“Our favorite destination is always the next one,” Alfredo Gutierrez says of the extensive travel he and his wife Luz Maria undertake. One of the trips Alfredo frequently makes is back to his graduate alma mater in Ann Arbor. As a former member of the Rackham Board of Governors and Dean’s Advisory Committee, Alfredo has been active in steering the enormous ship that administers graduate education across the University of Michigan campus.
Alfredo donates more than his leadership to U-M. “I have a firm belief that one should pay back, and those who receive are under a particular obligation to do so. The origin and motivation for supporting Rackham and graduate education is because that was my experience at U-M,” Alfredo comments on the Alfredo D. & Luz Maria P. Gutierrez Fellowship in Latin American Studies. Alfredo and Luz Maria recently increased their commitment to graduate education, reinvesting in their fund.
Alfredo has a distinct advantage, as a donor who finds his way back to campus periodically. “I make a point to meet students when I can. I do this for several reasons: to get to know them and connect with a part of life in Michigan that I enjoyed at one point in time. I also want to see what students are facing – some issues are different, but many are pretty much the same as when I was a graduate student. I enjoy learning about them and talking about my experiences, and I hope it is useful for them as well. It is satisfying to know you are making it possible for others, like others made it possible for you,” he says.
Alfredo has vivid memories of his years in Ann Arbor, where he completed his doctorate in Economics in 1974. “The funding for my last two years at Rackham was instrumental with my field research in Spain and finishing my dissertation. I spent my last two years focused on completing research and writing. I have maintained involvement with Rackham ever since in gratitude for fact that Rackham was instrumental in getting me support in order to complete my degree.”
Atypical of most doctoral graduates at the time, Alfredo didn’t go into academia after he finished. Instead, he pursued a career in development economics and policy issues and later in banking. After a long career with the World Bank based in Colombia, he served as president of J.P. Morgan Brazil before founding a private equity firm focused on companies doing business in Latin America. Alfredo is now retired twice over.
Supporting education is the core of the Gutierrez’ philanthropic plan. Alfredo explains, “Education is our focus in the area of philanthropy. We have been involved in a number of initiatives – from the fellowship at U-M and a similar one at the University of Pittsburgh.” That’s the top of the education pipeline, but the Gutierrez’ generosity extends down from there, supporting initiatives at the undergraduate and high school level. In their hometown of Miami, Alfredo and Luz Maria support first generation scholarships for honors students at Florida International University. They fund something similar through the Honors College at Miami Dade College, the largest community college in country, helping first generation students transition from their associate degree to a four year undergraduate institution. “We want to give them wings, if you will,” Alfredo comments.
Diving deeper into the pipeline, Alfredo and Luz Maria support the Posse Foundation, an organization that identifies diverse high school students to send to universities where they receive comprehensive support, programming and funding to succeed in higher education. U-M participates in placing and supporting Posse students, so named when the founder overheard a former student say he never would have flunked out of college if he had a posse with him. Alfredo is working with his undergraduate institution to get them on board with Posse as well.
As someone who charted an uncommon path when he was a newly minted doctoral graduate, Alfredo has important advice for current students. He says, “Explore all opportunities. Most graduate programs are aimed at producing further scholars. Many graduate students want to do that, but the fact is that often they might not be interested or there might be limited opportunities. They should really think out of the box to see where their skills and acquired knowledge could be used for non-academic purposes. It could be in a think tank, a research institute, a non-profit, or even industry. My main advice is to carefully assess today’s rapidly changing marketplace. Technology is changing our lives on a daily basis and creating new fields. That means there are a lot of opportunities there that might not be obvious. Students should look ahead and explore.”
With new students to meet, Alfredo may soon trek back to Michigan, a place still close to his heart. “Michigan is such a unique place. The whole environment – the academics, the people – it’s really a place of wonderful opportunity and strong traditions where you are challenged in so many ways.”