Alumna of the Year Embodies GRACE
“Giving back to University of St. Thomas constitutes giving time, treasure and talent,” said Maria Younger M.Ed. ’05, assistant director of annual giving. For this reason, she nominated her friend, Dr. Ana-Lisa Gonzalez ’97, M.Ed. ’01, assistant professor and director of Reading and Catholic Education, and the GRACE program, for the Rev. Vincent J. Guinan CSB Alumni of the Year Award. Because Gonzalez’s service to the university goes beyond the classroom, she was honored to receive this award from the University she loves.
“All alumni have an opportunity to give back to the University,” Gonzalez said. “My liberal arts education prepared me for the rigor of being a classroom teacher, doctoral student and assistant principal – it propelled me to new heights.”
Gonzalez served on the Freshman Symposium Alumni Panel after being involved with the Alumni Association for several years. She said it was a chance to plant the seed for the incoming freshmen, so they will appreciate their education and maximize efforts to attain their goals. Younger said Gonzalez is devoted to helping students do just this.
“I have, as well as many others, witnessed how many students Dr. Gonzalez has affected,” Younger said. “She has mentored with encouragement, advised with strict focus and inspired a wide variety of students. In particular, her ability to motivate students has a direct influence on our student retention during their studies and afterward in becoming active alumni.”
As an alumna working at the University that helped develop her astute educational skills, Gonzalez credits UST with maturing her understanding of herself.
“I am Catholic, but I am not sure I truly understood what that meant until I completed courses in theology and philosophy,” Gonzalez said. “Learning about my religion and other religions truly helped me to understand the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. It also helped me to apply the ideals of faith and morality to the other content areas.”
Using her ideals as a spring broad, Gonzalez directs the Gulf Region Academy for Catholic Educators, or GRACE, program, which prepares newly-employed teachers to serve in Catholic schools while pursuing a Master of Education at UST through a partnership with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Gonzalez initiated the GRACE guides program, which assigns GRACE alumni to a first-year participant.
As she cultivates educators, Gonzalez said she is still learning from professors who guided her while studying at St. Thomas. Gonzalez said Dr. Rick Krustchinsky, associate dean of undergraduate education, was and still is an outstanding model for what teachers should strive to become.
“He not only taught us how to teach math and science, but also how to always be the best prepared and most heartfelt teachers for all students,” Gonzalez said. “It has been my pleasure to continue to learn from him, as he is my School of Education mentor.”
Now that Gonzalez has a bachelor’s of special education, a master’s of educational leadership, a doctorate in educational psychology from University of Houston and a thriving position as the director of a major program under her belt, she is grateful for the place that started it all.
“I was accepted to many universities as a senior in high school, but when I walked onto the St. Thomas campus, it just felt like home – and, 20 years later, it still feels like home.”