Although Dr. Jorge G. Gonzalez, Ph.D., was born in Monterrey, located in the northeast of Mexico, some of his earliest memories take place in East Lansing, Michigan. His father moved the family there for a year while getting his Ph.D. at Michigan State University.
“[The memories] are mostly of the snow. I don’t remember the cold, I just remember the snow,” he said.
Despite moving around a lot in his youth, Gonzalez eventually ended up back in Monterrey to study economics at the Monterrey Institute of Technology. During his junior year, he had the life changing opportunity to study abroad at University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. There, he experienced a very different culture than what he was used to in Mexico, he said.
“In America, I had trouble getting used to the personal space people needed,” Gonzalez said, “When I first arrived, people would be at arms length distance, and I would take a step forward to get closer, and they would step back, and then it’s almost like we’re dancing across a room … Eventually I learned that Americans need more space to relate to each other.”
After studying abroad, Gonzalez returned to Monterrey to finish his degree in economics. Originally, he had the goal of gaining a deeper understand of the policies of economics and become a politician, implement the right policies, and reduce poverty in Mexico.
“Growing up in Mexico, you get to see a lot of poverty around. But, you also get to see the amount of resources in the country … by providing the right opportunities to the people, you’re going to be able to reduce poverty,” Gonzalez said.
Soon, however, Gonzalez realized that in order to achieve this dream, he would need to get a Ph.D. He decided to return to the Midwestern United States and attend Michigan State University. There, he enjoyed much success, as well as meeting his wife, a 1983 graduate of Kalamazoo College, and getting the opportunity during his fourth year to teach a class.
“Once I taught a class, I just fell in love with it. I thought ‘Really? People will pay me to do this for the rest of my life?’” Gonzalez decided that being a teacher seemed like an incredible life, and something that he wanted to pursue. When he got a job as an economics professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, he and his wife moved there and stayed for 21 years.
When at Trinity, some of his favorite memories came from taking students abroad as much as possible. Often, he went with students for up to seven weeks, going everywhere from Mexico, to Europe, to Asia.
Eventually, Gonzalez got the opportunity to participate in a Fellowship Program at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. At Pomona, he shadowed the Dean and the President of the College, learning all there was to learn about running a school. While there, he also got the chance to meet current K President Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, a Pomona alumna.
After getting that experience, he took on a new title as Special Assistant to the President back at Trinity until getting an offer from Occidental College in Los Angeles, Calif. to be their Vice President of Academic Affairs, a position he has held for the past six years. Gonzalez has loved his time at Occidental, with his only regret being that he was not in the classroom.
However, he once got the opportunity to teach an economics class for a month.
“When I walked into the building where the classroom was, I felt like I was entering a church,” Gonzalez said. “That feeling of belonging and peace is exactly how I felt when entering the building.”
Dr. Gonzalez does not expect that he will have to opportunity to teach a class while at K, but he would like to somehow get into the classrooms.
“I’m inviting all faculty and student groups who want me to teach about anything, invite me because I would be glad to be a guest lecturer in classes,” he said enthusiastically.
Although Gonzalez thought he would stay at Occidental until his retirement, when he learned of the opportunity at Kalamazoo College he felt that he could not turn it down.
“It almost seems like all my life I’ve been preparing to be president of Kalamazoo College,” he said.
One of Gonzalez’s main goals at K is to make himself accessible to students, giving them as many opportunities as possible to meet with him personally. “Whether it’s through office hours, or having a different group to come to my house for coffee, even though I don’t drink coffee, so we can talk about issues going on on campus.”
He even plans on sometimes going to the cafeteria for dinner unannounced, and sitting with different students to have conversations.
“They might say ‘oh, we don’t want to talk to you, we have to talk about our paper!’ Well, I’m here now so you have to talk to me,” Gonzalez joked.
Although it seems as if Gonzalez has led a very busy life, he has still managed to find time for family, friends, and sports. Gonzalez has two children, a daughter and a son. His daughter recently graduated from University of Southern California and is working in commercial real estate, while is son is in his sophomore year at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
His children have been coming to Michigan every summer their whole lives to visit their mother’s side of the family, who are still located in Kalamazoo, and are intrigued that their parents are making the move. His wife, Suzie Gonzalez, is also excited to be back to her Alma Mater. Their only concern about moving back to the Midwest is the weather.
“We’re not sure how we’re going to handle it,” he said, noting that he will be lucky to live so close to his office.
Another one of Gonzalez’s biggest passions is soccer, which he refers to as “real football.” He has been passionate about the sport since he was a kid, and would attend games every two weeks with his father in Mexico. He has tried playing himself, but has found that he was not gifted with the skill the sport takes.
“Real football” also gives Gonzalez opportunities to travel, since he has been to every world cup Mexico has been in since 1986. Gonzalez feels that travel can change people in “extraordinary ways,” and has been to every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
“My passport starts itching if it doesn’t get stamped every six months at least,” he said.
In the little free time that he has left, Gonzalez loves to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Gonzalez will begin his position at K on July 1, and his first order of business is to go on a listening tour around the campus.
“There are people here who really understand K in ways that I do not. I really need to listen to them and see why they do what they do the way they’re doing it. I need to see why they haven’t tried something. Perhaps they’ve already tried it and it didn’t really work. So, my first order of business is to connect with the community … and listen.”
Dr. Jorge Gonzalez feels very fortunate to be the next president of Kalamazoo College, because he feels as though it is a place that shares his values perfectly.
“I am very excited to become the leader to this institution,” he said, “and make students even prouder to be a part of it.