Jose Gomez
CPP Magazine

Bridging the Gap

Recalling His Own Challenges, Alumnus Helps Students in Need

By Martha Groves

When Jose A. Gomez was growing up in low-income housing in La Puente, just minutes from Cal Poly Pomona, university life seemed tantalizingly near yet unattainable.

“My mom was alone and worked in odd jobs cleaning houses and in factories,” Gomez says. “I remember being on welfare. It was just a really, really difficult and challenging time.”

For a time, his mother coiled water hoses at a factory and urged him to apply for a factory job in the hope of becoming a supervisor.

But professors and administrators at Cal Poly Pomona saw promise in Gomez (’93, sociology). He became student body president. By the time he spoke at his graduation ceremony, where his proud mother screamed enthusiastically from the audience, he realized just how much the university had transformed him.

“There was a fairly significant awakening that occurred when I was at CPP and continued as I grew older about how blessed I was,” Gomez says.

Since getting two master’s degrees and his doctorate at USC, Gomez has dedicated his life to service of one sort or another. He advised the president pro tempore of the California State Senate about higher education. He held senior positions in the state Department of Justice and state Treasurer’s Office and was executive director of the California Educational Facilities Authority, the financing agency for higher education facilities. In 2009, he signed on at Cal State LA, where he is executive vice president and chief operating officer. He also chairs the Cal State BioSpace, an incubator that supports biotech entrepreneurs.

Cal Poly Pomona remains in his thoughts and in his heart, and he regularly looks for ways to help students bridge the gap between their resources and what they need to survive. In 2019, he created the Gomez Family Basic Needs Endowment — the first of its kind at the university — to support the Broncos Care Basic Needs Program, which provides food and housing aid to students.

“When you’re struggling,” he says, “it can be something really small that prevents you from making it through the week or the month or the semester.” He delights in helping students find a good meal, a place to sleep or clothes for an interview.

This year he created a Faculty Excellence Award, which recognizes exemplary achievement and service to students, the university and the community by faculty in the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, as well as four annual scholarships for ASI student leaders.

Giving back to the university that started him on a path to impressive success seems only fitting.
“The work that a place like Cal Poly Pomona does is so extraordinary and key to community health and to people thriving,” he says. “We as alumni and friends of the university have to do our part.”