Both in his former job as MIT associate director of admissions and in his current role as a corporate recruiter, Eddie Grado has had a passion for helping Mexican-Americans and other minorities succeed. He was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Avanza Network, a national leadership and professional group founded by MIT alumni for the advancement of Mexican-American and underserved communities.
When Grado arrived on campus as a first-year student from El Paso, Texas, there were only a few Mexican-American undergrads, and he knew of none among faculty or staff. “That to me was a very, very different world,” he says. He and his friends cooked with tortillas mailed from home when they could not find fresh ones in Cambridge. They started MIT’s Mexican-American student association, La Union Chicana por Aztlan (LUChA), and gathered each Thanksgiving since they could not afford to fly home.
A work-study gig in the admissions office was the springboard to his life’s work. Through Interphase, a community-building program run by the MIT Office of Minority Education, he met Julia McLellan, then the associate director of admissions. She offered him a job and more—she supported LUChA in its infancy. “She gave us the bulletin board across from Admissions in the Infinite Corridor,” Grado says. “She empowered us. She helped us with our movement.”
Over spring break, Grado and friends fanned out to their hometowns and encouraged more minorities to apply to MIT. “I knew many of the students I recruited,” Grado says. “Their mothers and fathers knew me; they knew there was someone they could call.” He stayed on after graduation—and, he says, Texas was the number three or four feeder state for MIT by 1990. He was honored with MIT’s Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award for distinguished service to the MIT community.
After seven years, Grado moved to Caltech, where he built diversity programs for three years. Now back in Texas, he is a partner at Joseph Michaels International, a North Dallas head-hunting firm. As a volunteer, he is the vice president of recruiting for the Avanza Network. In 2015, Grado and two dozen other members spoke with 1,400 students at 14 Las Vegas high schools in two days.
Grado is an officer of the MIT Club of Dallas and Fort Worth. He keeps in touch with his own mentor, McLellan, who retired in 1985 after almost 40 years in the admissions office. “I just talked to her this week,” he says. “She’s 94 years old. That’s what I like about MIT. The people aren’t just smart. They’re leaders. And they’re caring people.”