Inspired by his own experience, first-generation alumnus helps others navigate the complexities of higher education
Manuel (Manny) Gonzalez ’07, B.S. Business Management/Spanish
by Mary Denny
“Knowing that I have the ability to assist in the social mobility of individuals who come from similar backgrounds like mine is something that excites me every day.” So says Manuel (Manny) Gonzalez, Ph.D., the American-born son of Mexican immigrants.
As a first-generation college student, Manny found himself often overwhelmed by the campus environment and struggled with sometimes feeling like an “imposter.” He credits the strong support and mentorship he found at Trinity with putting him on a path to success. Not surprisingly, he remains passionate about “paying it forward.”
As a senior institutional support consultant on the Student and Institutional Success Team within Austin-based Trellis Company (formerly known as Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation), Manny provides higher education support services to under-resourced and under-served minority-serving institutions across the country. Typically, they are institutions that work with students who report higher instances of food insecurity, housing instability, and financial vulnerability. Leading this effort, Manny works directly with campus presidents and senior administrators to address systemic challenges that impact college access, retention, and student success. “I help schools across the country shift their mindsets from asking students to be ‘college ready’ to asking themselves if they are ‘student ready,’” Manny says. Toward this end, he provides leadership training, research, and analytical support along with resources that can range from emergency aid grants to virtual coaching for students wanting real-time guidance on issues related to student financial wellness.
Among his successes, Manny points with pride to Palo Alto College in San Antonio, where Trellis has developed a strong partnership with the College’s student advocacy center and helped them launch an emergency grant program to assist financially vulnerable students through unforeseen crises. The work is not without its challenges. “Many schools have yet to recognize that today’s average student looks different than he or she did 10 years ago,” Manny says. “Today’s student is increasingly nontraditional and is navigating new challenges and anxieties that previous generations did not worry about. We are working with schools to become more welcoming to student diversity and more supportive of growing concerns around student financial wellness, mental health, housing insecurity, etc.” It’s a daunting task, rife with complex and multifaceted issues, but Manny says, “What keeps me motivated is recognizing that our partner schools have the ability to be greatly influential in the positive trajectory of their students’ lives.”
Despite his undergraduate business major, Manny was drawn to a career in higher education administration thanks to Trinity mentors like David Tuttle, Katie Storey, Jacob Tingle, Coleen Grissom, and, he says, “a host of other great staff and faculty who saw potential in me...They knew I had the potential and desire to help first-generation students in need of guidance.” Manny says the most influential class he took was Grissom’s first-year seminar on “Functions of Humor in Contemporary Literature.”
“While the course may seem as though it has little relevance to my major or career, it helped me prepare for college and graduate school success by allowing me to hone my analytical writing skills in an environment that was accessible and enjoyable,” Manny reflects. “She gave me confidence that I could think and write critically.”
With that boost of confidence, Manny plunged wholeheartedly into campus life. He served as co-chair of TUVAC for the San Antonio Children’s Shelter, was a resident mentor for two years, and took advantage of numerous student leadership and experiential learning opportunities. His senior year he was elected Student Government Association president. Manny laughingly recalls, “The running joke among my friends during my last semester was that I wanted to be Dean Tuttle,” then adds with a wink, “Dr. Grissom always said there was a hint of truth to any joke.”
After Trinity, Manny earned his M.Ed. and Ph.D. in higher education administration at the University of Texas at Austin. While working in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement with his faculty adviser, Manny helped launch Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Education Success), an innovative new research and student success initiative aimed at addressing the emerging gender gap in Latino education. His work garnered national media attention and recognition in President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” report. It also helped him earn an Archer Center Graduate Fellowship, where he had the honor of serving as an intern for President Obama’s White House Domestic Policy Council. Assigned to the education policy team, he worked on policy issues ranging from early childhood education to higher education access and affordability. “The ultimate goal of all our work is rooted in the same philosophy that my parents understood decades earlier: Education is the key to social mobility.”
Though his work with Trellis takes most of his time, Manny is still active with Project MALES as a guest speaker and was named to the 2018 Leadership Austin cohort. He spends free time enjoying Austin with his wife and children and participates increasingly in Trinity alumni events. A devoted Tiger at heart, he says his children ages four, two, and three months are all inaugural members of the Cub Club and loved scoring touchdowns during the Running of the Cubs, an Alumni Weekend 2018 football halftime event.
You can contact Manny at manuel.gonzalez [at] utexas.edu.