Building a Better World

William A Campbell returned to MATC to visit

William A. Campbell returned to MATC in August for a visit

Globe-trotting alum William A. Campbell credits MATC with putting him on the path to success

At 15, William A. Campbell was decreed a menace to society.

Campbell skipped classes for weeks at a time and got expelled from three high schools. He punched a girl after she slapped him. He beat up a classmate for lunch money. He was charged with burglary and armed robbery and at one point faced 60 years in prison.

"In my darkest hours, my father told me I had a chance to move forward, but I had to do it," Campbell said. "And the next chance you get to do that might be your last chance."

With support from his parents, stints in several youth detention programs and guidance from caring instructors, Campbell earned a high school diploma. He secured a job developing websites and enrolled in MATC in 2003.

At the college, he transformed himself into a disciplined student, a vocal leader, the confident face of campus success, and, perhaps most important to Campbell himself, a responsible man.

His accomplishments at MATC became the foundation for two or more college degrees and a career as an international diplomat. In April 2023, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) honored Campbell with a national outstanding alumni award, given annually since 1982 to a handful of graduates of the nation's 1,167 community colleges.

Campbell received the award at the AACC annual conference in Denver. MATC President Dr. Vicki J. Martin was at the ceremony to see Campbell accept the honor.

"This award recognizes William's determination to overcome challenges, his desire to improve his life and his drive to embrace education," Dr. Martin wrote in a congratulatory letter to Campbell. "The MATC family celebrates the quality student he was; the outstanding professional and loving husband and father he is; and the compassionate community leader and inspirational role model he has become. Your story truly shows that by providing high-quality academics, ample resources and thoughtful support, MATC transforms lives."

A rough start

Campbell recalled that his collegiate transformation didn't start particularly well. "I struggled that first semester, but MATC and its instructors instilled in me a discipline and a focus educationally and socially that I never really had," he said. "MATC was a challenging, demanding institution."

Milton Dockery, Campbell's instructor for Contemporary Civil Rights at MATC, booted Campbell out of his class that first semester because of his chronic tardiness. But Campbell returned the next semester.

"I could tell by how he looked at me when I told him he was out that he would be back. He had a thirst for knowledge," Dockery recalled. "His writing skills were strong, his research skills excellent and he had a wonderful ability to form an argument. He was exceptional and his success is no surprise to me. You could see it coming."

Campbell served as president of the Black Student Union, worked in local elections and became the face of MATC in an advertising campaign.

"The theme of the ads was 'Start Here, Go Anywhere,'" he said. "MATC showed me there was so much more out there. I was peering out of the window at the world and that vision drove me to see the rest of it."

Campbell also played baseball for the Stormers, and a trip down south with the team showed him more of the world. In Nashville, Campbell saw a vibrant Black community. He saw Fisk University, an historically Black college whose faculty had included W.E.B. Du Bois, social critic and co-founder of the NAACP, and Booker T. Washington, an educator and reformer.

Campbell earned an associate degree in liberal arts from MATC and transferred to Fisk. "Fisk was a demanding institution as well, but MATC had prepared me well," he said.

At Fisk he earned a joint bachelor's degree in history and business administration and management.

As graduation from Fisk neared, he was asked by the university's president at the time, former U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, to apply to the Thomas Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program. The program paid for a two-year master's degree program in exchange for a commitment to work for five years in the foreign service.

After completing a master's degree in international relations from Marquette University, Campbell joined the U.S. Department of State's foreign service. He was detailed to the White House during President Barack Obama's second term, spent seven years in China as an economic officer, and currently works at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, as one of the only 19 regional economic officers posted around the globe.

"It's a privelege and an honor to be in the position to represent the people of the United States," Campbell said. "It also at times has been extremely challenging when our nation is divided on so many issues. The work of building a more perfect union is never finished, and I would like to think that I have helped to that."

Being a role model

In February 2022, Campbell was welcomed back to MATC via Zoom for an alumni spotlight session. Nearly 50 faculty, staff and students joined the call and heard Campbell talk about his time at the college.

