By Erasmo Guerra
As one of Academy of Art University’s Campus Hosts at the School of Acting, Maria Gonzalez will tell you she’s “responsible for the safety of the students and making sure the building is all good.” But, in other more subtle ways, she also looks out for the wellbeing of everyone who walks past her post, the security desk that faces the front doors at 466 Townsend.
On a typical swing shift, Gonzalez greets students when the 3:30 p.m. shuttle arrives. She prepares the sign-in sheet (for that inevitable student who arrives without school I.D.). She reviews key logs to make sure all keys that were checked out have been returned. And, throughout the afternoon and into the evening, she hears from students about how school is going. A current student herself, Gonzalez admitted, “It helps me understand I’m not the only one struggling.” A sociology major at San Francisco City College, she added, “If they need to vent or need someone to talk to, I’m here for them.”
A campus host since Spring 2018, Gonzalez is coming up on a year in the job. She’s also in her third-to-last semester at SFCC, before she transfers to San Francisco State to continue her studies. Ultimately, she’d like to enter the field of social work to serve youth in foster care. It’s something she has wanted to do since she herself was a child in the foster care system for seven years before her maternal grandmother took custody. Those years in foster care made Gonzalez passionate about helping youth just like her. And she’s determined to earn her undergraduate degree despite the hurdles she has faced.
“After high school, I pretty much couldn’t continue my education,” she said, “I had to put college on pause, because I had to take care of my grandfather. He was diabetic and had to take insulin shots.” Due to his arthritis, Gonzalez was the one who had to give him the injections starting when she was 10 years old. She added that her grandfather wasn’t able to read or write because his own mother had taken him out of school in the third grade so that he could work. “This was in Mexico,” Gonzalez explained, describing a family history of survival and trying to make ends meet. “My family’s priority hasn’t been education—it’s working, paying bills, putting food on the table, and helping with the rent.”
At 18, soon after graduating from high school, Gonzalez landed her first job at Century Theatres in Daly City. She took movie tickets and served popcorn. And she juggled another part-time gig at the John Daly branch public library as a library page who shelved books, as well as cleaned and maintained public areas. Afterward, she worked at Starbucks for a year before getting a job through a family friend as a pharmacy clerk at Kaiser. She worked there for nearly two years before deciding to enroll in college and pursue her passion to help others.
Through an online job site, Gonzalez found the campus host position at the Academy. Her work hours fit her academic schedule and she enjoys the work—even more so, she enjoys engaging with Academy students she meets every day. “They are so talented,” she said, adding that they’ve generously shared those talents with her, showing her how to use a camera to take better photos, and even giving her tips on how to sketch with charcoal (she loves to sketch in her off time).
Gonzalez pointed out that studies and statistics have shown that youth in foster care struggle academically with reading and writing, and they have a tough time socially and emotionally because they’ve been conditioned to suppress their feelings at a young age. Even she admitted, “I struggle to this day to prove to my teachers that I’m capable.” Her goal in going to school is to earn a degree, and, she said, “To beat the statistics of the low percentage of college graduates who come from foster care and low-income families and to show those youth that ‘You can do it.’”