The 2021 César E. Chávez Hispanic Excellence Scholarship and Community Awards Gala on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in greater Grand Rapids, included an advocacy award for Ferris State University President David Eisler. Also highlighted in the program was an award for a Ferris Product Design Engineering Technology alumnus and a tribute by a Kendall College of Art and Design professor of painting.
The Community to Honor Cesar E. Chavez, a collaborative group of educational institutions, civic leaders and community organizations, presented Eisler the Hispanic Advocate of the Year Award. Ferris Center for Latin@ Studies Executive Director Kaylee Burke said the president’s support of the vision for creating the office she now leads is one facet of Eisler’s promotion of initiatives championing diversity and inclusion on campus.
“I have always held dear his advocacy for the Promesa Scholars Program, and it was so wonderful to have current Promesa Scholars and alumni of the program in attendance at the gala,” Burke said. “Ferris’ Latino Business and Development Center, as well as the contributions the university is making to the Plaza Roosevelt complex on Grand Rapids’ southwest side, are only two examples of the many ways Ferris, under President Eisler’s leadership, offers time and resources to uplift Latinx leadership and success.”
Tony Baker, Ferris’ executive director of community engagement, has a unique perspective, as a long-serving member of the Grand Rapids Public Schools board, regarding Eisler’s contributions to the Grand Rapids community.
“Dave Eisler has always shown an interest in expanding Ferris’ connections to expand access to education,” Baker said. “He encouraged academic classes to attend the annual Chavez March, which led to increased investments in the Grand Rapids community, especially the Latino community here. Ferris’ collaboration with KCAD, GRPS and the Grand Rapids Public Museum helped bring about the Grand Rapids Public Museum Middle/High School, which has received national acclaim. His leadership also created increased investments by Kendall College of Art and Design. Finally, President Eisler was a founding partner of the ‘To College, Through College’ initiative of Grand Rapids Public Schools.”
Also honored at the gala was 2003 Ferris alumnus Javier Olvera, who received the “Aguila” (Eagle) Lifetime Achievement Award. Olvera is president and owner of Olvera Enterprises, which includes the Supermercado Mexico outlets in Grand Rapids and Wyoming. He also serves on the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Finally, KCAD Painting Professor Margaret Vega reflected on the life and mission of her father, entrepreneur and civic leader Francisco Vega, who died this summer (2021) at age 99. Mr. Vega was a pioneer in offering bilingual education and was a leader in social and political initiatives from the local to the national level. Francisco Vega conceived and co-founded the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the largest benevolent enterprise in the U.S. He also served proudly on the Community to Honor Cesar E. Chavez, as a contemporary of the civil rights activist and one of the organization’s founders.