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Gonzalez Receives Chancellor’s Creating Community Award

Maru Gonzalez, an assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences, was recently awarded the Chancellor’s Creating Community Award for Outstanding Faculty for her commitment to the advancement of diversity and inclusion at NC State University and the community through research, teaching, service and collaborative partnerships. The Chancellor’s Creating Community Awards recognizes outstanding faculty, staff, colleges, units, students and student organizations that have made exceptional efforts and contributions in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion. Her work is guided by a strong commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, which informs her research, teaching, Extension work, and service to the university.

Gonzalez’s research interests include belonging, storytelling for social change, and youth development, particularly the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth in various contexts. As a community-engaged scholar, Gonzalez’s research has influenced her Extension work, specifically within 4-H. For example, her study on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of 4-H professionals in relation to LGBTQ+ youth in North Carolina informed the development of professional development workshops and resources for 4-H staff across the United States, including Puerto Rico.

Dr. Gonzalez along with Outstanding Student Award winner, Irene Nazario and Alumni Legacy Award winner, Lyndenise Berdecia Rivera

Gonzalez’s expertise in LGBTQ+ youth belonging has made her a sought-after collaborator, and she has presented her research across Latin America to foster safer and more affirming schools. She has also developed a bilingual resource for caregivers of Latinx LGBTQ+ youth, which has been distributed to Extension centers across North Carolina and beyond. 

Gonzalez has made significant contributions to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in youth-serving organizations, including 4-H, through her Critical Positive Youth Development framework. She is also the co-director of a multimedia program called #PassTheMicYouth (#PTMY), which includes a podcast and blog aimed at amplifying the social justice contributions of young people and developing resources for educators and youth-serving professionals, most recently a 20-lesson Amplifying Youth Voices curriculum. The #PassTheMicYouth program, which includes an annual Pass the Mic Camp for aspiring change makers, has also helped launch seven youth-led, social justice themed podcasts. Most recently, Gonzalez led #PassTheMicYouth and community partners in organizing a TEDxYouth event under the theme of “Inspiring Change.” 

In her role as a scholar, teacher, and Extension specialist, Gonzalez has developed several courses related to advancing social justice and redesigned all her courses to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is a recipient of the CALS Outstanding Graduate Instructor Award and is a sought-after guest lecturer on DEI-related topics. Dr. Gonzalez is also a DEI leader within Extension, serving as Co-PI for the Empowering Youth and Families Program, an opioid prevention education program in rural North Carolina and Tennessee. Gonzalez has facilitated over 40 DEI-related trainings for Extension professionals and community members and has trained all North Carolina 4-H professionals and camp staff on effective practices for supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Further, Gonzalez has co-authored a national 4-H social justice youth development curriculum, published numerous DEI-related factsheets and practitioner resources, and is currently leading a grant-funded Race Conscious Parenting program to provide caregivers and Extension agents with tools to talk to youth about race and racism, nurture self-love, and address systemic barriers.  

Dr. Corey Johnson, Kim Eshleman, Dr. Anneliese Singh, Dr. Maru Gonzalez, LaTosha Y. Bradley, JD and Dr. Annie Hardison-Moody
Corey Johnson, Kim Eshleman, Anneliese Singh, Maru Gonzalez, LaTosha Y. Bradley, JD and Annie Hardison-Moody at Dr. Singh’s Racial Healing workshop

The whole of Gonzalez’s work is focused on advancing DEI efforts that reverberate beyond the Ivory Tower and have a meaningful impact across NC State’s campus and the broader community. Gonzalez led the creation of a Candidate Evaluation Tool, adopted for use across the College, to mitigate bias and improve transparency in faculty hiring. She is an active member of the CALS Office of Diversity and Inclusion, chairs the College’s strategic equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging and well-being task force, and co-chairs her department’s Justice, Equity, and Belonging Committee. She also chaired her Department’s Racial Justice Committee for Extension, which ultimately led to the creation of a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Team within Extension.

In sum, Gonzalez’s record of DEI-related community engagement, scholarship, and service is significant and wide-reaching; her passion and commitment to social justice are infectious and transformative; and her egalitarian approach to leadership ensures that all members of the community have a seat at the table and that their voices are heard and valued. Gonzalez states “When it comes to effectively advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, collaboration is paramount. I am indebted to every student, colleague, and community member who actively contributes to this important and necessary work — this award is just as much theirs as it is mine. And I am eternally grateful to work within a department and among colleagues who are deeply committed to centering equity and building belonging on campus and beyond.”