Photo by Cade Schmidt

“It’s going to be like losing a father figure,” said Daniel Espinoza-Gonzalez, program coordinator at Western’s Associated Students Ethnic Student Center. Espinoza-Gonzalez is referring to Michael Vendiola, longtime activities coordinator and adviser for the ESC.

Vendiola announced in a memo on Oct. 26 that he was stepping down from his position. Vendiola said he wants to use his leadership skills and give back to his community. He is a member of the Swinomish tribe, located on the southeastern end of Fidalgo Island, a few miles east of the city of Anacortes and a few miles west of Mount Vernon.

He has held his position at Western for 14 years, and is confident in handing over the reins to bring in new energy and new innovation to the ESC.

Vendiola’s last day at the ESC was Nov. 23. Robel Paguio, ESC public relations coordinator, said there will be an interim coordinator who will take Vendiola’s place for the remaining weeks of fall quarter and into winter quarter.

He said he was not sure how long the process to find a permanent replacement for Vendiola would take.

The ESC, located on the fourth floor of the Viking Union, was established with the help and leadership of Vendiola 20 years ago. He was involved in various ethnic student associations, and there was not a space for the organizations to plan and organize the types of events they wanted to see on campus, Vendiola said.

Since Vendiola’s announcement, Espinoza-Gonzalez said it is vital for the members and leaders of the ESC to come together and determine how they are all going to carry on what Vendiola has created.

“As an ESC community, with his departure, we’re going to have to encourage and support one another and start thinking about ways that we as a family – as an ESC – can move on without this great leader,” Espinoza-Gonzalez said.

Vendiola described his role at the ESC as the adviser to the ethnic and cultural clubs on Western’s campus.  His position also oversees the center itself, and assists in planning ESC-sponsored events including Culture Shock, the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and the ESC Conference.

Espinoza-Gonzalez said Vendiola does much more than just supervise individuals inthe ESC.

“He’s also a life adviser,” Espinoza-Gonzalez said. “[He’s] a really good go-to person if you ever need a pick me up or if you just wanna laugh and have a good time.”

Vendiola’s leadership at the ESC has established a number of notable programs and events within the center, as well as through Western itself.  In conjunction with student leadership, ESC clubs have raised money for five student scholarships. 

Vendiola explained that the ability to collaborate and work with other groups on campus and in the community stands as a model of the ESC.  Vendiola said most other schools have these clubs, but they don’t always work with one another. Paguio said that the collaborative and close-knit atmosphere in the ESC is something that can be largely attributed to Vendiola.

“When you think of student centers, you might think of these places that treat you like you walk into a clinic and you need some sort of help or they try and service you in some way, but with Michael being there, he is the one that really makes it feel like a family,” Paguio said. “He is everyone’s dad, he is everyone’s brother, he is everyone’s uncle.”

A few hopes for the future of the ESC include stronger faculty and alumni support and involvement, the re-evaluation of students involved in the center and the institution of more activities, Vendiola said. The ESC also needs a larger space.

 “Originally [it was a space] for five clubs, and we’ve grown to 13 – we certainly have the need,” Vendiola said.

Vendiola said his fondest memories include observations of personal growth of the members in the ESC.   For example, the ESC Conference that happens every fall quarter is a dynamic time for all students involved, Vendiola said.

“The freshmen there are growing their roots at Western, and there is an underlying theme of upperclassman taking an unspoken role of mentoring and supporting the new students,” Vendiola said.

Espinoza-Gonzalez said that even after the loss of Vendiola’s leadership, the members of the ESC will grow even closer together.

“Robel [Paguio] and I have joked about it, but we’re absolutely honest like ‘he’s leaving his two sons,” Espinoza-Gonzalez said.  “He has taught us all, and now we are to go forth and continue his life’s mission.”