: He was always present in a conversation. He wasn’t thinking about career moves. It wasn’t about him. It was always about the students. He was good at building relationships with students because he had been in their shoes, and he wasn’t afraid of sticking with students through really challenging situations and difficult conversations.
Q: Did you see Oscar evolve as a counselor? How so?
A: Most people go through a phase where they’d do anything for their students. Oscar did, too. A lot of people go through that “heart on their sleeves, let me hand you my wallet” phase. But Oscar got really good at identifying how to help students grow and learn to take care of themselves. He wasn’t afraid to call students out and say, “I know you can do better than this. I’ve seen you!” And he developed a reputation for being someone students could trust.
Q: What do you think students will miss most?
A: From alumn I talked to, Oscar was Oregon State. He was home to them. And knowing that he was still here made them feel like home was still here. People come and go. Careers change. It’s unusual to find someone like Oscar who was basically doing the same good work at the same place for nearly 30 years.
Q: What will you miss most about Oscar?
A: He was a thinker -- he was a philosophy major, after all. He could drive us crazy by being so deliberate at times. But that means that he was also very thoughtful and could be depended on to provide perspective and depth to any conversation. He could have difficult conversations about race and systems, and he was always present. He wouldn’t rush through the discomfort, which is what you need in those situations.