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A Mother's Example

Undergrad Follows Maternal Footsteps Into Graduate Studies

May 18, 2010

By Mimi Ko Cruz

photo by Karen Tapia

Lisa A. Gonzalez

Age: 43

Residence: Brea

Family: Husband, Hector, and 18-year-old son, Gino

CSUF Activities: McNair Scholar, vice president of the Visual Anthropology Club, coordinator of the 2009 Mesoamerican Network Conference, 2009 Anthropology Student Symposium, Anthropology of Food and 2009 Margaret Mead Traveling Film Festival.

Degree: B.A. anthropology, May 2010

Grade Point Average: 3.89

Awards: Recipient of the 2010 Lambda Alpha National Honor Society’s Charles R. Jenkins Distinguished Achievement Award, 2010 CSUF Lambda Alpha Honor Society Honorable Achievement Award, 2010 National Science Foundation’s Honorable Mention for Graduate Research, 2009-10 Hispanic Scholarship Fund/Mazda Inc. Scholarship, and 2009 Department of Anthropology’s Professional Enhancement, Organizational and Meritorious Service awards

Mentors: Joseph Nevadomsky, professor of anthropology; and Barbra E. Erickson, associate professor of anthropology

Advice: "I tell people who voice dissatisfaction in their lives and want to pursue higher education but don’t believe they can: it’s not too late. You can do it, but it’s hard. You have to be creative in how you adjust the things in your life, but most importantly, you need the support of your family. That’s why I‘ve been able to do it.”


When she was growing up, Lisa A. Gonzalez recalls her mother would come home exhausted from her shift at the General Motors factory in Tecumseh, Mich., a job that was physically demanding and intellectually unsatisfying.

“I saw how unhappy my mom was and I knew I didn’t want to find myself working in that situation,” said Gonzalez, a McNair Scholar and anthropology major who completed her bachelor’s degree at Cal State Fullerton.

Her mother, Marina Valdez was 38 when she began working toward her bachelor’s degree in human services after the factory closed down, and 48 when she completed her master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and became a university professor.

Gonzalez, 43, now is taking her mother’s path. She was 41 when she transferred to Cal State Fullerton from Fullerton College, where she had been taking a class per semester for six years. She left a 15-year career as a corporate manager for Western National Group, a property management company based in Irvine, to pursue her studies full-time.

Now, she’s been accepted into the master of social work program at the University of Michigan and awarded two of that university’s scholarships — a $40,000 School of Social Work Dean’s Mission Scholarship and a $12,000 School of Social Work Michigan Scholar Program Grant.

“I literally am following in my mother’s footsteps — returning to school later in life and now going on in social work at her alma mater,” Gonzalez said. “She has been the guiding light in my life, keeping me focused.”

As a McNair Scholar for the last two years, Gonzalez has delved into her mother’s experiences as a factory worker.

Cal State Fullerton’s McNair Scholars are paired with professors on research projects. They also write papers and present their findings in preparation for graduate school.

“Latina auto workers are an unrecognized population within the U.S. auto industry,” Gonzalez said about her study. “My research is based on personal accounts of their struggles working on an assembly line while raising a family.”

Gonzalez has published several papers on the American dream and the challenge of cultural assimilation, and presented her research at the Southwestern Anthropological Association Conference in Reno and at the Urban Affairs Association’s 40th Annual Conference in Honolulu. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a doctorate, teach and continue research that will lead to positive change.

“I’m not too old to make a difference,” she said, adding that her Cal State Fullerton professors and mentors helped her hone her research skills and prepared her well for graduate school.

Her professors couldn’t be more proud.

Tricia Gabany-Guerrero, assistant professor of anthropology, calls Gonzalez “an outstanding student, a real superstar.”

Gonzalez’s mentors, Joseph Nevadomsky, professor of anthropology, and Barbra E. Erickson, associate professor of anthropology, agree, with Gabany-Guerrero citing her leadership skills and commitment.

”In her first semester, Lisa volunteered to work on a new class on ‘The Cultural Archaeology of Ancient Egypt and Nubia.’ She planned the weekly meetings, and effectively engineered the project, a considerable achievement considering her other academic and extracurricular activities,” Nevadomsky said. “She has been a colleague as well as a student.”

Gonzalez’ 18-year-old son, Gino, said his mother is his inspiration.

“She studies hard and helps and supports me to pursue my dream,” he said, adding that he plans to join the military after completing his bachelor’s degree. “I know I’ll do really well because I have my mother’s drive.”

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