El Centro Chicano
USC Student Affairs

Previous Directors

Raul Vargas, Interim Director 1972-1973

Raul Vargas was raised in the small mining town of Miami, Arizona. After high school he attended and attained a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Arizona State University and served in the United States Army. Following his military service, he returned to Arizona State and obtained a secondary school teaching credential. Raul relocated to California in order to accept a teaching position with the Ontario-Montclair School District. He taught Math and Spanish, coached basketball and sponsored the Chess and Spanish Clubs.

In 1972 Mr. Vargas accepted the position of Executive Director of the Mexican American Programs at the University of Southern California. His intent was to work at USC for two years and return to his passion - teaching. However, in 1974 Raul and several alumni had the need to address the concerns of Latino students with the high cost of education in private colleges and universities. Raul and eight USC alumni founded the USC Mexican American Alumni Association (MAAA). To date the MAAA has awarded 5475 scholarships. The amount awarded totals $9,786,473.00. MAAA is currently providing tuition assistance to undergraduate students, graduate students, medical and law schools students. Under Raul's leadership, the MAAA established an Endowment Fund at USC in order to ensure perpetual source of revenue for the scholarships. The initial campaign goal was to develop $1 million. The fund currently has a balance of $2 million. The MAAA has recently launched a second campaign to increase the Endowment Fund to $3.3 million.

With the goal of making USC accessible to the ever increasing number of Latino students, Raul's dedication to his community is evidenced by his participation in Community organizations, foundations, corporate entities and civic, business and community leaders. Raul has been recognized for his work at USC by being awarded the following honors:

University of Southern California - Presidential Medallion, Pepperdine University Hispanic Advisory Council "El Faro" Award, The American Diabetes Association Humanitarian Award, KCET Hispanic Heritage Month Hero Award for Excellence in Education, and the MALDEF Lifetime Achievement Award.

In addition to his university responsibilities, Mr. Vargas remains involved in several organizations: Member, USC Latino Honor Society, Member, USC Skull and Dagger Society, Member, USC Mortar Board Member, Ramona Convent Secondary School Board, Member USC El Centro Chicano Advisory Council, Advisor - USC Latino Business Students Association, Advisor - Beta Gamma Nu - USC Latino Fraternity.

Mr. Vargas resides in Upland with his wife of 36 years, Marcia. His daughter Tracie and his son Cesar are both USC Alumni. Raul's hobbies include golf, bike riding, spectator sports and staying involved in community activities.

 

Dr. Silas Abrego, Director 1973-1977

Dr. Abrego currently serves as the Associate Vice President for Student Affair's at California State University, Fullerton. Throughout his career, he has worked to enrich the educational experience and quality of services for students. The cornerstone of his career in education has always been program development with a particular emphasis on preparing young people to succeed in higher education; particularly underrepresented students who would otherwise not begin or persist in higher education. At Cal State Fullerton he has been a visionary leader within the University in the planning and implementation of highly successful outreach and retention programs. He is responsible for directing ten distinct comprehensive programs, overseeing an operating budget exceeding $5.7 million dollars, and directing the activities of sixty professional and support staff.

Dr. Abrego's early path by no means led directly to a career in education. The schools he attended did little to encourage Latinos to pursue a college education. Despite the school system's shortcomings, he entered higher education determined to achieve greater goals for himself and his community. Dr. Abrego earned a bachelor's degree, and went on to earn both Master's and Doctorate degrees in Higher Education at the University of Southern California.

He currently leads efforts to provide scholarships and educational enhancement programming for Latino and first generation college students attending CSUF, raising over $1.8 million annually. In addition to his current duties at Cal State Fullerton, Sy is also involved in several statewide higher education and California State University advisory boards. He is often asked to speak on educational equity and policy issues and has received several awards for his contribution to the educational community. The Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel honored him for him continued support and dedication to Educational Excellence and Equity.

Locally, Dr. Abrego is actively involved in a number of community organizations, playing leadership roles in many of them. He has served with distinction as Chair of the Orange County United Way's Hispanic Development Council. He has also been a Board Member of the Fullerton Boys & Girls Club and the North Orange County United Way Council. In recognition of his outstanding educational leadership, Sy has been honored by the Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County, the United Way of Orange County's Hispanic Development Council and most recently, the Hispanic Outreach Taskforce.

 

Rafael Magallan, Interim Director 1977- 1979

Rafael Magallan has been active in the public policy arena for the past twenty-two years. The scope of governmental affairs work he has engaged in called for the planning and execution of initiatives and programs of marked organizational and political sensitivity, requiring training and experience in policy formation and familiarity with legislative processes and procedures. The thrust of much of his professional endeavors in governmental affairs during this span have focused primarily on educational policy development. This concentration on the governmental accesses and policy dynamics that specifically affect U.S. education reflect the interests and commitment evolved from his prior ten years of experience in postsecondary education.

