Celina Gonzalez ’12 was named a recipient of the 2012 Alcala Award, which honors one male and one female graduate for excellence in academics, leadership and service. “Celina truly embodies the spirit of the Acalá Award,” said Professor Perla Myers, PhD. “I am truly impressed by her—by her unparalleled work-ethic, her contagious positive disposition, her kindness, her intelligence, her genuine desire to make a difference in the world, and her initiative.”
Celina, you were recently named a 2012 Alcala Award recipient. What was your reaction when you learned you would receive this distinction?
Receiving the award was a complete surprise. Even upon hearing my name, I was shocked and speechless. Nonetheless, I really appreciated the recognition and it is an honor to receive this distinction. I could not help but think of the many other women at USD who also do wonderful work in the community and are committed to social justice and academic excellence. They all could have been standing up there on stage with me.
Your devotion to community service led you to embark on mission trips to East Los Angeles and New Orleans. How did these trips contribute to your intellectual and spiritual growth?
These trips helped me understand the value of listening, appreciating community and developing relationships.
In East Los Angeles, I met a phenomenal woman who had lost her son. Rather than holding on to anger and sadness, she engulfed forgiveness, compassion for others and love for God. She wakes up in the early morning hours to cook and serve breakfast to men in the Dolores Mission Guadalupe Homeless Project. The tour of Homeboy Industries provided me an opportunity to see all the love, compassion and dedication the group devotes to giving people a second chance. This trip helped me learn the importance of breaking down barriers and building kinship. With faith, I hope to always have an open heart, open arms, an open mind and open eyes as I live the journey of life!
Tell us more about the New Orleans Trip.
The trip to New Orleans helped me see beyond the struggles of the community and into the heart of the culture. The people are the ones who make New Orleans. I met a beautiful woman, Mama J, who makes everyone feel welcome and livens up a room with her laugh. She has so much knowledge and takes the time to get to know everyone around her. I learned some of the history of the community, but most of all, I learned that no matter the color of our skin, the size of our bodies, or the look of the house we live in, we as people are strong and have a heart and we must use our heart to guide our life. Be wise, be gentle, but above all, love all.
Throughout this trip, the definition of leadership was molded through conversations, actions and responses. I learned that we are all leaders, but the most effective are those that have both the actions and the words.
You took the initiative to organize and run USD's summer mathematics enrichment program last year. Tell us how that opportunity arose. Why did you choose to take on the challenge?
In 2009, we received great feedback from children and their parents in regard to our program. We did not have the camp during the summer of 2010. I thought it would be a great chance to continue to spark kids' interest in mathematics by enriching their mathematical experiences in a creative way. The program allows us to play with mathematical concepts, which kids may or may not have the chance to explore in the classroom setting. Therefore, we hope to expand students' perception of mathematics in order to help them apply the concepts to real-world situations.
If I may speak for the group, we have a passion for mathematics, which we all want to share in a fun way. This would not have been possible without the great support of Dr. Perla Myers and Lynn McGrath, PhD of the mathematics department, our co-instructor Amanda Askelson, and our volunteer Rebecca Myers. Now, a goal I have is to help make this camp more accessible to kids in the Linda Vista community. The more kids we can work with the better. Hopefully our kids will be exposed to the beauty of mathematics, which can be seen in all aspects of life.
Tell us about your current work in Linda Vista.
I have taken the opportunity to continue living out my passion for service and education. I accepted a full time job with YMCA as a literacy teacher for the before and after school youth program. I am very excited to have the privilege to maintain and develop relationships with community members, children and families in the Linda Vista area.
What are your goals for the future?
I plan to complete the Teacher Credential Program to receive my Special Education and Multiple Subjects Credential. I hope to continue to live a life of service-learning. Also, I would love to help develop youth programs, especially within the field of mathematics. Recently, I have played with the idea of continuing my higher education to become a professor.
- Anne Malinoski '11