For Jose Solorio, it was a fateful meeting on the UCI campus in 1990 that helped forge his public service career.
Solorio was a UCI undergraduate, majoring in Social Ecologybecause of an interest in law and social issues, when farm worker union leader Cesar Chavez visited campus as the guest of Hispanic students and faculty to rally support for farm worker rights.
The son of migrant farm workers who moved to the U.S. from Michoacan, Mexico when he was eight months old, Solorio and his family lived in Kern County. There in the great agricultural fields of the Central Valley, Solorio toiled alongside his parents.
With that background, Chavez naturally was a hero to the Solorio family, a national icon whose organized boycotts and personal hunger fasts helped reform laws and gain migrant farmworkers significant new job protections and rights.
“I had grown up in Cesar Chavez country, so it’s ironic that the first time I met him personally was at UCI,” Solorio said. “Through him and my mentors on campus, I learned that to help people most effectively I needed to be involved in the public policy arena.”
Solorio’s passion for activism increased: he joined the campus Chicano student activist group, MEChA; and criminology, law and society professor John Dombrink became one of his primary mentors, introducing him to the importance and impact of public service.
In 2000 Solorio reached a milestone, getting elected to theSanta Ana City Council at age 30.
Solorio sowed his political oats on the UCI campus, serving as student president his senior year.
“It was one of the most humbling times in my life, but also one of the most empowering years. I was able to realize that if you have good ideas and work hard, and if you’re fighting the good fight, eventually you can change the environment around you.”
As part of a research project with Professor Dombrink, Solorio interned at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County. His activities there included interviewing day laborers about discriminatory and illegal labor practices.
He received his bachelor’s degree in social ecology in 1992. He earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1995.
Solorio is now on the executive committee of the Santa Ana Chapter of the UCI Alumni Association. There are about 1,100 alums that live and work in Santa Ana, a predominately Hispanic city that is demographically Orange County’s youngest and has one of the youngest cadres of elected city officials.
Solorio is a marketing program administrator with the Orange County Transportation Authority and a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and a board member on the Santa Ana Boys and Girls Club. He is also a member of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, appointed by Governor Davis.
His wife, Linn, teaches at Valley High School. They have a son, Michael Andrew.
While a student, Solorio served as a mentor in the School of Social Ecology’s Mentor-Mentee Program, which pairs new students with upper-division peers. He continues a relationship with it today.
“He has come back to speak to our current mentors and mentees, including a visit to our annual retreat last spring, and his words of encouragement and direction are extremely helpful,” Dombrink said.
Solorio stresses to young Latinos and Latinas the importance of a higher education. He is an active recruiter for UCI among Santa Ana public schools.
“UCI has a very strong and impactful impression in Santa Ana. Whether it be within the educational environment or in the health environment,” Solorio said. “Santa Ana residents have a very positive view of UCI.”
Solorio said the Humanities Out There program, Gear Up at Valley View High School, and partnerships with Santa Ana College and the Health Center are examples of the meaningful programs UCI delivers in the community.
“I think what this close relationship between UCI and Santa Ana does for students is create a favorable view of the institution. But more importantly it engages them in the pursuit of knowledge,” he said.
“UC Irvine is a young institution and the sky is the limit. From having Nobel laureates to so many top academic programs among the best nationwide, to strong support from the Orange County community, I believe there is no telling the number and variety of successes UCI is going to have. I am proud to be an alumni of UCI.”