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Friday, July 23, 2021

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Charlotte Ochiqui (’00) Charlotte Ochiqui (’00)
 


Charlotte Ochiqui: A Conduit for Connection

The SDSU Alumni Board of Advisors president saw the opportunity for a more well-rounded education at SDSU.
By Tobin Vaughn
 

“San Diego State kind of wrapped its arms around you and really just nurtured you and helped you through the program where you felt like you weren’t just a number; you were a member of a family.”

Despite whatever was going on in Charlotte Ochiqui’s life, the one place she could rely on succeeding was the classroom. She was the kid always sitting in the front row thrusting her hand in the air, ready with the correct answer.

“I wanted to impress the teachers,” she said during an interview about her new role as SDSU Alumni Board of Advisors president. “I felt that would give me validation for the things I didn’t have.”

Ochiqui (’00, pronounced “O-cheeky”) and her brother grew up in National City, the children of Mexican immigrants in a household where money was tight and resources were limited. Their parents split up while the kids were still young, leaving their mom as head of the household.

“I wasn’t getting a lot of accolades at home, so the rewards I got from being acknowledged for my academic success really were the catalyst that pushed me to do well in school. That recognition from teachers and counselors really made a difference in motivating me to be the best that I could be.”

A Better Fit

Ochiqui watched television shows like “Perry Mason” and “L.A. Law.”  She wanted to be a lawyer and had the grades and the work ethic to achieve her goal of becoming the first member of her family to earn a college degree.

A high school counselor lent her the money for the application fee to a prestigious public research university. “She said I had the desire and the discipline to really make a difference in my community,” Ochiqui recalled.

Ochiqui was awarded a full scholarship and took pre-law courses with the intent of applying to law school. But through an internship at the City of San Diego, she discovered an interest in management of organizations and public programs.

When it came time to choose between law school or a graduate program, a friend encouraged her to look into San Diego State University’s master’s program in public administration.

“That’s when I decided that the master’s degree in public administration at San Diego State was a better fit for me than going to law school,” she said. “And I haven’t regretted it once.”

A Different Experience

Almost from the moment she set foot on the SDSU campus, she realized the education environment was like none before. “I don’t even know how to describe it, but San Diego State is just a different experience — a different type of education, a more well-rounded education.

“San Diego State kind of wrapped its arms around you and really just nurtured you and helped you through the program where you felt like you weren’t just a number; you were a member of a family.”

It was an environment Ochiqui believes prepared her well for the career path she chose.

While earning her degree, she worked at the San Diego Mediation Center (now the National Conflict Resolution Center) as a dispute resolution specialist and joined the Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias as an environmental policy advocate. In the two decades since earning her SDSU master’s degree, she has worked for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians as both director of education and director of community services, and is now vice president of programs, planning and development at Neighborhood House Association, where she develops local, state, and national early childhood education legislative strategies and policies.

“For careers that have to deal with communities and programs and cities, San Diego State is the hub,” Ochiqui said. “It’s the education that connects you to the community.”

The Value of SDSU

Despite being a working mom, Ochiqui has always found time to volunteer on a variety of boards, including at SDSU where she is a member of The Campanile Foundation board of directors. She became president of the SDSU Alumni Board of Advisors on July 1.

In her role as leader of the university’s alumni, she sees her main task as re-engaging the alumni community with SDSU after more than a year of forced detachment by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My goal during my year as president is to bring them back and help them see and appreciate the value of SDSU,” Ochiqui said. “I want to be a conduit for connection.”

But not just for alumni. Remembering the challenges she faced as a first-generation college student, Ochiqui hopes to serve as a model for prospective students of what is possible at SDSU.

“I want to reach out to students who think they aren’t good enough for a college education,” she said. “I really want students who think they are not supposed to come to San Diego State to know that they have a place here.

“I did it with a single mom. I did it on welfare. I did it through being hungry because we didn’t have any money. If you want it, SDSU is here for you.

“That’s part of my message. Do your best, persevere, stay disciplined, and you will get here, but don’t lose the faith.”

In addition to Ochiqui taking over as president of SDSU Alumni, 14 new board members were elected to six-year terms during a June 9 board meeting in Montezuma Hall at the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union: Brianna Bennett (’10), Greg Block (’95), Martin Bridges (’87), Christian Deleon (’09), Dan Denham (’99, ’02), Mark Emch (’84), Carey Fernandes (’98), Keith Harris (’91), Tom Karlo (’75), Yolanda G. Apalategui Lugo (’05, ’15), Kristin O’Neal (’07), Monica Pelaez (’01), Scott Robert (’99), and Gregory “J.R.” Tolver (’02).