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Jose Gomez

Jose Gomez

Longtime student discovers a world of opportunities

U alum has nine degrees and accreditations from the University of Minnesota

By Megan Rocker

Dec. 28, 2006

"It started because I wanted to gain more marketable skills and expand my business capacity; it grew because I just liked doing it," says nine-time University of Minnesota alumnus Jose Gomez regarding his education.

That's not a misprint--Gomez has nine degrees and accreditations from the University of Minnesota, including a bachelor's degree, seven master's degrees, a Ph.D., and his College of Continuing Education Innovation Studies Certificate. And if that weren't impressive enough, he also has a degree from the University of Havana, Cuba.

In a quiet way, Gomez has lived a life few people can even imagine. He's traveled the world, worked for the state department, served as an ambassador, and been a business analyst, accountant, controller, and company president. Oh, and he also speaks five languages and, along with his very supportive wife, has raised two successful children (both U of M alums).

Born in Cuba in 1945, Gomez's first degree (in economics) opened the door to a new world for him. "When I was younger, I was a strong supporter of [Fidel] Castro," Gomez explains. "Many of us believed that communism could be Cuba's way out of poverty. And because I was a well-educated young person, I was in high demand with the government and had a meteoric career."

After graduation, he ended up working in foreign trade for the Cuban government and traveled extensively. In addition, he served as Cuba's ambassador to Egypt.

"Really, I believe people should do what makes them happy in life," Gomez says. "People should be happy...and that's what I strive for. And when I look back on my life, there is no one more happy than I."

It was while living in Cairo in the late 1970s Gomez realized his future may not lie in his home country. "I began to become very disenchanted. I was disturbed by Cuba's involvement in Africa; I didn't like how things were being handled." Worried, Gomez repeatedly took his concerns to the Cuban government--and every time, they refused to listen. "I realized, after awhile, that it just wasn't going to work. They weren't listening--or didn't want to."

And so, in 1977 Gomez packed up his wife and two children (then ages 7 and 2) and defected to the United States (via Cairo to London to the U.S.). "It wasn't an easy decision to make," he recalls. "I had a good life--and I didn't know what I would be doing in the U.S. if I came here. We didn't even know where we would go.

"And," he adds, "I knew the possibility of ever coming back to Cuba, given what the situation with the government was, was very, very small. It was very difficult."

A difficult decision, but one Gomez has never regretted. "My son was one of only a handful of graduates in his class to earn both his M.D. and his Ph.D. in neurology simultaneously. My daughter has her Ph.D. in sociology and works in Switzerland for a human rights organization. They've had so many opportunities they never would've if we'd stayed in Cuba."

The start of a lengthy transcript

Gomez and his family ended up in Minnesota. "It was certainly a change of pace, going from Cuba and Cairo to Minnesota. But we loved it here, and have been here ever since." Gomez fit in well, and started working as a business analyst, eventually working his way up to manager.

"When I started the job, I decided to enhance my marketable business skills and work towards my MBA. So I took my first class at the U in 1978, and I've pretty much been here ever since. My transcript probably looks like a telephone book," he says with a smile.

Gomez finished his first MBA in 1981, and another (in business taxation) in 1992. And then, "things got really crazy," Gomez says. "I was no longer looking for a work-related degree, and I decided to study something that appealed to me." So he switched gears and received his master's degree in public health. "I knew if things changed in Cuba, I'd want to go back and try and make a difference, to help the people and the country. So I got a degree in something that would be needed for reconstruction and rebuilding."

Gomez finished his first MBA in 1981, and another in 1992. And then, "things got really crazy," says Gomez. "I was no longer looking for a work-related degree, and I decided to study something that appealed to me."

Following that, Gomez went on to obtain master's degrees in both education and higher education, and then applied to the Ph.D. program in educational policy and administration, which he completed in 1998. "I wanted something administrative, and I had the background in education already, so it was a natural fit."

Not one to rest on his laurels, Gomez was simultaneously enrolled in the Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) program and Innovation Studies Certificate program in the College of Continuing Education. "I was working away on my Ph.D., and it was some heavy stuff...the MLS program gave me the chance to take a lot of classes I wouldn't have been able to take as a part of the Ph.D. program. It was purely for fun."

"People must think I have a compulsion," he continues. "But it's just what I like to do. I own my own business; I can set my own hours...some people like to rehab cars or other hobbies. I like to go to school."

So much so that Gomez went back for another master's degree in 2004, this time in agriculture. "It was pure intellectual curiosity. I've always been interested in agriculture and its role in society-especially in the underdeveloped world. It's a terribly important topic."

Gomez and his family have always taken education seriously. "My wife has a degree in accounting; my children have doctorates. But I think we also appreciate education for its own sake. It helps us live a more enriched life. Sometimes my wife jokes that I actually have two wives--her and the U...but she understands. And she's just kidding. Mostly," he says, tongue in cheek.

Doing what makes him happy

At age 61, Gomez has no plans to slow down.

"I love traveling and learning, and plan on doing both for as long as I can. This year I'll see Montreal, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia... As far as school...well, I've started work on a law degree, which I hope to finish in a couple of years. I'm not planning on practicing, necessarily--but I think as a business owner, it's a good thing to have a handle on."

Gomez credits one of his instructors, Professor Art Harkins, as an inspiration. "I've no desire to 'retire,'" says Gomez. "Professor Harkins is definitely a role model in that regard--he is always looking ahead and planning. He looks to the future like it's going to last forever; I think that might be the key to making it happen. Just keep moving forward."

With the law degree "only" two years away, what else does the future hold for Gomez? "I have probably 20 things running through my head at all times that I want to do. I know I want to spend some time in Latin America working with underprivileged kids--I think I have a lot to offer and would love to be able to give back to the community. And of course I'll take more classes," he says.

Jose Gomez is not one to brag about his accomplishments. But even if he is a bit reticent about his achievements, he will readily and enthusiastically share the secret to those successes.

"Really, I believe people should do what makes them happy in life," he says. "People should be happy...and that's what I strive for. And when I look back on my life, there is no one more happy than I."