A Pellissippi State Community College student has been appointed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to serve as Student Regent for the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Carlos Gonzalez will represent the students of the 40 community and technical colleges governed by TBR, the largest system of higher education in Tennessee, for a one-year term that ends June 2019.
“I will be talking to student leaders throughout the state, both trying to convey messages from TBR to students and also hearing from students and letting TBR know what they think,” said Gonzalez, who previously served as a New Student Orientation Leader and as a mathematics and Spanish tutor at Pellissippi State.
Gonzalez, 29, was nominated for the position by Gayle Wood, director of Access and Diversity at Pellissippi State. Gonzalez works for Access and Diversity, where he helps his fellow adult learners transition into college.
Gonzalez started Pellissippi State in fall 2016, almost 10 years after an unforeseen setback thwarted his plans to attend college after his high school graduation.
“I always liked school, but when I was applying for college, I found out I was undocumented, and my dream of being a math teacher went poof,” explained Gonzalez, a native of Guerrero, Mexico, who has lived in Knoxville since he was 4 years old.
Unable to attend college as an undocumented immigrant, Gonzalez joined the family business, handling the accounting and managing the finances. He married in 2012 and applied for his Permanent Resident Card, also known as a Green Card.
The Green Card Gonzalez received in March 2016 opened the door for him to start his college education but, like other adults considering enrolling in college for the first time, he was nervous.
“When I came here to Pellissippi State, I was scared because life had been putting me down,” Gonzalez said. “But being here was a breath of fresh air. It brought life back to me. It revived my dream of being a teacher.”
Wood remembers her first meeting with Gonzalez, who she described as “anxious, fearful, unsure and insecure — characteristics of many adult learners as they begin the process of enrolling in college.” Gonzalez participated in Pellissippi Achieves for Adult Learners, a mentoring program for adult learners who are first-generation college students and first-time freshmen, and has never looked back.
“Carlos’ accomplishments are enormous: he has soared academically; he is a sought-out tutor for math and Spanish; he volunteers at the Admissions office as a translator; he has been guest speaker for a UT instructor’s class; and he introduced the guest speaker at the 2017 Convocation,” Wood said. “Although Carlos is a student, he is also a student advocate. His personality, character, contagious spirit and willingness to help fellow students, faculty and staff make him the ideal TBR Student Regent.”
Gonzalez is double majoring in accounting and mathematics at Pellissippi State. He plans to graduate in spring 2019 and continue his education at the University of Tennessee. Gonzalez’s goal is to return to Pellissippi State as a math professor.
“That’s another reason I applied for this position as Student Regent for TBR,” he noted. “I want to know what goes on behind the scenes, to understand the policy decisions that affect community college students.”
Being Student Regent involves traveling throughout the state, not only to TBR meetings, but also to meet with student leaders from other schools. Still, Gonzalez is taking 12 hours of classes this semester and cannot say enough about his experience at Pellissippi State.
“The professors here are accessible to you and really try to make that connection with students,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why I want to come back and teach here.”