In a single week, Gilberto Perez, senior director of intercultural development and educational partnerships, was recognized with two awards.Perez’s work in education and advocacy for the Latino community is the reason he was the recipient of these awards. He began his role with CIIE in 2014, but he’s spent years bringing together diverse people and advocating on behalf of the Latino community in Goshen.
Despite his administration position in CIIE, Perez spends time mentoring students and being a role model for them. He also strives to make connections between people and create bridges.
On Sept. 28, Perez was honored as the Teacher of the Year in the state of Indiana. The award comes from the governor’s office and the Indiana Latino Expo, a nonprofit organization that represents the interests of the Latino community.
Just two days later, Perez received the 2016 Chickadee Bird Award from the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, a youth-led nonprofit group that is working to empower undocumented youth. This award is given to someone that leads with courage and looks for new ways for growth.
“I feel honored for having been selected by these two amazing organizations,” Perez said. “To be recognized for one’s service is humbling.”
Perez said he was “shocked and humbled” to have received these awards, but others were not as surprised.
“I was happy but not entirely surprised that Gilberto won these two awards,” said Richard Aguirre, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, “because he has done a lot – and is doing much more now – to help the Latino community in Elkhart County and across the state.”
Alexa Valdez, a senior social work major, was not surprised that Perez had won the awards either.
“I was very happy when I found out that he won the award,” she said. “But I was not surprised at all. Gilberto is an immensely talented person, and I am glad that others are seeing this in him as well.”
Jose Chiquito Galvan, a first-year environmental science major, echoed those thoughts.
“Really it was no surprise,” he said. “Gilberto is a gifted leader and role model.”
Perez has been a mentor to Chiquito Galvan, providing support and encouragement for him while he looks for ways to integrate more Latinos into places that lack the presence and voice of Latinos.
“When I first met him,” said Chiquito Galvan, “I was truly shocked by the amount of work he does with and for Latinos.”
Valdez has also been impacted greatly by Perez during her time at GC.
“He has always been very supportive and uplifting,” said Valdez. “It has been very important for me to have a Latinx role model and mentor. I am honestly so lucky that I’ve gotten to work with him, as are other students on campus.”
But not everyone is aware of how much work Perez does.
“I wish more students, and especially faculty and staff, were more aware of all of the considerable work that Gilberto is doing to help students and Goshen College,” Aguirre said. “Yet because he isn’t in the classroom or doesn’t have the status of a dean or a vice president, Gilberto hasn’t been given the recognition that he deserves and that’s unfortunate. Maybe these awards will help give Gilberto the credit he deserves for his tireless work for Goshen College, our students and the community.”
But even if he does not get recognition, Perez is ready to keep working. When he accepted the awards, he pointed to the work that is still to be done.
“I encouraged the leaders to continue remembering why they do what they do, to continue hoping for a better community and motivating leaders to action,” he said. “Our future is never certain, but our present action brings about change.”
For Perez, that present action is service.
“Service and volunteering for organizations should be our goal,” he said. “Staying close to groups that change lives and impact our community are things we should strive for. All of us should make it our goal to serve.”