Bethaida Gonzalez, assistant dean of University College, enjoys helping adults pursue degrees through part-time study.
When asked to describe a typical day as assistant dean of University College, Bethaida Gonzalez laughs. “There’s no such thing,” she says. On this particular day, Gonzalez awoke at 6 a.m. to make rice and beans as a special treat for her son’s 12th-grade calculus class at Corcoran High School in Syracuse. She didn’t expect to get home until around 9:30 that evening, after participating in a panel debate on charter schools. Her workday included a three-hour meeting with a team from the financial aid office, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day planning committee meeting, and advising appointments with three University College students. “I never thought of myself as a workaholic, but there’s a reason I call myself ‘Bea the Busybody,’” Gonzalez says. “I just can’t resist changing things—making them better.”|
A self-named “Syra-rican” who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Syracuse, Gonzalez has worked at University College for 15 years in such positions as academic advisor, Higher Education Opportunity Program director, and director of student support services. In her current position, which she has held for nine years, she leads a team that coordinates recruitment, admissions, financial aid, academic advising, and bursar and registrar services for Syracuse University’s part-time students. “We give adult learners the opportunity to return to the classroom,” Gonzalez says. “We give people a second chance.”
According to Gonzalez, the success of University College is based on an ability to balance the requirements of SU’s colleges with the unique needs of part-time students. Carefully cultivated relationships with colleagues across the University are a key factor in making this possible. “It is a real negotiating act,” she says, “to allow students enough flexibility to make college doable, while maintaining the integrity of their programs of study.”
In addition to her duties as assistant dean, Gonzalez is active in numerous volunteer activities. “I’ve been allowed to become involved in the community as an extension of my role at University College,” she says. Her leadership and participation in such organizations as the Gifford Foundation, 20/20 Incorporated, the city school district’s board of education, and the Onondaga Citizens League are a reflection of the value she places on family, community, and education. The daughter of migrant workers whose six children all completed high school and college, Gonzalez takes enormous pride in her family. “I’ve been very blessed. Coming from a multiracial, multicultural family has served me well,” she says. “As a product of every opportunity program the government ever put together, I have a firsthand understanding of their importance. I know that educating one person has a ripple effect.”
A single parent until her marriage to Michael Leonard five years ago, Gonzalez first became interested in school-board politics because she felt her son, Nicholas Reyes, wasn’t being properly served by the education system. “I knew if he wasn’t being treated well, there were other kids who weren’t,” she says. “So I got involved, and stayed involved all through the nineties.”
Gonzalez, who graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and Latin American studies, continues in her own educational pursuits as well; she is just three credits away from a master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
Meanwhile, she keeps giving her all to everything she does. “The best part of what I do is meeting a student who thinks higher education is out of reach, and making it happen,” Gonzalez says.“My work allows me to open doors for people who may not have the skill to open them on their own. In that important way, I know I’ve made a difference.”