As long as she can remember, Mariah Gonzales has had a passion for reading. Her interest was flamed by an Abiquiu Elementary School librarian who would tip her off to new books and a grandmother who would take her to a bookstore and say, “Pick out three you want.
“Little did I know, later in life how impactful that would be for me,” Mariah said.
As a sophomore at Española Valley High School, Mariah was encouraged to enter the dual credit program at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC). By her junior year, she was taking four to five college-level classes a semester. Attending both schools and the full-time course load demanded sacrifices, including giving up softball. But for Mariah, the trade-off was worth it.
“We all have different things that are important to us, but to me, I really like the environment of the college. I have to keep going there. I have to,” she said of her continued motivation.
Her dedication paid off. In spring of 2019 Mariah earned an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts in addition to her high school diploma. She is also a recipient of a $10,000 John & Marti Browne Endowed Leadership Scholarship from the LANL Foundation and Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund that will support her in the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in English at Northern Arizona University this fall.
“Getting an education has always been my priority and my goal. I’m blessed that this scholarship has happened, because it means I don’t have to take out a loan.”
Strong women mentors
Mariah was raised by her single mother and her grandparents, who always supported her dreams.
She credits the encouragement of many extraordinary women with her own determination to succeed.
“I have so many amazing influences in my life that are women. I’ve never felt that I was held back because I’m a girl, or even underestimated,” Mariah said. “If I got a crazy idea in my head, they were like, ‘It’s going to be hard.’ But never did they say, you’re not going to be able to do that,” she added of her relationship with her mother and grandmother.
At NNMC, Mariah found a mentor in Patricia Trujillo, Director of Equity and Diversity, who taught Mariah’s favorite course—children’s literature. “She’s just such an amazing lady. She’s super smart and someone to look up to. She’s a role model for me,” Mariah said.
Lupita Salazar, program coordinator at the Northern Youth Project in Abiquiú, N.M., has been another major influence. Mariah spent the last three years as an intern at NYP, a program focused on developing skills that foster health, academic performance and personal investment in community and the environment. She worked collaboratively with others to cultivate the community garden, take part in creative projects, and develop leaderships skills through activities that honor the rich history and look to the future in rural Northern New Mexico.
Mariah is inspired by the program’s mission and by Salazar’s commitment to local children.
“Lupita decided that while she loves to dance and do theater, her biggest goal in life is to impact the youth. She wants them to know that they can go out and change the world.”
Mariah has always had a desire “to help the world in some way, even if you’re just doing something small like feeding the homeless every Sunday.” Observing Salazar’s dedication to young people, meeting other NYP interns who lacked support and encouragement, and learning about children in other countries who face even greater challenges converged to shape Mariah’s career goal: teaching children in foreign countries with few educational opportunities.
Striving for excellence
The John & Marti Browne Endowed Leadership Scholarship supports students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and achievements in their home, school, or community. Mariah exhibits those qualities in abundance. She has a remarkable ability to find the positive in any situation, do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal and face every challenge head on.
Mariah’s mother was very ill and frequently hospitalized for several years. Although the situation was stressful, Mariah would not allow it to hold her back. “I would see my mom struggling, and I knew that she was tired and sick. And when I came home, I couldn’t really ask her for help, because she had been working all day, so it’s not fair to her,” Mariah said. “In school, it just made me try harder and harder, so now I feel like I’ve just always taken care of things on my own.”
Another challenge and opportunity came when an essay Mariah submitted earned her a place on Jemez Electric Co-op’s Jemez Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. Initially, she was “super scared” because it was her first time traveling anywhere, without family, and on an airplane. The trip became a life-changing experience.
“After I came back, I felt like a different person,” Mariah said. Before the tour, she was not sure she could follow through on her desire to attend an out-of-state college. But, she returned confident she could do it.
Mariah’s leadership skills are also evident in her determination to be a good role model for her 13-year-old sister Alyanna and for younger interns at the Northern Youth Project. She sits on the NYP council and helps raise money by giving speeches and garden tours to donors. Mariah’s eagerness to credit those who have helped her is reflected in her leadership philosophy.
“Being a leader to me means not just being the person who takes credit for success or talks about themselves. It’s acknowledging that every success is thanks to everyone. It’s not just yours.”
Integrating her passions
Pursuing a degree in English seemed like the perfect match for Mariah’s passion for reading, her desire to help others, and an innate desire to travel. Northern Arizona University met one of her nonnegotiable requirements: a study abroad program. Mariah plans to teach English in other countries when she graduates, with a focus on working with underserved children.
“I think there are so many people out there who don’t have access to any kind of education, or it’s forbidden for them,” she said.
Before heading off to college, Mariah has accepted a summer internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, joining a student cohort in the Environmental Protection Division. She is eager to participate in field research and expand her writing skills by helping to write a lab report at the end of the session.