Education Professor Earns National Recognition

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Throughout her 42 years as an educator of children, young adults and other teachers across the country, UTEP’s Maria Luisa Gonzalez has had no greater ambition than to have a positive impact on the people around her.

Because of her efforts, the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) named Gonzalez, Ph.D., professor of teacher education, as a Master Professor during the group’s recent national convention in Denver.The University Council for Educational Administration recently honored UTEP’s Maria Luisa Gonzalez, Ph.D., professor of teacher education, as a Master Professor. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceThe University Council for Educational Administration recently honored UTEP’s Maria Luisa Gonzalez, Ph.D., professor of teacher education, as a Master Professor. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

The national group bases its decision on the recipient’s performance as a teacher, mentor, adviser, researcher, administrator, public servant, and innovator, as well as the person’s efforts to promote diversity in all phases of educational leadership. This is the seventh year the award has been presented.

The recognition humbled Gonzalez, who was honored in an auditorium filled with friends, mentors, respected peers, past award recipients, and even former adversaries who initially resisted Gonzalez’s efforts to diversify the organization’s membership.

When asked about the award, which could be likened to a lifetime achievement award, Gonzalez grew contemplative and shared a story about her father, a physician who practiced in Juárez whose usual response to good report cards was: “What’s next”?

“The recognition means a lot because it’s a testament to my years in the field and the positive impact I’ve had on others. It’s humbling,” she said. “But my reaction is: 'What’s next?' It’s my responsibility to do something for other people and see how I can help others to achieve their dreams. That’s where I’m focused.”

Gonzalez – Malú, to family and friends – is the oldest of four children born to Abraham Gonzalez-Vargas and Maria Luisa Chavez-Gonzalez, a homemaker. The family lived in Juárez, but the children attended private schools in El Paso. Her siblings became accomplished in their own fields of medicine, law and business.

The University of Texas at El Paso professor said she always knew she would attend UTEP because she and her school friends who lived in nearby Sunset Heights often would roam around the campus.

Initially a math and accounting major because of her interest in numbers, she altered her career path after taking a part-time job teaching adults English as a Second Language. She liked working with students, sharing knowledge that helped them and learning from them, too.

“My world changed. I fell in love with teaching,” Gonzalez said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

She earned a bachelor’s in educational studies from UTEP in 1972 and a master’s in educational administration six years later.

Gonzalez laughed at the paradox between her research and her career. She said her study of leaders often involves goal setting and timetables, while she has used neither. Her only goal as a new teacher was to work in elementary and middle schools in the Paso del Norte region. However, as she networked at academic conferences and became known as someone who embraced innovation, especially within bilingual education, she began to receive offers from around the Southwest and moved to Dallas after she completed her doctorate in educational administration in 1984 at New Mexico State University.

During her career, which includes 24 years at NMSU and the past five at UTEP, Gonzalez has earned numerous awards and honors, including Congressional recognition for her work with homeless children while principal of an inner-city school in Dallas. She has been awarded more than $15 million in research grants and taken leadership positions with national organizations, including serving as president of the UCEA in 2000-01.

“It was never about ambition. I never thought about getting ahead. It was always about learning and where you could have impact,” said Gonzalez, who is most proud of serving as dissertation chair for 25 doctoral students who now hold leadership positions across the country, from school districts to universities.

Former student Mariela A. Rodriguez, Ph.D., associate professor of educational leadership at The University of Texas at San Antonio, spearheaded Gonzalez’s nomination. She became emotional as she discussed her mentor, colleague and friend.

Rodriguez, who earned her doctorate from NMSU in 2003, praised Gonzalez as her dissertation chair. Her voice cracked as she discussed Gonzalez’s efforts to encourage her as a student and later as a peer.

“It started with a lot of tough love, but it evolved into a friendship,” she said during a phone interview from San Antonio. “She’s called me her academic daughter. She’s my academic mother. I’ll be forever grateful for all she’s done.”

In her letter of recommendation to the UCEA, Josefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ed.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Education, called Gonzalez “an outstanding pedagogue who has a sustained level of exceptional service to her students, her colleagues, and her profession.”

Tinajero, who has known Gonzalez for more than 20 years, said she has the unique ability to rally her peers to get important work done, and has an unparalleled perspective on the concept of service that has benefited the college and the University. Gonzalez has served as an associate dean under Tinajero, with a focus on mentoring junior faculty.

As for the future, Gonzalez is thinking about writing a book based on her research of the effectiveness of after-school programs on middle school students, and looking into a few more research grants, including some that involve the K-12 education system within the military.