The Unicorn of College Professors

Demitri Matenopoulos

Dr. Bryan Pearce-Gonzales, professor of Hispanic studies and chair of the languages and cultural studies department at Shenandoah University (SU), didn’t take the traditional path to become a 16-year professor. 

Growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, with his biracial and bicultural family, he was labeled at a young age as the smart kid in his big family. His family members are natives to Corpus Christi dating back to when Texas was still a part of Mexico. Accepting the title of smart kid in his family, Pearce-Gonzales went on to skip second grade and excel at almost every aspect of school.

“Academics came very easily to me,” he said

Fast forward to high school and Pearce-Gonzales started to show interest in art and music. He and his parents saw him becoming an artist after high school as this was where most of his focus was drawn in his high-school years. That is, until senior year when he had a Spanish class with a teacher he had never met before from Spain. 

“She became like a second mom to me … I loved her to death,” said Pearce-Gonzales. He would often stay after class and school to talk to her in Spanish and tried to make her laugh every day. “She inspired me to further my studies in Spanish,“ he said.

So when he graduated high school in 1995, he was told by his aunt who was an English teacher that he should get his doctorate so that he could teach Spanish in college and not high school, as this would be a much more enjoyable teaching experience for him. Taking his aunt’s advice, he and his best friend set out to find where they would be going to school for the next chapter of their lives. Their college search ended with both enrolling at Radford University. 

“I met the chair of the language department and I fell in love with the place,” said Pearce-Gonzales.

After receiving his undergraduate degree at Radford, one of his professors who got her doctorate from the University of Kentucky advised him to apply to grad school at the University of Kentucky. This is exactly what he did and was accepted. “Financially and geographically, Kentucky made the most sense for me,” said Pearce-Gonzales. At the University of Kentucky, he taught two classes a semester and even received a teaching award from the university. He ended up graduating with his doctorate in Hispanic studies with a concentration in 20th-century Latin American literature.

 “I’m so grateful for the degree that I got at the University of Kentucky because it allowed me to not only teach Spanish but Latin American history and English as well,” he said.

His job at Shenandoah University in the fall of 2005, and was his first job after grad school. 

“He’s a great colleague but an even better friend,” said Gina Daddario, chair of the Media and Communications Department at Shenandoah University. Pearce-Gonzales considers himself a unicorn in his field because not a lot of people who have taken a job right after grad school end up staying at the job for 16 years. Since then, Pearce-Gonzales has revitalized the modern Spanish class into interactive and group-oriented classes that center around the interests of the students. 

“I try to put myself in my students’ shoes to figure out what they would want to talk about most in my classes,“ he said. “I’m always researching new material in my free time to keep my classes fun.” 

With his comical and laid-back personality, he said a lot of his students find him more like a family member and a friend rather than a traditional professor. “I don’t come to class dressed up in an expensive suit. I wear what I wear at home: Vans and a crazy short-sleeve button-up shirt.”

 Throughout his years at Shenandoah, he has won a handful of awards for his service, but most important of all, in 2013, he won the Excellence in Teaching Award, which is awarded to one professor at SU every year. 

“I fell into this life, I didn’t design to go to college or to get my Ph.D. or to become a teacher, and getting that award made me realize this is where I should be and this is what I should be doing with my life,” he said.

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