At first glance, 22-year-old Johnny Gomez ’19 looked like many other students at UW-Green Bay, but his gait and easy smile suggested a quiet confidence and wisdom often only achieved through a bit of struggle.
His journey to the UW-Green Bay campus mirrors those taken by many students who begin their studies elsewhere. Gomez studied for a year at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) before transferring to UW-Green Bay.
“I always wanted to earn a four-year degree,” said Gomez, “but many of the usual ways were not always open to me. I have lived and worked in Door County (Wis.) since I was 16, but being a native of Nicaragua meant I couldn’t access some of the financial resources available to other students. I knew I had to work while I went to school.”
Students who face similar challenges find two-year schools offer advantages: They can work while they study, commute between home and school and delay or lessen the higher expenses of a four-year school.
“We get many students from two-year schools and technical colleges,” confirmed Kay Voss, student success advisor in the Austin E. Cofrin School of Business. “In 2018-19 about 11 percent of our total enrollment consisted of transfer students. We have advisors on many campuses to help students learn what’s available to them here and at other schools, and what they need to do to attend the school in which they are interested. And once they’re here, we stay engaged to help them succeed in this new learning environment.”
Gomez thrived: he was nominated for both the Chancellor’s Award and the Leadership Award. He graduated in May 2019, completing his Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree with emphasis areas in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. While it marks the end of his formal studies, it is just another step in a steady trek toward his goal.
“My parents showed me how to work hard and take responsibility for myself,” said Gomez. “I am determined to be a business owner, a CEO and a philanthropist. I want to start in commercial real estate, but I will be open to the opportunities that may come to me.”
Gomez’s parents seem to have lit a fire, a fire that fuels his drive to succeed.
“When I was about 16, I asked my parents to let me go to Wisconsin to live with my aunt and grandmother, who had moved here many years earlier. I wanted to earn money for my family,” he said. “They were reluctant, but I pressured them and they agreed. So in 2012, I moved to Door County. I worked at a restaurant as a dishwasher and busboy, and my English was as broken as my wallet. The owners and staff were very good to me, but it’s a busy place in the summer and I was working 60-plus hours a week to send money back to my family.”
During his sophomore year at Sevastopol High School, after the tourist season ended, Gomez found a weekend job as a dishwasher in Green Bay. His aunt would drive him to work after school Friday and bring him back for classes on Monday. The next summer, he landed a year-round job at Mojo Rosas in Egg Harbor, where the owner saw his potential and encouraged him. He worked hard, improved his English and advanced to waiter and shift manager.
Despite working up to 25 hours each week, Gomez was able to maintain his grades and participate in three sports. He also earned his driver’s license and bought some basic transportation. Working with his principal and his school counselor, he enrolled at NWTC.
His studies there opened a world of opportunities for him and fanned his desire for a four-year degree.
“I chose UW-Green Bay because it was convenient and affordable,” said Gomez. “In my time here, I have been able to meet so many wonderful people and learn. I had an internship in the university marketing office, I led our Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization and I have been an RA (resident advisor) in my dorm. I have a great job bartending at Hinterland, which has enabled me to pay for school and continue supporting my family in Nicaragua.”
Gomez has advice for any student wanting to achieve a university education.
“First, I would say everyone has to discover what their potential self is and work hard to achieve it,” he offered. “Second, I would say find role models who support you, encourage you and give you energy. Stay away from negative people.
“I was fortunate to have guidance from my academic advisor, Kay Voss (Cofrin School of Business), and encouragement from my professors, especially Ryan Kauth (Entrepreneurship) and Zhou Wenkai (Marketing),” said Gomez. “They all encouraged me to explore opportunities on campus and in the community, and introduced me to people and experiences I would never have thought possible.
“UW-Green Bay has been perfect for me.”
– Story by freelance writer Jim Streed ’05