HAGERSTOWN — Luis Flores is quick to admit he wasn’t much of a student in high school and struggled to find his way in college. While it took him about 10 years off and on to earn his undergraduate degree, Flores has become an advocate for higher education.
Just as he was finishing his bachelor’s degree at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., he was hired last May as the multicultural recruiter at Hagerstown Community College, a position he would have thought an unlikely fit years ago.
“It’s ironic that as much as I hated school, here I am at a college. I saw the reality of things,” Flores said.
Instead, Flores, 31, can use his background to inspire students to persevere and make their dreams come true.
“At the end of the day, I was lucky to realize the importance of education,” said Flores, who is now considering getting a master’s degree.
Born in Mexico, close to the border of Monterey, Calif., Flores was 6 when his family moved to South America. They lived in several countries there before moving to Washington state when he was almost 14.
“I didn’t know any English. It’s been a lot of work,” Flores said.
Living in Brazil, there was a good mix of Spanish and Portuguese spoken, but English really threw Flores when the family moved to the United States, and he still struggled when he went to college in Michigan. His family moved to Michigan so his father could go to graduate school there.
Flores said he can relate to the English as a Second Language, or ESL, students at HCC, who are struggling to learn another language.
While he didn’t have an ESL program to help him in high school, Flores advises HCC students to take advantage of the ESL programs offered on campus and make mastering the language a priority before they plunge into English and writing classes that require a lot of reading and writing.
“The ESL students, I get the feeling they look up to me in a way. I’m not the first one who’s done it. If anything, the key is perseverance. You gotta get through it,” Flores said.
He visits high schools and businesses in the area with HCC Recruiting Coordinator Kevin Crawford and helps him with the Essence program for high school students. Their goal is to educate high school students about higher education, Flores said.
“I find my passion is really reaching minorities, immigrants,” said Flores, who said besides Hispanic students at HCC, there are students from Africa, Europe, Russia and Romania.
Flores also found a physical outlet that got him through the rough times — running. He and his best friend in Washington state ran together. When they got bored with that, they started doing triathlons.
Since he started running at 15, Flores has completed five full Ironman triathlons and at least 15 marathons. He is doing an Ironman in Louisville in August.
“Back then, it was kind of a nice outlet. I liked it and kept at it,” Flores said.
It was through running that Flores met his wife, Katie, while they were students at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. They married in 2006, and live in Keedysville with their 18-month-old son, Oliver.
Family life has changed Flores’ priorities, he said.
“It’s been a very interesting journey,” Flores said.