Dean of natural sciences' career dedicated to psychology research with culturally diverse populations, expanding access to education
Editor’s note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.
When Nancy Gonzales graduated high school in Miami, Arizona, she was awarded an Arizona Board of Regents scholarship, which at the time was given to the top 1% of students in the state to attend any of the three state universities. There was never really any question that she would choose Arizona State University.
“My father was a huge Sun Devil supporter and football season ticket holder for as long as I can remember. This created a strong connection to the university that influenced my decision to attend ASU and become the first in my family to earn a college degree,” she said.
That decision launched a 25-year award-winning career in psychology with a focus on research and outreach to communities often underrepresented in higher education in the United States. Today, Gonzales is being named ASU’s next executive vice president and university provost.
“As an undergraduate student at ASU I became engaged with outstanding, forward-thinking faculty members and research teams pursuing big ideas in the psychology department that were early exemplars of ASU’s community-embedded, use-inspired research,” said Gonzales. “Since I returned to ASU, it has been exciting to participate in the bold transformation of ASU as the New American University and to see our mission expand beyond anything we had imagined before.”
Her appointment is subject to approval by the Arizona Board of Regents. She will serve as provost pro tem and work with current Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle until June 30, 2021, when he steps down and moves into the role of University Professor. Gonzales will start her official term as executive vice president and university provost on July 1.
Gonzales will be responsible for the Academic Enterprise of ASU and will lead a complex organization that provides a multitude of opportunities and challenges to ensure the university continues progress toward its charter and goals. She will engage in all aspects of the day-to-day operations of the university as well as developing and supporting long-term strategic initiatives to drive student and faculty success. Her duties also will include advancing academic excellence through the faculty recruitment, retention and renewal processes, and growing the quality, scope and scale of both campus immersion and online programs.
“Nancy is a highly credentialed, well-respected leader among her peers who is a natural fit to be our next executive vice president and university provost,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “As a first-generation college graduate, she is representative of so many of the students we currently serve and strive to serve more of. Her background and expertise will undoubtedly help the university advance its mission to be of the greatest public service to the citizens of Arizona that we can be.”
Gonzales said she considers herself the product of the right combination of opportunities, stemming from a strong family and a community with a focus on maintaining cultural strengths and being afforded a quality education despite limited financial resources.
“Part of what I hope to do is provide those conditions for success to more students ,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a big mystery as to what individuals need to thrive in life. But we need to find flexible ways to provide those opportunities for more of our students, and at times in life when they can benefit most. I am inspired by ASU’s charter that prioritizes access and inclusion, and our commitment to universal learning as a means to achieving these goals.”
Gonzales received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from ASU, then left Arizona to pursue her master’s degree and PhD in psychology from the University of Washington. She also completed an internship in clinical psychology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. She came back to ASU in 1992 as an assistant professor in psychology and moved up through both the academic and administrative ranks, most recently serving as dean of natural sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is also a Foundation Professor of psychology and co-director of the REACH Institute at ASU.
While at the University of Washington, she found a mentor in Ana Mari Cauce, then a professor of psychology and now president of the university. Cauce also served as provost and executive vice president.
Cauce’s focus on diverse populations — she is trained in community psychology focused on community change — was what Gonzales wanted to pursue in her career.
“I gravitated to Ana Mari because of her approach to research and her focus on underrepresented populations,” Gonzales said. “Thirty years ago, our knowledge of psychology was derived almost entirely from white middle-class populations. In fact, too much of our research in psychology has been based on WEIRD populations — Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — that ultimately limits our understanding of the human condition and ultimately leads to damaging assumptions and social policies.”
Cauce said she can’t think of anyone better suited for this position at ASU — an excellent public research university that is so dedicated to, and successful at, increasing access to higher education for all.
“Her own journey is proof positive of the transformative power of higher education,” said Cauce. “The depth of her intelligence, curiosity, creativity and compassion, as well as sheer grit and determination, was evident from the moment we met. Serious, but with a wonderful sense of humor, she very quickly became a leader in the lab, dedicated to bringing out the best in others. She has an uncanny ability to read people and situations and adapt her leadership style accordingly. ASU and all of higher education will be better off with her in this position. I have no doubt that her impact will be broad and lasting.”
Gonzales has been active in developmental and clinical research with culturally diverse populations for more than 25 years, with continuous National Institutes of Health funding as a principal investigator on grants since 2001. Gonzales has published her research in top journals in her field.
Her research on mental health and substance use problems has focused on culturally informed etiological pathways for Latino and other minority adolescents and young adults, including identification of health-compromising and health-promoting influences in the lives of the youths. Her work has particularly focused on the role of family and cultural strengths within immigrant and other minoritized populations that facilitate positive adaptation and educational success. Her research also includes development, implementation and dissemination of culturally informed interventions to prevent mental health and substance abuse problems and to promote college degree attainment in low-income communities.
Gonzales’ research is housed with the REACH Institute at ASU, a center of excellence that is dedicated to the dissemination of evidence-based prevention programs and practices. Funded by several federal agencies and foundations, the center has generated more than $88 million in the past 20 years to support research and implementation of programs nationally and internationally.
As dean of natural sciences, Gonzales oversees six interdisciplinary schools and departments at ASU: the School of Earth and Space Exploration, School of Life Sciences, School of Molecular Sciences, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the Department of Psychology, and the Department of Physics. In this role she has been particularly dedicated to the pursuit of inclusive excellence in the sciences.
In addition to her leadership at ASU, Gonzales has consulted with several organizations on issues of equity and inclusion, including the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Developing Indicators of Educational Equity; the National Institute of Mental Health; the National Association of Latino Elected Officials; and as a member of the board of trustees for the William T. Grant Foundation. She also serves on numerous professional boards, review panels and mentoring programs to advance the careers of students and early career faculty in the sciences. Gonzales has received numerous honors and awards including Fellow status in the American Psychological Association, the Advances in Culture and Diversity in Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Research, the Eugene Garcia Award for Outstanding Latino/a Faculty Research in Higher Education from the Victoria Foundation, and the ASU Alumni Association Founders Day Faculty Research Achievement Award (watch her story below).
Video by ASU
Top photo: Nancy Gonzales, pictured at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU