Mitzy González is just about two weeks into her new role as program manager of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), a partnership with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).
As project manager, González is working on the Frontier Set project, which aims to “improve student outcomes and close attainment gaps” as well as “find, implement, research, and document policies and practices focused on student success,” according to its website.
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Frontier Set consists of 29 colleges and universities and two state systems – referred to as “sites” — including APLU/USU, Arizona State University, Delaware State University, Florida International University, Georgia State University and Morehouse College.
“It’s really with the premise of: there’s no one person, institution or field that has the solution that serves every single student well,” González said. “That’s why we need to share ideas, experiences, challenges and work together.”
The project will end mid-2021 and González’s position will last through December 2021, with the possibility of an extension.
APLU/USU will serve Portland State University, Georgia State University and Florida International University, said González, who identifies as a “proud Latina” and Puerto Rican, who was born and raised in Central Florida. She is the first in her family to graduate from college.
“I always understood the value of education from a young age,” González said. “[My parents] always instilled in me the importance of what an education can do, not only for me but for my community and for others as well.”
Before coming to APLU, she worked as assistant director in the Center for Higher Education Innovation and University Innovation Alliance Fellow at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where she did similar work as the UCF Frontier Set site lead.
González, 28, holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies – with a focus in Latin America – from the University of South Florida and a master’s in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Her drive to pursue social justice stemmed from her undergraduate studies, she said. A myriad of injustices, such as human trafficking and femicide, take place around the world and the U.S. is no exception.
“I think that’s why it sparked for me the desire to pursue social work and to really focus in on the injustices that are happening here in our country,” she said, “and to think about what’s my role, what’s our collective role, in addressing these issues and how can I make more systemic changes to make sure that these things don’t continue to happen.”
That background in social work will prove useful in her new role, she said.
“I feel that social workers have a systems-level mindset where we can identify the multitude of stakeholders that are involved in order to address an issue,” she said. “And we use our relationship skills to bring people to the table to unite rather than divide.”
For the near future, she plans to use her post to help create lasting relationships.
“One of my short-term goals as program manager is really to build relationships across disciplines,” González said. “Yes, within higher education, I hope to continue to establish and strengthen relationships with faculty members, staff, administrators on each of the campuses that I’ll be serving.
“But I also hope to strengthen relationships with community partners that are doing this work on the ground, with funders who are looking to understand the stories that are happening and to help them think about where they can direct their funding initiative.”
González is also aiming to create online courses based on findings from her work.
“We are looking to use an online platform and build short, mini courses around our findings to help inform the higher education field,” González said. “The goal is to capture what we’ve learned about institutional transformation across the Frontier Set sites we serve within APLU/USU and share that in valuable way for all of higher education.”
As she works, González finds herself focused and propelled by two phrases: “El futuro depende de ti,” which means “The future depends on you,” and “Lift as you climb.”
“As a first-generation student and a student not only in the education system but a student of life, I’ve really taken on those quotes to mean that the future depends on me but also the collective me,” González said. “There are so many other first-gen students out there that are navigating similar experiences and I feel tied and connected to them. I feel a responsibility to them to make sure that, yes, I move and advance in my career but that I lift them up as well.
“Because when I get to the top of whatever career ladder, whatever ladder I get to, I don’t want to be the only one that looks like me, that speaks like me there.”