Importance of Being Elma
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as assistant professor at UCLA around 1977
“People have asked me how I made it, and I have wondered
about that, because I wasn’t special,” González
says. “There were a lot of kids I left behind who were smarter
than I was, and they didn’t make it. I’m a very ordinary
person, but maybe a little bit stronger, a little more persistent.
You have to be persistent.”
Much of the impetus comes from family, she says. She considers
herself lucky because her parents had a solid, stable marriage,
and they had aspirations for her and her siblings. “You come
out of such an environment with a very good self-image, feeling
confident despite poor schooling in poor neighborhoods.”
It is UCLA’s good fortune to have González on faculty.
As director of MARC, she has played a critical role in providing
the incentive and support for undergraduates to pursue higher studies,
thereby preparing them for possible careers in academe. Her success
is evident: Students who have been through the program have gone
on to graduate study at such top universities as Harvard and Yale.
“There is a well-documented shortage throughout the United
States of both women and underrepresented minorities in university
faculties,” says Judith L. Smith, vice provost for undergraduate
education, who works with González to further UCLA’s
efforts to create greater diversity in its student body and faculty.
“Elma embodies this mission — it is her passion.”
In recognition of her work, González recently received
the Academic Senate’s 2005 Distinguished Teaching Award for
mentoring undergraduates in research. She acknowledges that only
high-achieving students benefit from MARC, and that a large number
of students from underrepresented populations are thereby excluded.
But to “bemoan those who aren’t here or those left behind
[is to] focus on the negatives,” she says. “You have
to celebrate those who, despite all the odds, make it in a mainstream
environment like UCLA.”