Celebrate! 40 years at CSU: Ernest Chavez

Ernest Chavez, professor of psychology, is celebrating his 40-year milestone with Colorado State University this year.

Chavez grew up in New Mexico where he thought his career path would lead him to becoming a small-town priest. However, he became a first-generation college student when he chose to pursue his undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of New Mexico. He then continued his education at Washington State to earn his Ph.D.  in 1976.

Taking a position with CSU straight out of school, he had no intention of staying for 40 years.

“We have faculty that could be teaching at any of the ‘top-notch’ universities in the country, but Fort Collins and CSU offer a quality of life that you don’t get in other places,” said Chavez.

Celebrate! CSU Milestones

Colorado State University employees achieving a decade of service or more this year will be honored at the annual Celebrate! CSU Milestones event Tuesday, May 2, at 4 p.m. in the LSC Grand Ballroom.

Being the difference

As a young adult, Chavez knew he wanted to work toward making a difference in his community. When he graduated, he was one of fewer than 100 Latino clinical psychologists in the U.S. Hesitantly, he took the advice of a mentor and became a professor, although this was not the path he had in mind. His career has allowed him to make a difference in ways he never imagined.

Today he has trained more than 50 Ph.D. students, more than half of whom are students of color. “That’s really the thing that has kept me here all of this time,” said Chavez. “You actually can make a difference in individual people’s lives.” He still keeps in contact with a number of former students.

Chavez is especially fond of the memories of hooding his first Latino Ph.D. students. He felt proud and accomplished to be able to give back to the small Latino clinical psychologist community by adding more accomplished members to it.

Never a ‘typical day’

“The beauty of this job is that every day is a little different,” Chavez said. In his 40 years at CSU, Chavez says it is almost like he has had three different careers. He has been able to experience teaching, administration, and community outreach.

He also enjoys using grant funding to make an impact in the lives of students, to help facilitate the transfer of students from Front Range Community College to CSU to gain hands-on experience in the field. Additionally, he is working with the National Science Foundation to increase the diversity in STEM majors in the state by including more students from underrepresented groups.

Family is why

While psychology is his passion, Chavez realizes the importance of spending time with family. When department chair, he would constantly remind the faculty, “They will not put on your tombstone that you did one more article, they put ‘Here lies mother, daughter, sister, brother’… Those connections bring the most meaning to life.”

Chavez’s four children and eight grandchildren are a huge part of his life. When his children were growing up, Chavez coached soccer for 22 seasons to spend quality time with them. Even today, he is constantly traveling and spending hours on the phone keeping up with his family from all over the country.

His colleagues are also like a family to him. He enjoys working with and around a community of faculty who care so much about the students. “Many faculty members in the department have been here for 30-plus years. It is just a great place to work,” said Chavez.

A unique perspective

Chavez enjoys teaching his students how to be thoughtful members of society by using their academic knowledge to make decisions. For him, teaching is about challenging what his students believe. He aims to guide them in thinking about things in new and different ways to push them to think in their own individual ways.

While his students are always within the same age range, groups are always changing. Chavez’s challenge is staying relevant and connected to each new generation.

“I’m still pretty excited about what I do, and I feel like I am still contributing in a variety of ways,” he said.

His ethnicity, background and passion for what he does keep him going. These unique traits allow him to continue to bring energy and perspective to the field of psychology and his students.