Adan Gonzalez (C'15) holds up his daughter on the podium of a conference room at the U.S. Dept. of Education.
Category: Alumni

Title: This Alumnus Landed a White House Fellowship. But That’s Not the Story He Wants To Tell.

Last August, Adan Gonzalez (C’15) was holding his three-day-old daughter when he got a call from the White House.

He had been appointed a White House Fellow, a high-profile fellowship for emerging leaders to work at the top level of the government. A former national boxing champion at Georgetown, Gonzalez got the same rush he used to experience before stepping into the ring. Pure adrenaline.

“I felt ready,” he said.

One year later, Gonzalez is wrapping up his fellowship, where he’s worked for the Office of the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education. He’s worked alongside senior U.S. government officials on international and domestic policy trips. He’s created a stream of pop-up events around the country to invite parents to play an active role in education. And he’s eager to return to his hometown of Oak Cliff, a largely Hispanic neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, to share his learnings with his community.

“As a brown Mexican American kid in South Oak Cliff, I could never have imagined this experience,” he said. “All I can do is make sure I replicate those same opportunities for generations to come.”

Gonzalez’s mission and mindset are crystal clear — and they haven’t wavered since he stepped foot on the Hilltop 12 years ago.

A Rosary, Trash Bags and Hope

In 2011, Gonzalez arrived at Georgetown for the Community Scholars’ summer program, which helps first-generation college students transition to college.  

Gonzalez carried a few dollar bills, a rosary and trash bags stuffed with his clothes — make-shift storage he found after he couldn’t afford the baggage fee on his flight.

Gonzalez remembers looking up at Healy Hall and closing his eyes.

“I asked God to let me make it, so that one day I could be able to help others,” he said.

Gonzalez followed through on his ask. His sophomore year, he organized a luggage drive in his hometown so that underprivileged college-bound students wouldn’t face the same obstacle he did. And as he took courses in government and education in the College of Arts & Sciences, he gained a clearer view of his own upbringing and how he could shape the future.

“For me, the opportunity to obtain an education allowed me to spend time learning,” he said. “I learned about the past, about systems in place. I learned about the present, about struggles greater than my own. And I learned about shaping the future, about thinking critically and developing solutions.

“I was determined to share what I was learning with others to empower my neighborhood to become a place where people wanted to live, one family at a time.”

A group of Puede Network Scholars play soccer with Gonzalez (center) at Georgetown in 2023 during a trip to visit him in the White House.
A group of students from the nonprofit Gonzalez founded play soccer with him (center) at Georgetown in 2023 during a trip to visit him in the White House.

Backyard Tutoring

Gonzalez grew up in a one-room apartment he shared with six other family members. He remembers gang fights outside their apartment that often broke the windows and broke up their kickball games.

He watched his parents, who immigrated from Mexico, work long hours for little pay and hustle for bread and milk. Gonzalez himself sold snacks at a local flea market to buy his school uniforms.

In high school, Gonzalez realized education offered a way to better his and his relatives’ lives. He applied to Georgetown and to national scholarships on the curb of a McDonald’s with a borrowed laptop. His senior year, he was elected class president and graduated salutatorian. He received one million dollars worth of scholarships.

At Georgetown, Gonzalez kept moving forward, but he always looked back at the community he grew up with, keenly aware of the support, sacrifices and people who got him to where he was.

“I had no clue what the difference between a BA and a BS was, but I did know that I came representing incredibly talented, smart and resourceful people. People who never had a fair shot at fulfilling their dreams,” he said.

His sophomore year, Gonzalez created the Puede Network, an organization to mentor students and break cycles of under-education. He began tutoring students in his backyard and living room in Texas.

“I’ve learned that with the opportunities I receive, I’m able to create more opportunities for others. That was the whole point of the Puede Network,” he said in a 2013 Georgetown article of his organization. “I’m no longer this poor kid with dreams. I’m a Georgetown student with goals.”

Adan Gonzalez wears a Georgetown sweatshirt and smiles with a city skyline behind him.

