"A Legacy of Paying it Forward"
Former Directors Series
Interview with Eric Rennaker (served 2006-2008)
MARKO: Tell us a little bit about your experience paying it forward.
ERIC RENNAKER:The theme of the celebration could not be more appropriate for me, specifically because of the position I currently hold, Director of the Upward Bound Program at UNC, which is directly connected to my previous position as the Chávez Center Director. A long time ago, I was an Upward Bound student at Metro State College in Denver, and I told the Director of that Upward Bound program that I was going to have his job one day. I said that because he had done so much to help students, it seemed pretty rewarding, and because it had a great impact on my life. Forward to 2006 when I was sitting with two students and another staff member discussing ways to connect more local LatinX high school students to the Chávez Center. At that point, the thought of creating an Upward Bound Program, run out of the Chávez Center, came to my mind. The rest, as they say, is history, but the theme connects to so many other offices and people who have helped me along the way (Upward Bound, the Center for Human Enrichment, and the Chávez Center), so I have wanted to do the same for others, especially high school and college students, throughout my career.
MARKO: Can you tell us about your background and where you are from?
ERIC RENNAKER:I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado.
MARKO: Are you an alumnus of UNC and if you are, what did you major/minor in? Do you have other degrees and what institutions are they from?
ERIC RENNAKER:Yes. I graduated from UNC with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications with a minor in English. I also earned my M.A. from UNC in Educational Technology.
MARKO: How long did you serve as César Chávez Cultural Center Director?
ERIC RENNAKER: I served as the CCCC Director for almost two years from 2006-2008.
MARKO: How would you describe your role and the challenges presented to you there?
ERIC RENNAKER: I believe my role, the role of the CCCC Director, was vital in continuously showing the value of the CCCC to the UNC campus community, the Greeley community, and specifically the students at UNC, especially the Latin-X students who connected with the center for many reasons. Some challenges were related to the physical structure of the center in regards to internet connectivity, speed, and access, close parking access next to the house, and funding from the Student Senate. Other challenges were related to the role of the Chávez Center in general because the focus would change depending on leadership and the priorities of the time. For example, sometimes recruitment would be a priority and at other times retention would be the priority, so being ready and able to change and redirect resources and efforts was important.
MARKO: What is the grounding value/belief that helped guide your work there?
ERIC RENNAKER: The grounding value/belief that guided my work was the belief that quality and individualized service to students was a priority with the eventual goal of helping them stay and be successful at UNC. Another value/belief that helped guide my work was using the foundation that earning a post-secondary education is important and an excellent avenue to living a fulfilling life, to being a positive contributing member of society, and to being equipped to paying it forward as well.
MARKO: What would you like to share regarding that period of time in your life?
ERIC RENNAKER:During that period of my life, I was working at doing my best to serve our students, supporting UNC’s goals and objectives, advocating for the Chávez Center and being there for my family (children ages two to seven at the time). To say the least, it was a busy time in my life, and honestly, there were times I felt like I wasn’t doing a great job in any of the areas because I felt so spread out.
MARKO: What would you like others to know about the Cesar Chávez Cultural Center and its place at UNC?
ERIC RENNAKER:I had worked at UNC for 13 years prior to taking on the CCCC Director role and I had always known the value of the Chávez Center, but I didn’t deeply understand until I worked there as the Director. I saw what a critical role The Center played for many, many students academically, socially and culturally. If you have a genuine belief that diversity is important and that many students from underrepresented groups do feel marginalized on a college campus in the beginning, one naturally sees the need for and value of the cultural centers. Students need a place to feel like they belong so they can focus on succeeding, and the CCCC was and is that place for a lot of students.
MARKO: What was your proudest moment/accomplishment/memory of your time there?
ERIC RENNAKER:There are many proud moments/accomplishments/memories from large events such as collaborating with the Center for Women's and Gender Equity and bringing Dolores Huerta to campus, to smaller accomplishments such as being able to invite the Greeley Central High School LULAC President to a LULAC luncheon on campus and introducing her to the National LULAC President. There are two accomplishments that stand out, which are shared and not mine alone: first, is being awarded the the Federal TRiO Upward Bound grant which is still housed out of the Chávez Center and serves students from the three main high schools in District 6, with many eventually attending UNC. Second, is getting support from UNC’s Parking Services (Mr. Ron Eberhard) to have parking spaces created on the hill next to the Chávez Center so students, especially at night and in bad weather, would not have to park in the lower level main parking areas. We attempted to get stairs from the parking lot to The Center on the West side, but Director Trish Escobar was able to finally accomplish that goal. Nice job Trish!!
MARKO: Is there anything else you would like to share?
ERIC RENNAKER:I would like to share that I may be part of a small group of people who has been connected with the Chávez Center from when it opened in 1985 up until the present, not to mention having the honor of being one of the Directors. In fact, as a college student at UNC, along with another student Bobby Gonzalez, I wrote a proposal and received funding from the UNC Student Government to create a mentoring program between UNC students and youth in the Greeley Schools. So, I guess I have had a long history with the Chávez Center in many respects, trying to support students through education for many years. Regarding names of students during the period when I was the Director, I will have to put some more thought into it because there are so many, but these come to mind right away: Horacio Soto, Anthony Ginn, Ivan Diaz, Alonzo Barron, Valerie Lovato and Chris Garcia.
Celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the César Chávez Cultural Center