By Zeynab Day
At age 19, Ivonne Gonzalez has already taken on multiple leadership roles at Eastern Kentucky University. She recently earned the University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Leadership Award for her initiatives within the Hispanic community, promoting inclusion and educating others about her culture.
She has naturally fallen into leadership roles because of her strong desire to help others though organizations on campus, such as the Student Government Association and the Latino Success Center. Her personal story and the encouragement she received from faculty and administrators at Eastern inspired her to help others who faced similar challenges, Gonzalez said.
Without Eastern, Gonzalez said college would have only been a pipe dream. She moved from Mexico to the United States as a 3-year-old with her parents, and her immigration status limited her student aid options.
After her family settled in the Shelbyville area, she learned about options for students like herself at week-long camp sponsored by the Latino Student Success Center at Eastern that offered information about options for documented and undocumented immigrants.
“Many Latinos don’t know that they are allowed to go to college and pay in-state tuition,” Gonzalez said.
A year after the camp, Gonzalez enrolled at Eastern and began working at the Latino Success Center, helping to educate others about their options for higher education and organize programs aimed at providing support and a network for Latino students.
“I would like to see everyone have the same opportunities and the same sense of respect, inclusion and opportunities as I have had,” Gonzalez said. “I try to open up dialogue and build bridges between people to help them realize that people have more similarities than differences.”
Dr. Abbey Poffenberger, chair of EKU’s Department of Languages, Cultures and Humanities, met Gonzalez through EKU’s Student Outreach and Transition Office. Poffenberger has mentored Gonzalez and recommended her for the MLK award.
“Ivonne is a tireless leader and advocate for equality for marginalized communities, particularly undocumented youth,” Poffenberger said.
Gonzalez serves as the director of diversity for the EKU Student Government Association, where she serves as a liaison between the diversity committees and the SGA. She is currently organizing a Diversity Summit, to be held in April at Eastern, where she will share feedback from students about ways to make the campus even more inclusive.
She also serves as vice president of judicial affairs on the Panhellenic Executive Council.
Although she has many roles, her motivation for each is the same. Gonzalez looks to be an advocate and create positive change. Leadership roles are much more than a line on a resume for Gonzalez; they reflect the core of who she is. The biology pre-med major is working toward becoming a physician’s assistant and dreams of traveling to poor regions and providing healthcare to the underprivileged.
“If you want to see things change, you need to take that step,” Gonzalez said. “It’s hard work and requires time management, but it’s the only way to really start to make the change you want to see.”