José Luis Vargas ’74 (Sociology), M.A.’75 (Educational Psychology and Counseling), the longtime director of the California State University, Northridge Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), passed away Saturday, March 19 after a brief illness.
“José Luis was a proud product of EOP who was nationally known for his passion, conviction and professionalism,” CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison said. “He impacted generations of CSUN students. While CSUN has lost a champion for our students, his legacy will live on and benefit future generations of under-served students.”
José Luis never forgot his humble beginnings and was known for his ability to relate to the thousands of students who attended CSUN and thrived thanks to the life-changing and nationally known EOP program.
He was born in Mexico City and came to the U.S. with his parents at a young age. He grew up near downtown Los Angeles in Echo Park and graduated from Belmont High School. He became the first in his family to go to college when he was recruited by the founders of CSUN’s EOP program.
EOP was officially founded in 1969 to provide historically low-income, underrepresented and first-generation college students access to the university and holistic academic services and support. José Luis was part of the very first Summer Bridge Program, one of numerous transitional programs at CSUN.
“EOP is a clear reflection of CSUN’s impact and values in action,” said Yi Li, CSUN Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Making a high-quality education accessible for all was the noble pursuit that defined José Luis’ career. He will be remembered by so many in our campus community and the entire extended EOP family.”
As a student, José Luis was dedicated to the mission of EOP, working as a student assistant and becoming socially and politically active on campus. As a professional, he advanced in the department and was selected as its director in 1994.
CSUN, which has one of the oldest and most respected Educational Opportunity Programs in the CSU system, reached new heights during José Luis’ administration. He served as chair of the CSU EOP Statewide Directors and worked closely with the CSU Chancellor’s office on policies to help historically low-income students from disadvantaged backgrounds. He often was called upon as a consultant on various issues, not only at CSUN but by EOP officials from across the nation.
During his tenure, EOP’s transitional programs — which provide special orientation workshops, classes and tools that help students navigate the university — expanded to include more students and segments, including transfer bridge, commuter bridge and fresh start. The Resilient Scholars Program (RSP), which provides support to former foster youth, was launched; and he was involved in the foundational work for CSUN’s new Dream Center.
“José Luis mentored thousands of students who came to CSUN not confident in their success who were inspired to achieve their goals,” said William Watkins, CSUN Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “I deeply respected his unwavering commitment to the success of all students. I will miss him as a colleague and I will miss him as a friend.”
José Luis is survived by his wife, Yvonne; and his son, Damian.
EOP staff, students and alumni will be organizing a large campus memorial event in late April. His family will celebrate José Luis’ life during a private memorial service.