Last modified: Friday, May 11, 2007
Gonzalez to share his success story with Ivy Tech grads; Community college was IU dean's first career step
By Steve Hinnefeld
May 11, 2007
Gerardo Gonzalez has spent the past seven years as dean of the Indiana University School of Education, one of the top-ranked education schools in the country.
Before coming to IU, he was a dean and professor at the University of Florida, where he developed a national reputation as an expert on alcohol- and drug-abuse prevention programs for college students.
But Gonzalez wasn't always on track for academic success. In high school, he was tracked into vocational classes. It wasn't until he started taking classes at a community college that he discovered a talent for academic learning.
He will tell his story tonight at commencement for Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington, which starts at 6 p.m. at the IU Auditorium.
"I have a high regard for the role of Ivy Tech," Gonzalez said. "They provide opportunities for people who might not have opportunities to attend college" -- people like Gonzalez 40 years ago.
He was almost 12 when his family left Cuba and immigrated to Florida, following the 1959 Cuban revolution. The South Florida schools, he said, struggled with how to educate the influx of Spanish-speaking kids.
He recalled a time when a vice principal was haranguing the Latino students, who had developed a reputation as troublemakers. Gonzalez, who didn't speak English, turned to the student next to him and asked, "Que dice ese hombre?" -- What is that man saying?
At that point, the principal grabbed him, dragged him to the front of the room and berated him for being disrespectful, then suspended him from school.
The lesson he learned, Gonzalez said, was to keep quiet and not participate in class, lest he get in further trouble. As a result, he was labeled a mediocre student and put in classes meant for students who wouldn't be going to college.
"So when it came time to get out of school," he said, "I wasn't prepared for anything."
Through a co-op program, he had worked part-time at a clothing boutique, and he expected to continue there. But the store closed, and he was stuck without a job and without prospects.
A friend, who was in school at the University of Puerto Rico, suggested he try college. "Well, I didn't know what college was," he said. "I mean literally."
But he enrolled in Miami-Dade Community College, an open-admission institution, and learned that, because his parents were poor, he qualified for financial aid. Remedial classes helped him catch up, and he discovered that he enjoyed learning.
After getting an associate's degree from Miami-Dade, he earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida, the state's top research university, then stayed on as a faculty member.
"I would never have had that opportunity if it had not been for the community college," he said.