Harvard to the White House

Gonzalez, on his graduation day from the Georgetown College of Arts & Sciences in May 2015, dressed in a graduation gown holds his hands up cheering.
Gonzalez on his graduation day from the Georgetown College of Arts & Sciences in May 2015.

At Georgetown, Gonzalez was part of the Community Scholars Program and Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP), helped establish and grow the boxing club and worked steady roles work-study roles at the university. After receiving free bedding upon arriving on campus through his GSP mentor, Gonzalez advocated for GSP to expand the program to provide other students with the resource. Now, GSP scholars can choose from a variety of bedding choices, styles and packages when they arrive. 

“At Georgetown, the values that it formed and the foundation [it laid] kept my work grounded,” he said. “It keeps all of us humble in understanding that we’re men and women for others.”

Gonzalez went on to intern at the White House during the Obama Administration. He graduated in 2015 with a major in government and minor in education, inquiry and justice, and kept his eye on education. He returned to his own grade school to teach math and social studies to third graders.

And he kept learning himself, earning a master’s in education policy and management from Harvard University and a master’s in education leadership from Columbia University. All the while, Gonzalez continued to grow the Puede Network, which he turned into a youth empowerment nonprofit.

Gonzalez has since expanded the nonprofit to reach more than 20,000 underserved minority students, providing them with academic and socio-emotional support, nutritional, athletic and community service opportunities and leadership training. Puede Network also offers a year-round scholars program that, like Gonzalez learned first-hand, helps participants become community leaders and “earn their freedom.” 

Puede Network now has a recreation center. One day, Gonzalez hopes to open a school.  

“We do this because it is a necessity,” Gonzalez says of the nonprofit. “Our friends and neighbors desire a better life and have limited opportunities to obtain it.”

Scott Fleming (SFS’72), who recently retired as associate vice president for federal relations at Georgetown, has mentored Gonzelez and wrote his recommendation letter for the White House Fellowship. He said he’s seen Gonzalez grow “tremendously” since he first met him.

“He has remained intently focused on using his education and experience to create opportunities for young people who face many of the challenges he faced growing up in Oak Cliff,” Fleming said. “I know in the years ahead he will remain focused and take every opportunity to maximize his ability to make a difference.”

Coming Home

Gonzalez was drawn to the White House Fellowship to bolster his personal and professional development and gain exposure to how systems at the highest level of government work. He was joined by fellow Georgetown alumnus William Jones (G’22). 

“I knew I had to step away for this year to continue growing and learning to become a better leader for my scholars back home,” he said.

During his fellowship, Gonzalez created Parent Empowerment Pop-Ups to help further the U.S. Department of Education’s “Raise the Bar” national strategy, an initiative to transform Pre-K through high school education to advance equity and academic excellence.

Gonzalez (center) at a Parent Empowerment Pop-Up he hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2023.
Gonzalez (center) at a Parent Empowerment Pop-Up he hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2023.

He traveled to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe’s reservation in Idaho, listening to parents who advocated for a curriculum that embeds their native language and traditions. He met with fathers in downtown Atlanta who wanted to prioritize a safe learning environment for their children and transparent dialogue between parents and school leaders. And he traveled to five other states to foster similar conversations. 

“I wanted to welcome those who feel most disenfranchised to share their perspectives by removing barriers to participation,” he said. “I wanted to prove that walking alongside the stakeholders and community organizations that nurture students daily is the best way to multiply impact. I wanted to make my family and community proud.”

In August, Gonzalez will return to Dallas with his same clear-cut mission. Knowing that this fellowship was never about him.

“Right now, I have the chance and the platform to share my story, and it’s a combination of so many people who helped me get here,” he said. “But I’m also doing it to make sure that I’m not the last one. That’s my responsibility: To make sure that the generations that we’re building are better than us. That’s success. That’s sustainability. That’s the Jesuit identity.

“What matters is that people when read this, they don’t just think, ‘Oh great, another Georgetown success.’ It’s more about what are we doing more to make sure that I’m not the last story? That matters to me.”

“What are we doing more to make sure that I’m not the last story? That matters to me.”

Adan Gonzalez