Faculty Research Profile
Dr. Terri Gomez
Ph.D. in Political Science
Interim Associate Vice President for Student Success
Professor of Ethnic & Women’s Studies
at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
When Dr. Terri Gomez first began her college career as a community college student at San Bernardino Community College, she wanted to pursue a law degree like her older sister. She notes that while her parents “only had a third grade formal education,” they knew that “education was the key to their children’s success.” Dr. Gomez transferred to UCLA to finish her undergraduate political science degree but as graduation approached, her vision of the future shifted. “I thought I was going to be a lawyer,” Dr. Gomez recalls, “that’s why I had majored in political science. I had even taken the LSAT and was applying to law school when I made the decision [to change paths].”
The transition from undergraduate to graduate student was not easy for Dr. Gomez. She recalls that “there were twenty-two” students in her graduate cohort at UCLA in the political science department, “one other woman and one other person of color.” At the time in her field of Political Science, she knew that “there were less than five women of color, Latinas, with PhDs.” Not only did her underrepresented background make her feel isolated in her program, but her “class background always made me feel like I didn't have the basic knowledge to even compete in my field during graduate school. This idea that you could be a part of this intellectual community, that you needed to pay to be a part of professional organizations, that was really foreign to me."
Dr. Gomez’s family also had a hard time understanding the change in her original path from lawyer to academic as she started her PhD program at UCLA. She remembers that “[my parents] had seen my sister be very successful with opening a small law practice in our community, helping our community. At some point it was my dream too that we’d have a private practice together. That was my family’s knowledge of academic success. So when I had to break it to them that I was going to pursue a PhD (they were like ‘you’re not a doctor – that’s not a real doctor’), it was a huge disappointment to them.”
She quickly realized that to survive graduate school, she had to find “spaces of solidarity” both on and off campus like conferences for women of color and graduate student associations. Dr. Gomez also found support in the form of mentors like Dr. Raymond Rocco from the Political Science department at UCLA. She notes that “Dr. Raymond Rocco taught the first political science class I took as an undergraduate and he remained my mentor throughout my undergraduate career. I ended up doing my graduate work at UCLA and he became my dissertation advisor.” After earning her PhD from UCLA in Political Science and finding a job at Cal Poly Pomona as a professor, her parents’ narrative changed as well. “My mom tells folks ‘oh, my daughter’s a professor and she teaches.’ I think part of it is that she sees the advocacy work I do and she’s able to see that it makes a difference for other people,” Dr. Gomez shares.
While Dr. Gomez has been successful on campus launching centers like Poly Transfer and obtaining positions such as the Interim Associate Vice President for Student Success outside of her role of professor, her inspiration always comes from her students. “What motivates me the most,” she states, “are my students who, surprisingly, are a lot like me – first-generation and underrepresented. When I see them come through the door I know that they have something really valuable to bring to the table and I know that it’s our job to create spaces for them to do that. [I find motivation in] the chance to work alongside students who, I think, are going to change the world.”