Gavin Centeno believes that student engagement enriches the college experience. As president of Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) at California State University, Dominguez Hills, he leads the way.
And he delivers his message to students every chance he gets. Over the summer, he shared his message of student involvement with incoming Toros during new student orientations (NSO). He recalled that it was through high school advisers and mentors that he learned the value of becoming engaged in college and NSO was an opportunity for him to influence students to do the same.
Centeno, a senior majoring in public administration, asserted that being engaged on campus develops habits that can help to launch and advance careers.
“The more you are involved, the more you do, the more you know and experience. That’s what makes you valuable to employers when you graduate,” he said, adding some advice to students, “Value your experience [at CSU Dominguez Hills].”
Centeno has another reason to connect with as many students as he can.
“To me, meeting students is really important because they need to know who’s representing them on campus and what organization represents them. Ultimately, I’m not representing myself, I’m representing ASI,” he remarked.
Centeno’s primary goals are to strengthen positive working relationships between ASI and departments on campus as well as external entities, and to act as a liaison to university administration on behalf of students, delivering a clear message on “what needs to be renewed, revised, or changed” to better serve them.
“Every chance I get, I talk to students and try to figure out what kind of activities or classes they need to help them move forward to graduation,” he said. “What I want to do is make the existing programs more effective and efficient.”
Centeno has a deep appreciation for the importance of a college education. Along with his two siblings, the Saipan native was raised by their mother, who was a single parent.
While living in the Philippines until Centeno was 6, the family lived meagerly in third-world conditions, he said. Immigrating to the United States to unite with extended family and to seek a better life, they continued to struggle. They lived on food stamps and had to watch their expenses closely. But Centeno doesn’t regret a childhood of living near the poverty line.
“I’m glad that I got to experience life in the Philippines, because it makes you appreciate life here,” he said.
In America, his family’s financial situation seemed to stall, but his school life was beginning to flourish.
While attending middle school, Centeno participated in Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college readiness program. In addition to helping him improve his grades to As and Bs, the program helped to plant the seed about going to college. By the time he reached high school, he had decided college was what he needed to do to improve the outlook of his future.
He entered the nursing program at Long Beach City College, but his career goals would soon be altered when he became involved in a “crusade” to prevent summer school from being cut. Enjoying the process, the next semester he ran for and was elected to serve as a student trustee at the college.
“After that, professors asked me if I thought about looking into public administration,” he recalled. “I figured out this is what I love to do, advocating for students.”
So, he sought the advice of guidance counselors and professional mentors about where he could study public administration. CSU Dominguez Hills was the stand out recommendation.
After transferring to the university in fall 2011, it didn’t take long for the first-generation college student to become involved at the university. He became ASI’s director of student services during the 2012 spring semester and its vice president of finance in fall 2012 continuing through the 2013 semester.
“I’ve been in student leadership [roles] for five years,” the Toro said. “For me, it’s about using that experience to give back.”
In addition to giving back on campus, Centeno has volunteered at LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program, Long Beach Rescue Mission, and various beach cleanup efforts.
“It’s incredible to see that you’re only there for a short amount of time, but you’ve made a big difference,” he said of volunteering.
The Long Beach resident is also using his engagement on and off campus, as well as his education, to prepare for a career in the public sector. Upon graduation, he plans to participate in a two-year, full-time Los Angeles county management internship, leading toward a career serving in city management and eventually as an elected school board or city council member.
“It’s important that we have ethical decision makers,” he commented.
As far as ASI is concerned, Centeno is going about the decision making process democratically.
“When you have everyone giving their input and helping you make decisions, you come out with the best product,” he said. “I learned that from public administration.”
Serving on the 2013-14 ASI Board of Directors with Centeno are Christina Garcia-Rosales, executive vice president; Curbin Pitts, vice president of academic affairs; Jesica Rodriguez, vice president of finance; Faafetai Tupua, director of legislative affairs; Jordan Sylvestre, organizations commissioner; Aleena Arroyo, student activities commissioner; Jennifer Ruby Lopez, director of student services; Oliver Baquiax; College of Business Administration and Public Policy representative; Tyler Parker-Hawkins, College of Arts and Humanities representative; Lily Yang, public affairs commissioner; and Thomas Freelon, elections commissioner.
For more information about ASI, visit www2.csudh.edu/asi.