A field worker turned evolutionary biologist is doing her part to inspire new careers.

In 2020, Elma González, ’65, Ph.D., donated a piece of property to the TWU Foundation which was used to create the Dr. Elma González Mentorship and Research Excellence Endowment for Biological Sciences. The endowment provides support for undergraduate research and faculty mentorship. The ultimate goal is to assist aspiring junior and senior undergraduate students who desire to pursue graduate research in the biological sciences.

“That was a very important time,” said González, recalling her days at TWU. “I learned a lot about myself” and “realized I loved scientific research.”

A professor emerita of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, González was the first Mexican-American female faculty member in the University of California system. She helped develop, and served as director of UCLA’s Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The program seeks to increase the number of biomedical and behavioral scientists from underrepresented backgrounds by providing financial aid, research training and other support to undergrads interested in continuing their studies at the master’s or doctoral level.

 

65%

of undergraduate and graduate STEM students identify as part of a minority group (Fall 2021)

5,366

Students are enrolled in a STEM degree program (Fall 2021)

 

Her dedication to first-generation, minority and underrepresented students is informed by her childhood in South Texas, working in the fields alongside her migrant farmer parents, who never had the chance to complete more than a few years of grade school. She was able to attend Texas Woman’s with the help of a National Defense Student Loan, but she still struggled to balance her studies against the need to support herself financially. Among other jobs, she watered plants in the university greenhouse for 55 cents an hour. 

She recalls that after she landed her first summer job away from the fields, working in a lab at Baylor College of Medicine, she initially panicked because she had no idea how she would get to the campus or pay the rent. Thankfully, her classmates came through for her: One gave her a ride to Houston, and a former roommate lent her $20 for half a month’s rent. She had to ask Baylor if she could pay the rest after receiving her first paycheck.

Today, with her donation, she aims to free future TWU students from having to deal with the kinds of financial pressures she did. She also expressed faith in the university’s commitment to “the pursuit of excellence,” as she put it, and said she dreams of seeing TWU develop a support program for underrepresented minorities, similar to UCLA’s MARC program. 

Many of the students González mentored at UCLA have gone on to prestigious positions in higher education and begun mentoring and appointing underrepresented scholars themselves. Witnessing this has been “one of the proudest things I’ve done,” she says.

“TWU can do mentoring, can help to give students experiences and has a faculty that cares. All those components are wonderful for students who want to become something,” she says. “I’m hoping I can help in whatever small way to achieve that.”