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John Gomez does not settle and will not settle—even after he earns his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University.
“Ever since I was little, the one thing I have always wanted to do—which I know is kind of odd—is that I’ve always wanted to go to college,” said Gomez, who naturally is a member of the University Honors Program. “I really value education. I think it’s so important for people to be educated—not necessarily just to get a job but just to better yourself.”
On track to graduate in 2017, Gomez already is thinking about pursuing an M.B.A., and possibly a Ph.D.
“My ultimate goal is to pursue the highest education that I can get and get a good job and help support my family,” said Gomez, who is a Finance major with a minor in Economics. “That’s my major goal in life.”
He is on the right track. As a member of the Honors Program, Gomez is required to complete a senior project that represents outstanding undergraduate achievement and the culmination of the Honors Scholar curriculum.
For his thesis, Gomez is exploring the experience of undocumented students in higher education, the effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) federal legislation and what challenges undocumented students face in college.
“Working on the thesis project has expanded my horizons, and it has pushed my limit,” Gomez said.
Immigration is not only a hot-button political issue, but also a topic that is close to Gomez’s heart. Gomez was brought into the United States from Guatemala by his parents when he was very young and is currently registered with DACA, which grants some young undocumented immigrants temporary deferred action and work authorization.
“I hope that whatever happens in the future, we will continue to have this great program called DACA. It has helped a lot of people, and it has helped me a lot,” Gomez said. “But in terms of politics, I am not sure of what is going to happen.”
Gomez’s thesis adviser, Associate Professor Francisco Gaytán, has been impressed by his pupil.
“John is extremely bright. He is very perceptive,” Gaytán said. “For somebody so young to grasp the technical aspects of research very quickly in social science research is phenomenal.”
The next step will be pursuing an advanced degree. Gaytán has also served as a mentor for Gomez in that process and puts no limits on what Gomez can achieve.
“John has the potential and capability to easily go on to graduate school to pursue his dreams. Honestly, I don’t think that his immigration status will affect him, as his strong academic background will allow him to access merit aid at top graduate programs, particularly at private universities, which do not have the same aid restrictions that public institutions do,” Gaytán said. “I’m hopeful, though, that once he does complete his master’s or a Ph.D., that our immigration laws catch up to where he is.”
It’s been quite a journey for Gomez, a first-generation college student who had no family experience to draw from in high school when making his college choice.
“There was no one I could ask about college, so it was hard to know what to do,” Gomez said. “However, now that I am in college it’s pretty great because I get to help out my family members like my siblings, my cousins who are going into high school or about to graduate high school. Now that I know what it takes to go to college—now that I know how to actually go to college—I can help them out.”
“The faculty there were amazing. They made me feel so welcome,” Gomez said. “They didn’t make me feel like a number. They actually knew my name the second time I went there, and I just knew it was different.”
He immediately joined the Honors Program and has continued to excel. In the summer of 2015, Gomez was awarded the first El Centro Endowment Scholarship—worth more than $1,000—for his exemplary academic performance and leadership skills.
“We are very proud to serve a student like John Gomez,” said Carmen Hernandez, El Centro’s coordinator of financial aid and registration. “He’s a great example of a student who is committed to learning. He instills hope in others. He is studious and a natural leader.”
Gomez also has taken advantage of opportunities outside of the classroom. He is a voracious reader, a math tutor, a mentor for freshmen and, when he needs to burn off some steam, a volleyball player in the P.E. Complex.
“My family is really proud of me for going to college and for pursuing a higher-level education,” Gomez said. “Overall, it has been a tough experience but at the same time I have learned a lot.”
Story and video by Adewale Anifowose.