“Representation is big for me,” says Ms. Widalys Gonzalez. “I like the community that I am serving. They can connect with me, and I can connect with them, with their struggles, challenges, stereotypes… [I like being] there right in front of them saying you are worth it, I believe in you, you need to believe in yourself.”
Ms. Gonzalez shared how it is difficult to find science teachers right now, but especially science teachers that look like her students. Being able to relate to the students not only helps with developing connections, but also with being a motivating role model. Her students can pull inspiration from her life, the challenges she overcame, and the dreams she achieved.
Ms. Gonzalez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. In high school, a tragic event sparked in her a desire to pursue science in order to find a cure for cancer. A close friend of hers sadly passed away from the disease at a young age. While her career aspirations changed as she became an adult, those big dreams launched her towards what was really meant for her.
She went on to pursue her PhD in Chemistry at Drexel University. While she enjoyed what she was learning, she quickly realized that a career in research would be a lonely one. She is a people person, and she loved her time working with students. As a PhD student, she was teaching undergraduate level courses and also volunteering with helping two high school students with their science fair projects.
Bringing those students to the Drexel labs, pouring hours into their projects alongside them, and investing in their dreams were pivotal moments for her. It was during this time that solidified her love for teaching. She left the PhD program and instead graduated with two master’s degrees: one in chemistry and one in education. After her commencement, she worked at Upper Bound, a college program for high school students at Temple University. She went on to teach at a variety of schools and is now in her 15th year of teaching and her 8th year at Esperanza Academy.
Her first few years of teaching were incredibly difficult. Yet, she had a special mentor who led her along. This mentor was Ms. Gonzalez’s middle school teacher. They had stayed in touch, and now, this mentor was passing the torch of education to Ms. Gonzalez. Her favorite advice from her is: “You are a teacher but you are also the person who is right there. Allow them to feel comfortable with you. Just talk to them. Don’t treat them less because they are not adults and include them in the decision making.”
This advice launched Ms. Gonzalez forward in her motivation behind teaching. The most important thing to her is less about the grades and more about the students’ growth. She teaches a ninth grade chemistry course. Oftentimes, several students in those classes are new to the United States and speaking English. She loves seeing them again in her eleventh grade Chemistry class and seeing the progression that has taken place in their language development.
Her advice to students pursuing a career in STEM is: “The science field can be very competitive and sometimes people can get lost in the competition. So don’t lose yourself, better to be in competition with yourself. Do it for yourself not to compete with others. Fair competition is good but the reality is that there is a lot of competition that is not fair. If you just focus on your goals and stay true to yourself, you will succeed. Don’t allow the nature of this field to take over your dreams.”
Ms. Gonzalez has worked in a variety of industries using her science background, but once she found teaching, she knew she found her true passion. Her strong content knowledge coupled with her caring personality makes her an excellent teacher and role model to our students. Esperanza Academy is grateful to have Ms. Gonzalez on our team pouring into the next generation of scientists!