Lighten Up

Fierce Devotion

uzieGonzalezWhat a blessing that Kalamazoo College’s 17th president, Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran, did not decide to retire a year earlier than she did (her last day on the job will June 30, 2016). Her successor, K’s 18th president (elect), Jorge G. Gonzalez, who currently serves as dean and vice president for academic affairs at Occidental College (Los Angeles, Calif.), may possibly have been ready to make a career change and relocate sooner, but in that hypothetical case his spouse, K alumna Suzie (Martin) Gonzalez ’83 would likely have remained in L.A. Why? Because of her children. Not the couple’s daughter and son (Kristina, a recent University of Southern California graduate who works in commercial real estate in L.A. and Carlos, a sophomore majoring in computer science at Rice University), but instead the kids with whom Suzie works as a school psychologist at the El Monte City School District.

“Adults are more equipped to understand a relocation based on a job change—one’s own or one’s spouse’s,” says Suzie. “But an adolescent may feel it is a violation of the trust we’ve worked so hard to build and share. Last year I had a group of eighth graders with whom I’d worked a long time. I wouldn’t have left them just before they started high school. But this year was fine, so the timing for Jorge’s selection as K’s president worked out perfectly.”

That kind of fierce devotion to the well-being of school aged kids has long been a fundamental element of Suzie’s character. She came to K from Puerto Rico. (Some back story on that fact. Suzie was born in Kalamazoo, shortly after which her family moved to Mexico City and, several years later, to Puerto Rico. Her father worked as an executive for The Upjohn Company and managed company operations in both places respectively.) In fact, Suzie’s first return to Kalamazoo was for her first year at K.

She majored in psychology and earned a minor in political science  as well as her teaching certification. During her career service term she worked with three-, four- and five-year-olds at the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Head Start program. She studied abroad in Madrid, Spain, and for her Senior Individualized Project she taught history at Paw Paw (Mich.) High School. Her SIP experience influenced her decision to earn her Ph.D. in  educational psychology (1989, Michigan State University). “In my high school classes there were so many students with needs that could not be effectively addressed by a classroom teacher,” explains Suzie.

She has worked as a school psychologist in San Antonio, Texas, and in Los Angeles. When she returns to Kalamazoo this July Suzie plans to take a year to assess how busy she will be as K’s “first lady.” But don’t be surprised if she becomes a school psychologist at a nearby district, which certainly will be a blessing for those kids with whom she’ll work.

Like her husband, Suzie is a great sports fan. Soccer tops his list, college football hers. Both are passionate about the Spartans and, of course, the Hornets. BeLight is grateful to Suzie for making time for its “Lighten Up” interview.

What’s the best song ever recorded?
Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of my Life”

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
The Little Engine That Could

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“I love that you followed your passion and did well.”

What’s your favorite word?

What’s your least favorite word?

What turns you on?
Living each day to the fullest

What turns you off?
Limits, boundaries

What sound do you love?
Beach waves

What sound do you hate?
Automobile horns

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
I originally came to K intending to major in political science.  So I guess a lawyer specializing on educational issues.

What profession would you not like to participate in?
A computer scientist. I don’t have the passion, or probably the aptitude.

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
Going to the Grand Rapids United Methodist Community House and being greeted by the smiling faces of the eager Head Start youngsters ready to play and learn during my K career development.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
Lev Vygotsky. He was a developmental psychologist who believed that social and cultural context significantly influence a child’s development.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?
All the moves my family made when I was growing up. For some this may seem counter-intuitive, but I have very good memories associated with changing homes. I think the experience fostered great flexibility.

What is your favorite curse word?
Well, my colleagues at work would probably tell you that the word is “shoot.”

What is your favorite hobby?
Reading. Right now I’m in the middle of a romantic comedy.

What is your favorite comedy movie?
Home Alone

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?
The attacks on September 11, 2001