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Daniel Gonzalez with students from his freshman cohort

Thanks to Pacific’s Community Involvement Program, Daniel Gonzalez (top), pictured here with three of his CIP freshman cohort, is realizing his dream to become a history teacher.

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Campus Life

Dreams rise from the ashes for Pacific student Daniel Gonzalez

Pacific’s Community Involvement Program gave Daniel Gonzalez renewed hope for a college education after his family experienced tragic loss.
Pacific’s Community Involvement Program gave Daniel Gonzalez renewed hope for a college education after his family experienced tragic loss.Oct 3, 2017

Edison High School graduate Daniel Gonzalez '21 is a first-year student in Pacific's Community Involvement Program (CIP), a unique Pacific scholarship program for first-generation Stockton students. He is excited about his first year in college and the classes he is taking, and is already working with his freshman cohort on a community outreach project they will lead.

But only a few months ago, this possibility did not seem to be in his grasp. When tragedy struck one November day, everything changed for Daniel and his family.  

Nov. 15, 2016, began as an ordinary school day. Daniel, who kept a busy schedule of AP and college-prep courses, took a rare opportunity to sleep in that morning, as he didn't have a first period class that day.  

His father was working on the water heater in the garage when his younger brother heard an explosion and dashed outside to find their garage on fire. He quickly ran back in the house to wake Daniel. The two boys and their father were the only ones home at the time, as their older brother was at work and their mother was in Southern California tending an ailing grandfather. They watched the house go up in smoke with their father trapped inside. Firefighters rescued their father, but his burns were fatal. He passed away soon after arriving at the hospital.  

The family lost everything, and along with it, Daniel saw his dreams for college going up in smoke. Now, he would need to stay close to help at home and work to help his family get by.  

"Money had always been tight, and after the fire it seemed like there was no way," Daniel said. The family had a modest income with both parents working in food service. Without their father, finances would be even tighter.  

The community, his school and family rallied to help them. A family member offered temporary lodging; community members, friends, family and school families donated clothing, furniture, household items and gift cards; the school held fundraisers; and a cousin started a gofundme campaign to help with expenses resulting from the tragedy.  

In the midst of it all, Grant Billingslea, a teacher at Edison High School, told Daniel about University of the Pacific's CIP program and encouraged him to apply. Daniel never thought he would be able to afford to attend University of the Pacific. He reached out to two of his former classmates, Javier Franco '20 and Romalyn Eleu '20, now sophomores in the CIP program, to find out more.  

What is CIP?
Founded in 1969, the Community Involvement Program came about as a result of a movement led by Pacific students, faculty and staff who wanted to diversify the campus by helping first-generation, low-income freshmen and transfer students from Stockton access higher education. In addition to need-based scholarships, CIP students receive help navigating college with resources like tutoring, peer mentoring, and networking with a dedicated alumni group.

The program is highly focused on improving the Stockton community, and students are active in developing and implementing various outreach programs during their time at Pacific. In fact, 74 percent of CIP alumni continue to live, work and contribute to communities in San Joaquin County.  

Since its inception, more than 1,500 students have graduated from the program - bright, capable students like Daniel - who otherwise likely would not have been able to go to college. Among its more well-known alumni are musician Chris Isaak '80 and former NASA astronaut José Hernández '84. This fall, there are 155 students in the program, 41 incoming freshman.

"They were really positive about the program and talked about the focus on community service, which I really liked," he said. Daniel had been active in service throughout high school, and the community support for him and his family during their time of loss had been amazing. So he decided to apply.  

"Doing the application and essay was pretty stressful for me between school work, my job and helping out my family," said Daniel. The application includes a personal essay and an interview. "I ended up writing the essay at 11 o'clock one night after I got home from work."  

"The interview committee was so impressed with Daniel," said Allison Dumas, director of the CIP program. "He is so bright and enthusiastic and his commitment to the Stockton community really came through. He was clearly a perfect fit for the CIP program."  

Daniel never brought up his family's tragedy, either in his essay or the interview, until one of the interview committee members recalled the incident from a news story in The Record and asked if that was his family.  

"He answered their questions," Dumas said, "but he didn't dwell on it and quickly returned back to the interview topics. It was clear he wasn't letting his family's tragedy and loss define him."  

Daniel is studying history at Pacific and says he'd like to be a teacher in high school or community college.

"My dream would be to go back and teach at Edison High School," he said.  

There will still be challenges navigating his new college life while helping at home with family needs. But Daniel has never been one to shrink from a challenge. Thanks to the CIP program, his dreams can be realized, and his new CIP family will be there to support him all the way.

For Daniel Gonzalez, the smoke is clearing and the future is bright.

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