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Luis Gonzalez, a geography major in Harpur College, will pursue a master's degree in city and regional planning at Rutgers University in the fall.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Commencement 2015 profile: Luis Gonzalez
May 12, 2015Tweet
A friendly bet with a high school classmate paved the way for Luis Gonzalez to attend Binghamton University.
Gonzalez, who was born in the Dominican Republic, but spent most of his life in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, was looking for a fourth SUNY school to apply to when his classmate made a suggestion.
“My friend said: ‘Hey, let’s both apply to Binghamton. Let’s see who can get in. I bet you can’t,’” Gonzalez recalled.
It was a bet that has paid off not only for Gonzalez, but Binghamton University, as well. The 21-year-old geography major has served as a consulting intern in the president’s office, a tour guide, a resident assistant, vice president of the Men of Color Scholastic Society and an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) writing tutor during his time on campus.
Gonzalez learned he was accepted at Binghamton after a counselor excitedly pulled him from a class to tell him the new (His friend, unfortunately, was not accepted).
“After doing my research and coming for the tour, I realized the importance of the University and what the achievement meant,” he said. “But at the time I didn’t know a lot about Binghamton University.”
Gonzalez gained a great deal of knowledge about the University by being part of the Educational Opportunity Program. He credited the program – and Senior Academic Counselor Westley Van Dunk – with much of his personal and academic growth.
“EOP is the organization that has blessed me with a lot of opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “They served up the challenges, especially Westley. He has told me: ‘This is going to be difficult, but I believe you can do it.’ He encapsulates the spirit of EOP and to this day pushes me and challenges me to want to do better.”
One area that Van Dunk advised Gonzalez was in choosing a major. Calling it “a journey of trial and error,” Gonzalez thought he was going to major in psychology before discovering geography with a concentration in urban and regional planning.
As a student researcher, Gonzalez has presented on campus, at the University of Buffalo’s 20th Annual McNair Scholars Conference and at the Annual Race, Ethnicity and Place Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
John Frazier, a distinguished service professor, said Gonzalez has been “a pleasure as a student” in the Harpur College department.
“Although shy, he made his way to my office and became a regular visitor,” Frazier said. “He was mature for his years, always inquisitive and thoughtful. He was never reluctant to ask critical questions about academic ideas. He is an independent thinker, but always seeks advice.”
By his sophomore year, Gonzalez understood the importance of becoming more active on campus.
“I didn’t engage much outside of the residence hall my freshman year,” he said. “I thought: If you apply yourself hard enough to the books, you will make it somewhere. That’s true to a point – but you have to get out of the study space. Extracurricular involvement is where the learning experience comes from, as well as where self-development comes into play. I never thought I would be an RA. I never thought I would be a tutor. Even to this day, I find it hard to believe.”
As a consulting intern in President Harvey Stenger’s office, Gonzalez researches other universities to help determine areas where Binghamton can improve. His reports are then submitted to Stenger or Don Nieman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.
“We would sit down and talk about the University, what it looks like and what we want it to look like,” said Gonzalez, who also led a group of interns working to enhance the University’s advising system.
Gonzalez also has been influential off campus, serving as a mentor in the Black Student Union’s U-TURN Program. He was among a group of students who visited incarcerated youth on weekends at the MacCormick Secure Center.
“You enter college as a low-income student of color and you are out of your environment,” Gonzalez said, recalling his early days at Binghamton University. “It was a culture shock. Going into the juvenile facilities, you get the same feeling. You are dealing with people who are from back home, essentially. I’d go home in May and interact with the same kind of people.
“It’s humbling because you get to know the people – and larger issues in society. It’s something I’ve wanted to engage in. It’s why I love geography and urban planning. This has given me a deeper understanding of where the shortfalls are in the educational and social-justice systems.”
The U-TURN work is a part of what makes Gonzalez special, Frazier said.
“Beyond academics, Luis is dedicated to service activities, always considering what he could share with others to improve their experiences at Binghamton and beyond,” Frazier said. “I feel Luis will make Binghamton proud.”
Gonzalez, who enjoys graphic design, reading and jazz, plans to pursue a master’s degree in city and regional planning at Rutgers University in the fall. He hopes to eventually earned a doctorate and become a college professor.
For Gonzalez, the continued pursuit of knowledge and excellence is important.
“It’s never been about the accolades for me,” he said. “I’ve always done this out of wanting to learn and wanting to educate. I came to college not knowing that I wanted to be a professor. Now it’s the only thing on my mind. I can’t get bogged down on what I’ve achieved. I move on from that too fast!”
But Gonzalez added that he is eager to see what talented students coming after him can accomplish at Binghamton University. He encouraged all students to try new things on and off campus.
“The journey of college isn’t about finding yourself,” he said. “It’s about creating yourself. If you are ‘finding’ something, it means it already exists. I’ve always wanted to contribute in some way. You’ll have to work harder, but the end result will be so much better.”