Dr. Juan Gonzalez, kinesiology coordinator at The University of Texas-Pan American, attributes his success to humble beginnings, a hard work ethic and long days working in the fields trying to get by while pursuing his dreams of obtaining a college education.
Gonzalez is aware of the importance of a college education, but also understands that not all students have the luxury of having the money to attend school. As a former student, he knows firsthand the impact of financial assistance, especially when money is limited.
"When I was attending Texas A&M University, in pursuit of my doctorate, I didn't go there with a scholarship or with anything but my own funding. I was about to run out of money for the following month's rent and had no funds coming in, so I financed myself that first year," Gonzalez said. "Luckily, my National Hispanic Scholarship fund came in for $1,000. That helped me get by through the first year. Sometimes an endowment or scholarship may change and define which path you're going to follow."
Gonzalez graduated with a bachelor's degree in Business Management in 1986 and a master's degree in Kinesiology in 1990, both from UTPA. He was a UTPA faculty member and later worked within fundraising and development at the University. He left in 2007 to become a faculty member at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas and in 2010 returned to UTPA, where he is an assistant professor and coordinates the kinesiology program.
During his time in fundraising and development at UTPA, Gonzalez got the idea to set up an endowment of his own.
As a way to give back to UTPA students, Gonzalez established the National Strength and Conditioning Examination Scholarship in 2006 for senior kinesiology majors at UTPA.
The scholarship is available to students who have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and are ready to graduate. It pays for the exam they are required to take to be certified nationally as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, which is needed to work at the high school, collegiate Division I and Olympic levels and with professional sports teams. The exam costs $260, Gonzalez said.
"To some people that amount may not seem to be a lot, but to a college student, it might be too much of an expense for them," Gonzalez said.
Kinesiology - the study of human movement - is a passion of Gonzalez's and something he considers important for the University, the Rio Grande Valley and its communities. Gonzalez's dreams of helping out others extend past lending a helping hand to UTPA students. He also sees the significant and positive impact UTPA kinesiology students may have on middle and high school students.
On his office wall hang framed photos of area middle and high school student-athletes.
"The students you see on my wall are the reason why I started this endowment. UTPA students will go off to work at the high school level someday and the kids you see in these photos are from high schools and middle schools in the Rio Grande Valley," Gonzalez said. "This endowment assists UTPA Kinesiology students to be better prepared with national credentials when they get out to the middle and high school level, if that is what they want to do. I can still continue to help out our community's kids but this time through UTPA students whom I prepare because these young middle and high school kids mean the world to me."
As an UTPA alumnus and current faculty member, Gonzalez credits UTPA for his success, and as a place that inspires his everyday work.
"UTPA is home for me. I have been away from the Valley and when you go away, you learn to appreciate what's here. So when I came back I saw things from a different perspective. UTPA is where I have grown and there is nothing that can replace this feeling. This University is the fiber of who I am," he said.
Adrian Caceres, a senior at UTPA majoring in kinesiology, will be awarded the Gonzalez scholarship this fall. He graduated Dec. 17, 2011 and plans to take the national exam to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and attend graduate school. His plans are to come back to the Valley and help others.
"This award makes me happy because I don't have too many school awards besides trophies and athletic awards. I look forward to graduate school and receiving my master's in Physiology of Exercise and hopefully, one day become a professor," Caceres said. "You definitely have to go out and seek something that is going to make you happy and I feel as if Kinesiology is my niche in life."
Gonzalez adds that endowments are great because once they are set up they don't go away and can only be added to.
"Sometimes we don't realize the effect we have on students and until you donate, you really don't know how you impact a student," Gonzalez said. "Even if it's a little bit financially, to a student it may mean the whole difference in making it or not."
To learn more about donating to UTPA, contact the Office of Development at (956) 665-5301.