Oscar Mireles will be receiving some special recognition from his alma mater this fall — on Oct. 21 he will be honored with the UW-Oshkosh’s Distinguished Alumni Award for his decades of work in education and his impact on generations of individuals.
Mireles is the executive director/principal of Omega School, an alternative education center helping young adults pursue their high school equivalency diploma (HSED) and general education development (GED) on Madison’s south side. He is Madison’s first Latino poet laureate, founder of Latinos Organizing for Understanding and Development (LOUD), and has published three anthologies about Latinos in Wisconsin, titled I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos In Wisconsin. He’s also published a children’s book and a poetry chapbook.
The Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Mireles on Homecoming Weekend at the 2022 Alumni Awards Celebration on Friday, Oct. 21, at the Culver Family Welcome Center of UW-Oshkosh. There will be a reception at 5 p.m. followed by the dinner and program beginning at 6 p.m.
For Mireles, his career path started at UW-Oshkosh where he credits the sociology department at UWO for giving him many opportunities to find success.
“My time at UW-Oshkosh gave me the opportunity to develop lasting relationships and provided me with a vision and framework to have success in my career,” Mireles says.
“College is sometimes the best time of your life and it’s an opportunity to discover who you are and to realize that the world is a lot bigger than you can imagine,” he adds. “I remember my time at UW-Oshkosh fondly … it was a really good time and I learned a lot.”
Mireles, the eighth of 12 children, also remembers that it was “highly unusual” that he had three brothers in his family going to college at one time, which he says helped give him a boost and the support he needed during his college days.
“For my career in the arts, that time in college laid the foundation for me,” Mireles says. ” “We put together, especially my older brother, a lot of art projects, exhibits, poetry readings and theater presentations and it really got us interested in the arts. Having those opportunities at college was big as was having a university that supported the activities around the arts, around education and around community involvement.”
While in Oshkosh, Mireles was president of the student organization Chicano Unidos. That experience began a lifetime of social justice advocacy.
“I think that you become part of an institution. I was there for school and I got my first professional job in Oshkosh. It’s where I really laid the foundation for the rest of my life,” he says.
“I ended up becoming the director of a small agency called Community Advocates,” Mireles continues. “And so they would partner and help people with disabilities. And then I worked at a crisis hotline. So I was able to work as a phone counselor. I was able to do jobs where I used my education before I left campus and I think sometimes you’re just not given those opportunities in your hometown.”
After his time in Oshkosh and before he became executive director of Omega School in Madison, Mireles also spent a decade as associate executive director of Centro de la Comunidad Unida/United Community Center (UCC) in Milwaukee where he helped open a community-based restaurant and catering service, an arts program with a theater and gallery space and a community school serving more than 300 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students.
Mireles has earned numerous awards and recognition for his service to his communities over the years including Dane County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award in 2009 and the Friend of Education Award from the Wisconsin State Superintendent. The awards continue to pile up for Mireles as he gets older and he says it “makes him feel very honored and humbled.”
“I think it’s wonderful to be honored with this Distinguished Alumni Award. I just want to point out that there are a lot of other people that are doing amazing things, and really make making our community a better place, too,” he says. “We’ve had some really great leaders pass away in our community recently – Wayne Strong and Gaddi Ben Dan, for example – people who have made it their life to make a difference. I think those are my true heroes and those are the people that I see as role models. We’re in it for the work, not the money.
“I still have a hard time believing that I get to do a lof the things that I love,” Mireles adds. “It’s that old adage: if you find what you’re good at and you enjoy it, you don’t really work a day in your life. I truly feel blessed that I’ve been able to attend UW-Oshkosh and for this job at Omega School and to be in the Madison community … it’s given me just a lot of opportunities to make a difference.”
Mireles is one of four alumni who’ll be recognized with this award for their professional accomplishments by the UWO Alumni Association at Homecoming this fall.
“This award means a lot to me,” Mireles says. “I’m very honored to be receiving it.”