(June 14, 2017) -- Meet Maribel Valdez Gonzalez ’13. This UTSA grad is making a difference as an educator by showing her students that everyone has the chance to change the world.
A San Antonio native, Gonzalez always aspired to become a teacher.
“That was my dream,” she said. “When I was a kid I just wanted to write on the board, but when I started to grow up I realized what a great impact teachers have on our lives. I wanted to be a positive force for others.”
Gonzalez wanted to earn a top-tier degree while staying close to her family, so she applied to UTSA and in 2009 began studying biology as an undergraduate. She immersed herself in the vibrant campus culture and diverse community, quickly finding herself at home.
As a freshman, Gonzalez also took a history course and found that it awakened her long-held passion for the field.
“As a teenager, I was fascinated by civil rights movements and I remember wanting to understand why the world is the way that it is today,” she said.
Gonzalez took a host of classes focused on different areas of history and became amazed by the different American communities and new perspectives she studied.
“I chose to switch my major to history without thinking about a career. I was thinking with my heart,” she said.
Gonzalez graduated with a degree in history in 2013 and for a time worked at The Culinary Institute of America, where she supported culinary students by tutoring them and helping to organize workshops, while also working as an activist and community organizer. She ultimately became a teacher through the program Texas Teachers and now teaches English at Armando Leal Jr. Middle School in Harlandale.
She credits her former professors, Lilliana Saldaña of the UTSA College of Education and Human Development and Rhonda Gonzales of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, with shaping who she is today, especially as a teacher.
“It was a privilege to be their student,” Gonzalez said. “I learned a lot about reaching out to students because of them, but I also remember their depth of knowledge and their support.”
Gonzalez’s life took a unique turn in 2016 when her close friend, photographer Arlene Mejorado, photographed her as part of an art piece documenting Mejorado’s mother’s immigration story. In November of that year, artist Shepard Fairey commissioned Mejorado to submit photographic portraits of people for what would become his “We The People” series of protest posters. With Gonzalez’s permission, Mejorado submitted her portrait.
“I had no idea what she was asking me. I was just supporting her,” Gonzalez said. “It wasn’t released until just before the inauguration. She told me I had been chosen and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s great.’”
Soon, Gonzalez’s face was everywhere as a symbol of strong Mexican-American women.
“It’s very humbling and I try to be humble about it,” she said. “It’s not just me. It represents my community, so it’s humbling that my face represents a community that’s had to overcome a lot of traumas and policies that have targeted us.”
Some of Gonzalez’s students are aware of the poster, having discovered on their own that their teacher has become a powerful symbol for marginalized groups. She uses it as a tool to show them that anyone can make a difference to enact change.
“I still get insecure at times,” she said. “Then I look up and see the courage and bravery in that photo and I see all the best qualities of myself. It’s a reminder that I have to persevere.”
Do you know a Roadrunner who is achieving great things? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may consider your suggestion for our next installment of Meet a Roadrunner.
Experience a fun, interactive week at UTSA as new students and their families take the first steps to becoming a Roadrunner.Various locations, Main Campus and Downtown Campuses
Throughout the summer, UTSA offers more than 60 camps in science, engineering, architecture, sports, music, writing, language, culture and more.Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
This event guides seniors and graduate students on the last phase of their college career and prepares recent alumni within one year of graduation for the world of work. Workshops and sessions will provide information on interview skills, job search strategies and networking.Student Union, University Career Center, 2nd floor, Main Campus
The gala brings together UTSA alumni, friends and guests to celebrate the association's 41 years of scholarships, services, programs and the 2018 Alumni Award recipients.Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa, 9800 Hyatt Resort Dr, San Antonio
As part of the citywide Kidcation and the ITC's free second Sunday, kids and families will have an opportunity to interact with cowboy docents, practice their skills at roping, learn about life on the cattle drives, make their own spurs, grab a seat for cowboy story time and work on cowboy-themed hands-on crafts.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
Dozens of fun and free events to welcome new and returning Roadrunners.Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
The kickoff to Roadrunner Days, the UTSA community welcomes the thousands of students who move in to their new homes as they begin their journey at UTSA.Laurel Village, Chaparral Village and Alvarez Hall, Main Campus
After a full day of moving, UTSA students and their families are invited to the party featuring food, swag, dancing and a special performance from the Spirit of San Antonio marching band.Student Union Paseo, Main Campus