Maggie Gonzalez didn’t know anyone. The Longview, Washington native had never lived anywhere else. Her parents made the hundred-mile trek to Tacoma but had to return. They worked the next day. Gonzalez waved them goodbye then began the process of making a life for herself at Court 17. “My roommate and I started knocking on doors,” said Gonzalez. “We formed this little circle of friends that really became part of my family.”
Gonzalez graduates in June with a degree in sustainable urban development. She credits a strong support network with helping her succeed at UW Tacoma. “I’m the first person in my family to graduate from high school and I’ll be the first person to graduate from college,” she said.
College has been a transformative experience for Gonzalez but she hasn’t forgotten her roots. “I come from a blue collar town,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to pursue higher education and for the sacrifices my parents made to make it possible.”
Gonzalez is the older of two children. Her sister is in the Army. Gonzalez’s mother works at a chicken processing plant in Longview. Her father is a chef at a local casino. In the summer following her senior year of high school, Gonzalez went to work alongside her mother. “My mom told me, ‘you’re going to work at the plant so you know what it’s like to not have an education,’’ said Maggie Gonzalez. “It was really hard work; I was exhausted at the end of every day.”
Gonzalez first learned about UW Tacoma during a school trip. “We took a tour and I really liked the urban setting,” she said. Gonzalez initially planned to study environmental science but switched. “I felt sustainable urban development focused more on people and that’s the direction I wanted to go,” she said. Her next step is a gap year before applying to the master’s in public administration program at UW in Seattle.
Helping people is important to Gonzalez. She has lived at Court 17, UW Tacoma’s student apartments, during her four years on campus, the last two as a resident advisor [RA]. “It’s amazing to see people start off as really timid and then watch them step up and take responsibility for their actions and grow as people,” she said. “It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had on campus.”
An RA does a little bit of everything from helping with homework to conflict resolution. “For many students this is their first time away from home,” said Gonzalez. “They need a mentor, someone they can look to when they have questions about how to sign up for classes or how to tell when something is cooked properly.”
Gonzalez is excited to complete this leg of her educational journey but admits to feeling a little uncertain. “I’m not sure it’s really hit me, that I’m actually graduating,” she said. Gonzalez’s parents will be in attendance as will the surrogate family she’s adopted while at UW Tacoma. “I really just hope I don’t trip on stage,” she said. She won’t, but if she does, a lot of people will be there to help her up.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org