Discipline from mom, inspiration from a teacher both vital to his success
Brandman University assistant professor David Gonzalez could have ended up a gang member and drug addict like his father, possibly in prison or worse. He could have settled into the first job he got, like others he grew up with, and stopped pursuing an education.
Instead, the former high school dropout (if only for two weeks) took a different journey, one he didn’t really foresee but considers “pretty cool.”
“First and foremost, my mom had the courage and strength to work a lot.” She moved her family to La Habra while holding down multiple jobs and keeping close tabs on her son and his three younger sisters. She also refused to let Gonzalez just hang around the house, which meant his decision to dropout was short-lived and landed him at La Vista Continuation School in Fullerton. An inspired teacher (Gonzalez remembers him only as “Bobo”) in the North Orange County Regional Occupation Program (ROP) got him interested in a class on entrepreneurship, which led to a career exploration paper focusing on journalism.
“That connection was pivotal to getting me back in comprehensive high school. I still have that paper,” he said. Although he didn’t end up pursuing a career in journalism, he did manage to graduate with his class. Despite having little interest in college, he enrolled a year later at Fullerton College (he credits a former girlfriend) where he began studying criminal justice. He finished his bachelor’s work at Hope University, thriving on classes in administration of justice and psychology.
“Suddenly I just had this need for knowledge,” he said. “I actually started to enjoy learning.”
He kept that thirst for learning while working in the La Habra Police Department jail. He also headed off to Biola University for a master’s degree. “I thought if they know anything, they won’t let me in,” he said.
They did let him in and he graduated with a master’s in organizational leadership in 2005. His enthusiasm for education led him to teaching high school classes for North O.C. ROP in Anaheim at the Trident Center and then at La Habra High School, the school he temporarily left and his eventual alma mater. There he helped establish the Forensic Police and Fire Academy.
“When I got into teaching in 2007, I thought that would appease my hunger for information and knowledge.” But it didn’t. “When I found out about the University of La Verne’s doctoral program in public administration, it spoke to me,” said Gonzalez.
He left high school teaching to return to a part-time job in 911 Communications with the La Habra Police Department and work on his doctorate, then managed to land an adjunct position with Brandman University, teaching courses in the Master of Public Administration program and organizational leadership courses in the School of Business and Professional Studies. He became a full-time faculty member a year ago and expects final approval on his dissertation soon.
“That’s how it happened, a very weird road,” he said. It’s a road some of his students – both the at-risk students in the ROP program he once taught and some of his Brandman students – know as well.
“You can see that they also have ideas and dreams. They don’t necessarily need more help than others, it’s just finding the right avenue to get them that help,” he said.
Gonzalez takes a strengths approach to teaching and finds Brandman’s practitioner approach a good match to the way ROP instructors teach. He sees his job as giving his students the academic language, and credibility, to go along with what they’re already experiencing in the workplace, particularly when it comes to leadership issues.
“I try to teach in multiple modes because I know they come with different experiences,” he said. Gonzalez teaches both blended and online classes, clearly enjoying the exchange of information and ideas he gets with students.
His dean, Dr. Glen Worthington, said Gonzalez’s approach registers with his students. “His teaching evaluations from students consistently exceed Brandman standards, and his students have very positive things to say about the caring nature of his instruction,” said Worthington. “David brings a real theory-to-practice orientation to our virtual and on-ground classrooms.”
Gonzalez enjoys sharing what he’s learned about public administration, particularly the research he’s done for his dissertation. It focuses on how collaborative networks, such as the Orange County Food Access Coalition and the La Habra Community Collaborative focusing on wellness, physical fitness, juvenile crime diversion and teen pregnancy, are democratically legitimate even without being part of government. He’s found that when they work well, with good leadership and clear goals, they are responsive to the public much the way government entities are, even though the networks lack oversight from elected officials.
“I think it’s fantastic when it works,” he said but continues to study what’s needed to make such networks succeed.
His own public involvement includes sitting on the board of the Greater Whittier YMCA and serving on the city of Whittier’s parking and transportation commission.
“The essence of community is sharing, collaborating, knowing your neighbor and looking at what I can do,” he said. He views public administration as professional services provided by the government that are still the responsibility of every citizen. “We need to know about it, to be involved and give back.”
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