UCSB alumna Lorely Gutierrez died on Sept. 17. She was 22 years old.

Gutierrez, who graduated last June, was a theater and Chican@ studies major. She was known by her peers for her love of the performance arts and dedication to volunteer work.

Lorely Gutierrez

Gutierrez was a devoted member of Raices de mi Tierra — a student-run Mexican folklórico dance group — for four years. She also served as the director of Semillas de mi Tierra — the dance group’s non-profit community service offshoot that teaches local youth the art of native Mexican dance.

Catherine Navarro, a fourth-year Chican@ and global studies major, said she met Gutierrez through Raices. According to Navarro, Gutierrez was widely recognized as one of the group’s most helpful directors.

“She was a very, very positive, strong-charactered woman,” Navarro said. “Even if she didn’t know you, she always made you feel welcome. If you didn’t know a dance or a step, she really believed in you and encouraged you to never stop trying.”

Gutierrez’s passion for the arts also extended into the theatrical world.

Alumna Alyssa Williams performed alongside Gutierrez in UCSB’s production of “The House of Bernarda Alba” in the spring of 2009. Williams said Gutierrez’s talent and enthusiasm were extremely evident throughout her performances of the play.

“I remember thinking, this girl can’t just act, she’s actually legitimately in the moment as an actress,” Williams said. “She was so sincere — everything she said, I believed.”

It was this same sincerity that caught UCSB alumna and director Angela Cruz’s eye. After seeing Gutierrez in “The House of Bernarda Alba,” Cruz befriended the actress and eventually cast her in her original play — set to open in Los Angeles in early November.

“She always had a big aspiration to perform and entertain and to bring a smile to someone’s face,” Cruz said. “That was something that really interested me in her as a person and that’s one of the reasons I asked her to be in the show.”

Additionally, Cruz said she admired Gutierrez’s dedication to incorporating her ethnic roots into her performances. After their daughter’s death, Gutierrez’s parents asked Cruz to produce a number of plays about Chican@ experience that Gutierrez had written herself.

“Bringing her culture into what she performed was really important to her,” Cruz said. “I’d only known her for a short amount of time, but I got a really good sense of what kind of person she was — the type of person I love to work with, just so passionate and enthusiastic.”

As of press time, Gutierrez’s cause of death was pending a toxicology report. Services were held in her honor last week in her hometown of Cudahy, California.