"At MATC, I learned the lesson of self-advocacy. If you don't go to bat for yourself, you won't get to where you want to be or where you need to be," he said during the session. "Sometimes you need to seek out help and resources. There are people and resources at MATC who want you to succeed.

"Not every door will be open to all people, but there will be doors," he added. "You need to step to the door and then learn how to unlock that door to get where you want to go, and you never have to do that alone."

Married and a father to three children, Campbell helps others succeed by being an active, engaged role model to young Black men and women. For almost 20 years, Campbell has worked with Rescue, Release and Restore Inc., a Chicago-based camping experience that helps Black youth realize their full potential.

The group's programs foster positive self-images through mentoring, conflict resolution, and academic and cultural enrichment. Campbell participates in the group's annual summer camp.

"I see being a role model as my real responsibility," Campbell said. "It's imperative that I pay forward what has been poured into me at MATC, at Fisk, in the city of Milwaukee. If I didn't do that, I would be letting the universe down."

Watch William A. Campbell receive the 2023 National Outstanding Alumni award from the AACC (link).


MATC Alumni Spotlight

Life of Diplomacy

Luis Arreaga served as the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala

Luis Arreaga (left) served as the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala.

When Luis Arreaga was born in Guatemala City in 1952, his country seethed with social unrest, economic turmoil and political violence.

“As a kid, you’re not always aware of what was happening,” Arreaga said. “Everyone had a relative or knew someone close who had been a victim of violence.”

Arreaga found respite playing in the small yard of his family’s modest home. One day during his frolics, a Pan Am jetliner took off from the nearby airport and screeched across the sky. While looking up at the jet, Arreaga wondered if he would ever be on an airplane.

Since that day, he’s been on more airplanes than he can count. Arreaga has lived all over the world, worked in cosmopolitan cities, served as the American ambassador to Iceland and Guatemala, and retired in November 2020 from the foreign service after a sterling career spanning three decades.

But back in August 1971, before leading the exciting, international life of a diplomat, Arreaga was a college student at MATC.

It (MATC) was a place that embraced ethnicities from different parts of the world. I felt I could bring my own cultural roots. I felt like I was accepted.

Luis Arreaga Retired U.S. ambassador

“Tuition was about $300 a semester, they offered a marketing degree and we knew a family who lived in
Milwaukee where I could stay,” said Arreaga, who paged through piles of thick college directories to find MATC in the days before the internet or cell phones.

He lived in a small house near 27th Street and Highland Avenue and rode the bus to the Downtown Milwaukee Campus. To Arreaga, MATC was a collegiate United Nations: students of many races studying subjects from electricity to hairdressing to mortuary science.

“It (MATC) was a place that embraced ethnicities from different parts of the world,” he said. “I felt I could bring my own cultural roots. I felt like I was accepted.”

MATC staff members made sure Arreaga took the right courses and knew where the classrooms were. “They were very engaged, and I am forever grateful for that,” he said. “It’s amazing what a difference it makes when someone takes an active interest in seeing you succeed.”

After earning his associate degree in marketing, Arreaga married Mary Kelsey in 1973 and became a U.S. citizen in 1975.

“I had idolized the United States since I was a kid,” Arreaga said. “Becoming a citizen was a no-brainer. I wanted to be part of this country. I wanted to be associated with the values of this nation.”

He attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1976, a master’s degree in management and a doctorate in economics in 1981.

In college, Arreaga discovered a passion for public service. He entered the foreign service and served all over the world for the next three decades.

The pinnacle of his career came when he served as the U.S. ambassador to Iceland from 2010 to 2013 and to Guatemala, the land of his birth, from 2017 to 2020.

Arreaga retired from the foreign service in November 2020. He and his wife now live in Arlington, Virginia. They enjoy traveling and have returned to Milwaukee numerous times to visit old friends and the city that helped shape their lives.

“I could have never imagined that my life would turn out like this,” Arreaga said. “Being an ambassador is the honor of a lifetime. I have no regrets. I have been lucky to have the life I have been given.”