Purdue Calumet helped Munster graduate realize his potential

– By his own admission, Jose Gutierrez underachieved and lacked motivation in high school.

An average student at Munster High, he waited to apply to college until nearly the 11th hour, eventually gaining acceptance to Purdue University Calumet for the fall 2006 semester.

“I was young, naïve and somewhat procrastinating,” he said. “My father is an immigrant and never went to college; it took my mother, who is a schoolteacher, 10 years to earn her degree by taking one or two classes at a time while raising my four brothers and me. The whole college application process was a little unnerving, and I did not want to attend a campus that was overwhelming, so that’s why I came here.”

As a Purdue Calumet freshman, he enrolled in a political science class that piqued his interest. His placement in a lower level, freshman English Composition class also provided a valuable wake-up call that he was capable of doing better.

Fast forward to Spring 2011. The 22-year-old Gutierrez is preparing to graduate with a double major in political science and Spanish, a minor in philosophy and a grade point average that far exceeds what he achieved in high school. He has made the Dean’s List every semester, and he was recognized this spring as outstanding senior student in two academic departments: History & Political Science and Foreign Languages & Literatures.

After he graduates, he plans to attend graduate school and study international relations in preparation for a career as a diplomat with a Latin American nation. Prior to that, he wants to work on President Obama’s re-election campaign.

But before pursuing either, he has a 1:30 p.m., Sunday (5/22) date to deliver the Student Response during the first of two Purdue Calumet Commencement Exercises that day at the Radisson Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville. More than 800 candidates are eligible to participate in the two programs.

“I think something that has motivated me in college,” Gutierrez said, “was the fact that my mother was able to go to school while raising five boys, and my father risked everything to come to this country for better opportunities. I felt that, in a way, I was indebted to them for everything they worked hard to achieve.”

Then when a classmate gave him a ticket to the 2007 Barrack Obama presidential rally in nearby Gary, Gutierrez said attending the event was a life-changing experience for him.

“His (Obama’s) message was geared to people of my generation and what we could do to help society,” Gutierrez said. “That really motivated me.”

Fueled by a fresh vigor of academic purpose, Gutierrez studied abroad trip in Spain and eventually came to serve as president of Purdue Calumet’s political science honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha. Like most Purdue Calumet students, Gutierrez has managed to achieve in the classroom while managing job responsibilities.

“While working full time, Jose views his coursework as a top priority,” Purdue Calumet Associate Professor of Political Science Meg Rincker said, “and this is reflected in his strong analytical ability and outstanding academic record at Purdue Calumet. I am confident that he has a brilliant future.”

At Commencement, Gutierrez will have a cheering section of family members, including his mother; four brothers; father, who became an American citizen earlier this month; and grandfather from Mexico.

The soon-to-be Purdue graduate calls the faculty-student relationship at Purdue Calumet “special.” So is, he adds, Purdue Calumet’s proximity to Chicago and the doors it has opened for him to attend conferences and take advantage of other tracks of learning.

“I believe Purdue Calumet worked for me because I exhausted all the great resources and opportunities it provides, and I surrounded myself with intelligent and engaged classmates, friends and family,” he said. “I guess my message is that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background may be; all that matters is where you are going. At Purdue Calumet, I have been able to realize my potential.”