Mr. Magallan has been contributing to the field of education throughout the United States. Upon his departure from USC, he traveled east to Washington D.C., where he remained through 1985 working with several agencies such as Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the National Council of La Raza, and the Hispanic Higher Education Coalition. He has held other education related positions with institutions such as the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities and the Tomas Rivera Center.

In addition to the above, Rafael has served in a consultant or related capacity to the U.S. Departments of Education and of Agriculture, State Departments of Education in California and New Jersey, universities and colleges, regional and national education associations such as the Western Interstate Council for Higher Education, the American Council on Education, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the National Education Association, the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the Education Commission of the States, and other diverse agencies and philanthropic organizations.

Rafael has returned to California and is married to Leticia Magallan. They have two children, Talia Iris and Alejandro Miguel. He currently holds position with The College Board in Sacramento, working directly with police and governmental relations.

 

Dr. Abel Amaya, Director 1979-1999

In June 1999, Abel Amaya retired from the University of Southern California; after twenty years of Student Affairs administrative work and teaching assignments within the American Studies and Ethnicity department. As director of El Centro Chicano, Mr. Amaya's experience centered in managing student supportive programs that included seminars in leadership and motivational skills for first year students. While the mission of El Centro was to recruit, retain, and professionally develop Chicano/Latino students, the programs included activities that brought together the strength and vision of parents, community and business representatives that impacted the success of Chicano/Latino students.

Prior to his 20 years at USC, Abel was an Associate Professor with the History department at Colorado State University and Director of the Chicano Studies program. He took a five year leave of absence in order to serve as Program Officer at the Ford Foundation. Mr. Amaya was responsible for negotiating grants that funded educational programs for the Chicano/Latino and American Indian population.

Mr. Amaya received his Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona, his Master of Arts degree in History from Southern Methodist University in Texas, and completed coursework for his doctoral degree in U.S. and Latin American Relations.

As a retired person, Abel is teaching part-time at Pitzer College, Pomona College, and with the California State Universities; Fullerton and Dominguez Hills.

 

Dr. Raquel Torres-Retana, Director 1999-2004

Remained a committed professional educator for over fifteen years, in a variety of educational settings. Has been a member of the Trojan Family since 1999. Currently, holding the position of Director for the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards at the University of Southern California. Served originally as Interim Director in July 2004 and became permanent soon thereafter. In the position, works with students from all over the University in upholding the philosophy, goals and the Student Conduct Code within an educational manner.

A first generation college graduate, Dr. Torres-Retana graduated in 1991 with her Bachelor of Arts degree from Whittier College, a small liberal arts college in southern California. With a major in Sociology and a minor in History, she then pursued her graduate degree in Public Administration. She graduated from California State University- Dominguez Hills with a Masters in Public Administration in 1995. In 2007 she completed her Doctorate of Education program at the University of Southern California, with a dissertation on “Exploring the Latina/o Undergraduate Experience; A Case Study of Academically Successful Students at a Research Institution”.

The youngest child of nine to Mexican immigrants, Raquel is a native to southern California, specifically the Los Angeles area. Although both parents are now deceased, education was strongly stressed in the home and is attributed to the educational achievements. Family remains a priority in her life, as she is married to David Retana. The two are parents to three beautiful girls and have made Whittier their home.

Mr. Retana is also an educator, an Economics teacher at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera. As parents to young daughters they spend most of their free time with them and experiencing the pleasure of parenthood. Dr. Torres-Retana remains active with her daughters and has been a Troop Leader with the Girl Scouts of America, in various age levels.

Education has had such an impact on her own life, Raquel has remained committed to her alma maters. She served on the board for Alianza de los Amigos, Whittier College’s Latino alumni association from 1995 through 2001. In 2001, she joined the development board at her high school, San Gabriel Mission, an all female Catholic school.

Gabriela Lopez, Interim Director 2004-2005

The granddaughter of migrant farm workers, Gabriela Lopez was raised in the Salinas Valley of California. After high school, she attended USC where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in English & her Master’s degree in Counseling. After serving as Assistant Director and Interim Director for El Centro Chicano at USC, Gabriela relocated to the central coast. Gabriela has committed her life to education, and enriching her community with the arts and culture. She has served as President on the board of directors at Sol Treasures, and the Monterey County Dance Foundation, two organizations that promote the arts in southern Monterey County. In addition to volunteering her time to Girls Inc. of the Central Coast, Mission San Antonio, the Rotary International Youth Exchange Program and the Latina Leadership Network of Cuesta College, she actively promotes education in her community.

Gabriela currently holds the position of Student Services Specialist at Cuesta College in Paso Robles, California.