UIW Alumni Board of Directors Spotlight Series
Alumni Association Board Member, Gina Gonzalez 'BA 02
By Jorge Jones
She began her career as an educator and is now a self-made small business owner. UIW Alumni Association Board Member Gina Gonzalez, BA ‘02 shares how her experience at Incarnate Word impacted her unique journey.
Gina joined the Alumni Association Board of Directors in 2019 and since day one has demonstrated passion and dedication to UIW. Gina explains that her passion began the first day she stepped foot on campus; a sentiment that made her feel as though she was a part of something bigger than herself.
We recently had a chance to talk to the now owner of “La Catrina Coffee” who shared her fascinating collegiate experience with us.
How did your education at UIW prepare you for what you’re doing today?
My experiences at UIW prepared me to be an independent thinker, who looks at life in terms of helping others. Keeping this mentality at the forefront of my every endeavor, has enabled me to achieve greater success than I ever imagined possible.
I am a firm believer in the old adage, “everything happens for a reason”. I feel that it is our responsibility in life to learn from our past experiences while constantly becoming a better version of who we are. Most of my career has been dedicated to the world of education where I taught pre-k, worked for various private colleges, and assisted with military research. Just before the pandemic began, I was working as a high school librarian in an amazing school, surrounded by students, teachers, parents, and coworkers that I loved dearly.
Unfortunately, I was faced with some difficult life choices and felt that I needed to stay home and educate my own children. As I transitioned from my full-time job to my new role as homeschool teacher, I decided that I would try my hand at business. I was always intrigued at the thought of running my own company and I knew exactly what kind of a business I wanted to start. In January 2021, I opened an online coffee company called “La Catrina Coffee”. Although my goal was to find a new way to make a living, I wanted my company to represent my core morals and beliefs. Now more than ever, I found myself with the ability to make a difference.
As I opened my business, I also began a project that I named “Viva La Música”. Viva La Música is a social project that is dedicated to raising awareness of the fine arts. Through this project, I hope to help children achieve their artistic dreams. We at La Catrina have a collection of coffee dedicated to this goal, and a portion of our sales goes to various organizations that support our mission.
I am proud to say that my education at UIW didn’t just prepare me for a career, but also prepared me to use whatever profession I chose as a platform to make a positive impact upon those around me.
What is one of the most important things you learned while you were at UIW?
Growing up, I believed that a college education was just a means to an end. I knew that my plan was to graduate from high school, attend college and then go out into the world and get a job.
What I learned at UIW was that an education could be so much more than just learning the basics and that the right combination of curriculum, teachers, and environment could shape a student into not only a more educated person, but also a more informed, tolerant and compassionate individual. As an educator, I never lost sight of those lessons.
Throughout my career in education, I strived to not only be a teacher, but to also be a mentor to my students, just as my professors at UIW were to me.
Who influenced you the most during your time at UIW?
It isn’t one person who stands out as my biggest influence, but rather the feeling of community that I felt from everyone around me. From the very moment that I stepped foot onto the UIW campus, I felt like I was becoming part of something bigger than myself. As I walked across that stage at graduation, the feeling only became that much stronger and I knew that as I took my next step forward in life, it was my turn to “be that same positive influence” for others.
How does your current job reflect the mission of the university?
According to the UIW mission statement “faculty and students support each other in the search for and communication of truth, thoughtful innovation, care of the environment, community service, and social justice”. These words have given me a unit of measure by which I try to live my life.
I use my position as a former educator, and Hispanic female business owner to create positive relationships within my community. I have vowed to always provide free coffee tastings to the schools in my immediate area. The goal of my social or community project “Viva La Música” is to assist children and young adults in finding the resources that they need in order to pursue their dreams.
La Catrina Coffee has given me a way to reach more of my community than I could have ever thought possible. I know that this is both a gift and a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly. It is my hope that as my business continues to grow, my ability to bring about a positive change continues to expand along with it.
Why did you decide to join the UIW Alumni Association board?
I decided to join the UIW Alumni Association board because I wanted to share the passion and the love that I have for UIW with others. I wanted to give back to the University and to advocate on its behalf. Although the last couple of years have been difficult, the UIW Alumni board has remained a positive and important part of my life. I look forward to continuing to serve the community of students, staff, and educators at UIW to the best of my ability.