CHC Class of: 2015
Majors: Sociology and Political Science
Lives in: Beaverton, Ore.
Current job: Executive Director of the Oregon Association of Student Councils
Favorite snack: Kit Kats. It’s something about the wafers.
Song on Repeat: “Love on Top” by Beyoncé
CHC thesis: Mapping Socio-Political Progress: An Analysis of Voting Records from Washington and South Carolina
CHC grad sees public service as the best way to improve communities.
Miles Palacios remembers the time years ago when he worked in the Oregon governor’s office doing constituent work. He encountered a woman whose late husband was a veteran. Her name wasn’t on his survivor paperwork, and she was left without any of his benefits. In time, she lost her home and was forced to move in with her family.
Palacios worked closely with the woman and helped her get the benefits she deserved by connecting her with the proper state and federal agencies.
“There were some great success stories because it was advocacy work,” says Palacios, a 2015 Clark Honors College graduate. “There wasn’t some big button I could press to get things to happen in the governor’s name. It always comes back to community for me.”
Palacios has always been an advocate for investing in his community and empowering others. He began volunteering for the Oregon Association of Student Councils, an organization he got involved with as a high schooler. Additionally, he’s worked on campaigns for politicians he believes in. He’s collaborated with leaders who have a similar drive to invest in the state’s education system and empower young people.
Now, more than a decade after he became involved in OASC, he serves as its executive director. The nonprofit is one of Oregon’s advocacy groups that works to help high school students learn about leadership and other opportunities.
Raised in McMinnville, Ore., Palacios is the second youngest of five children. They all grew up in an old farmhouse on just under an acre of land, surrounded by commercial properties rather than other homes and families. The Palacios family had dinner together every night and took regular trips to the Oregon Coast to visit grandparents.
“I don’t think we would have worked well in a neighborhood because we were such a loud family,” Palacios recalls. He remembers playing games with his siblings most nights, taking a one-person game like solitaire and turning it into a team competition.
Palacios and his family spent a lot of intentional time together growing up, he says. “I think that’s part of what my parents wanted for our lived experiences as kiddos, to have a lot of family intention,” he recalls. “It was a very supportive environment.”
Aimee Kelly, Palacios’ older sister, remembers her brother always making new friends and creating community wherever he went. Whether it was at the park, at school or at church, he was outgoing and enjoyed being with others.
She remembers the culture their parents created and how Palacios would invite friends over if they didn’t have a home or family of their own. “Miles is really good at bringing people together in that way,” Kelly says.
In high school, Palacios got involved in student government because his sister and cousins had done it before him. The summer after his freshman year, Palacios attended a summer camp run by OASC. “I really fell in love with it,” he says.
“I was definitely one of those kids that could be a lot sometimes,” Palacios recalls. At OASC, though, he was able to bounce his ideas for his school off other students. He connected with peers, created lifelong friendships, and learned more about the inner workings of the organization.
By the time he arrived at UO and the Honors College, Palacios was undecided about his academic path. He bounced around the humanities for a bit before eventually settling in as a sociology major. As he was finishing up his sophomore year, he was almost done with the credits needed for a sociology degree and decided to add political science as a major.
Palacios also got involved in Associated Students of the University of Oregon. He spent time with a lot of government-driven individuals and got involved in different facets of student government at UO.
When he graduated in 2015, he headed back home to McMinnville, a hub of the wine industry in Oregon. While looking for work in his area of interest, he interviewed for a position at a wine bar.
“Even after I left wine, I would still come back to help out at wineries or pour wine here or there,” Palacios says. The people skills he honed helped him secure a position with a state representative as a staffer in 2017.
Palacios transitioned into his work in government almost seamlessly because of his people-focused approach. “It wasn’t super formal, but almost serendipitous,” he says. His job exposed him to politics in a “tangible” way, where the theories he learned in school were put into practice.
He later joined then-Gov. Kate Brown’s office, working with constituents, serving as a policy analyst and then being an aide to Brown’s husband, Dan Little.
Under Little, Palacios conducted outdoor recreation equity work on the initiative “Roadmap to the Outdoors.” He got deeply involved in the logistics behind making recreation accessible,
whether it was transportation or physical access that needed to be expanded. He attended conferences that gave him a look into advocacy work being done in other states.
The work was gratifying but Palacios decided to leave the governor’s office to work on an Oregon senate primary campaign. He took a big pay cut and had to find his own insurance benefits at the time. And he lost the long-term security the governor’s office job had provided.
“On paper, wild decision. No one would recommend it,” Palacios says now, laughing at the thought of his departure.
But for him, the risk worked out. The organizational, writing, and decision-making skills that he uses every day in his current role were sharpened from the work he did after leaving the governor's office.
In the span of six years, Palacios has held six different jobs, something that’s common in Oregon political and governmental circles. Each one taught him something different, and it’s a running joke with his friends that he just says “yes” to things, so the opportunities seem to always fall into his lap. But it’s much more than that. He takes jobs that align with what Palacios calls his “why.”
“I want to make an impact that makes a ripple, not in my life, but for the communities I operate within,” Palacios says.
When the position as executive director of OASC, the organization he was a part of as a teen, opened, Palacios didn’t think of himself for the role. He texted his older sister, saying she should apply for the job.
Kelly had a different view. “I was like... ‘Miles, why aren’t you applying for this? This is, like, you,’” Kelly recalls.
The job was a perfect fit. Palacios combined his skills in leadership, communication, and service with the community building work he did as a student with OASC.
“I think that was a really exciting prospect when this position opened up to kind of take a mission to invest in the youth,” Palacios says. “Not the next wave of leaders, but the current wave of leaders who are already there. I just didn’t want to let that pass and so that’s a big part of the reason I took this role is because I was so excited to do this type of work.”
Today, he focuses on building relationships and creating programming for upcoming events at OASC. Palacios cites communication and conflict resolution as two of the biggest skills required to succeed in the role. “My big focus since being the director is to really reinforce the idea that leadership is not an exclusive attribute,” Palacios says.
He lives with his partner and their two cats. He is running for a seat on the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District, a nod to his previous work with Little. He’s also been taking time to explore more of the parks and nature in the Beaverton area.
He plans to stay at OASC for at least another few years, giving him time to help young people with the resources they need to understand how powerful their voices can be in creating change.
He fondly calls the students he works with his “kiddos” and empowers them to become a new wave of leaders in building Oregon’s future.
“It is not where I thought I would be, at the top of a non-profit organization like this, at this time in my life,” Palacios says. But at the same time, “it seems like it was a long time coming for everything, but really it was all pretty quick after university in the grand scheme.”
- Story by Sofia Rodriguez Baquero, Clark Honors College Communications
- Photo courtesy of Miles Palacios