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As the son of Spanish immigrants who didn’t understand the American system of higher education or the processes behind admission, registration and coursework, Manuel Gonzalez ’84 was in need of a mentor when he arrived at Moravian as a freshman in the fall of 1980.
Instead, he found two. Astrid Kromayer and Mary Arenes, professors emeritae of Spanish were waiting with open arms the day he visited Moravian with his mother for the first time.
“Going to college just wasn’t part of my parents’ culture,” remembers Gonzalez. “Astrid and Mary did a wonderful job of taking care of me. They took me under their wing, and made sure to help me and ensure I was on the right track.”
Despite the fact that there was little infrastructure for study-abroad programs in the early ’80s, Gonzalez managed to spend his junior year in Madrid as a student at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, with the help and encouragement of his mentors.
“I had to transfer to Marquette (University) to study in Spain, and then I transferred back.”
All the extra effort was worth it for Gonzalez, who majored in Spanish, minored in French and earned his teaching certification while at Moravian.
“I can see now that my year abroad affected the rest of my life,” he says. “It changed me dramatically and gave me a deeper understanding of the world, critical for working in international education. The seeds were planted by those nurturing professors, and I never realized where it would take me. I think of all the friends, colleagues and former students I know all over the world, and that all started at Moravian.”
Gonzalez continued his education by earning an M.A. in secondary education and Spanish and his doctorate in curriculum and instruction, from Lehigh University, all while working part time at Lehigh County Community College and teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) at Lehigh County Prison in Allentown.
He has been at Northampton Community College (NCC) since 1992, first as the director of adult literacy, which was similar to his prison work. Several years later, he moved into the position that was his first love and where he remains—as director of international education.
“They wanted an international education person who could do grant writing and was bilingual,” he says. “I developed the study abroad program and brought in international students. It’s a different place now,” he adds referring to the growth in the program’s size.
Fifty-two countries are represented by the 150 international students among Northampton’s student body of about 12,000. Gonzalez also is responsible for finding creative and unique ways for these students and faculty to travel and study abroad, sometimes getting contracts with other colleges and universities to make the trips financially possible.
This spring, Gonzalez received the Dr. Werner Kubsch Award given by the organization, Community Colleges for International Development, Inc. The lifetime achievement award recognizes a college educator who has been innovative, forward-thinking, has brought projects to fruition and demonstrated research and scholarship in international education.
During his tenure, he has expanded international exchange and study opportunities including the coordination of exchange programs between NCC and colleges in Russia, Turkey, Denmark and France, among other international initiatives.
Gonzalez lived at home with his family in Bethlehem while a student at Moravian, but he spent most of his time on campus where he was involved in the Spanish Club and the international organization and played clarinet in the band during his first two years. When he returned for his senior year, he student taught and continued to carry a full credit load.
“Moravian really challenged me academically,” he says. “It was a superior education, and I send students there who I know will thrive in its small environment, like I did.”
But it was the interpersonal education that stuck with him and which he tries to emulate in his life and career. “I remember an education professor, John McDermott, who helped me do a summer independent study so I could get certified on time. He didn’t have to do that. It’s so powerful when professors take an interest in you and mentor you. I try to follow that example.”
"I think of all the friends, colleagues and former students I know all over the world, and that all started at Moravian."