By JC Casarez
Over the years Al Rios has always been in the business of helping others first. Known to many as the Dean of the South Gate Educational Center, Rios also has a background in politics and working for nonprofit organizations throughout the community.
Rios, like many of the students he helps now, was once a student at East Los Angeles College. While growing up in Boyle Heights he earned an associate’s degree in sociology before transferring to the University of Southern California where he earned his bachelors degree in public administration.
Rios who still teaches a class every semester, recalls how he started his career at ELAC.
“I came to work at ELAC because I started off as an adjunct in the political science department. I’m still teaching, I haven’t let that go,” Rios said.
Being involved in public affairs was something that always drew his interest. Even as a student at ELAC, Rios was involved in student government. He wanted to make a difference in the decisions that affected other students.
These experiences are the reason that Rios is able to relate not only to the students he oversees at the South Gate campus, but also to those that take his political science classes. He too was once a student and understands the challenges faced by students trying to advance in educational careers.
As a student at ELAC, he was invited to visit the USC campus. At the time, Rios was still a sociology major, but the visit would set his path to becoming a public administrator and attending the prestigious university.
“When I was in student government, the school of public administration came by the school. I guess they wanted to recruit all the student government and they invited me to visit their campus. I met with the Dean Billings who asked me if I had ever thought about public administration,” Rios said.
That conversation made him understand that with a background in sociology he could have a greater impact on people if he was involved in the decisions being made.
Rios has done work for many local politicians including former Mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley. These experiences built the foundation that he still uses today to teach students in his political science classes.
He still credits Consuelo Rey Castro, who has a doctorate in Political Science, as his mentor into teaching higher education. The political science professor served as a guide to helping Rios take the steps forward into a position he still enjoys.
“I took her class and audited it. I sat in the back and observed the way she taught and about a year later she asked me if I wanted to teach. I already had my masters degree, so I did it,” Rios said.
For 15 years, Rios has been teaching and helping within the community. Now involved in the Southeast communities that surround the South Gate campus, he looks to make an impact for the students who attend the campus.
Among those changes are a future move into a larger facility across the street that will give the South Gate campus about 150,000 square feet of space. That is approximately double the space they have now.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had. I’m so appreciative, when I think of all the jobs that are out in the community, I say I have one of the best jobs. It’s exciting to see the students grow and move on to jobs in Washington and public service. We can’t under plan the future. There is a whole demographic of folks who are hungry for education,” Rios said.
That type of optimism about the future along with his understanding of the impact education plays in the community makes him who he is today.