Whenever there's a lull on the Texas House floor, state Rep. Mary González immediately pulls out her textbooks to cram in some last-minute studying. Just like any other UT student, she has finals coming up, but unlike most other lawmakers, she is about to finish her Ph.D during the waning days of the legislative session.
For the last several years, while rushing to get her bills passed, González has also been working to get her Ph.D in curriculum and instruction — cultural studies in education. She started the program more than seven years ago with the hope of becoming a professor. At the time, she wanted to teach and work toward improving equality in education among minorities. That was before she was first elected to the Texas House in 2012.
“It has been the hardest thing I've ever done. I mean the most gratifying thing, and I think a lot of people of would have quit,” said González, a Democrat from Clint. “But, I kept working on it because being an academic is an important part of who I am not just being a state representative. I love being a state representative. But it's one part of me, and the other part of me as being an academic.”
Education professor Betty Jeanne Taylor helped supervise González’s Ph.D program and said she is constantly inspired by González’s determination and ability to connect her two fields.
“She's uniquely skilled in both of those arenas,” Taylor said. “To bridge those, it's tremendous. She has done that seamlessly and skillfully, and speaks to how she gets everything. She really does things at this level that you is almost beyond comprehension.”
González graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and Mexican-American studies in 2007. She chose to attend UT because she wanted to work at the Capitol and better the world, but after working with three members, she said she “hated politics.”
“I went to my adviser, and ‘I'm lost,’” González said. “So, she's like, ‘what in the world do you want to change, and how do you create that change.’ I said ‘Ok, I want work on social justice where I want to challenge racism and sexism and anti-Semitism and classism and able-ism and all of the -isms. I thought about a way to work on those issues and question discrimination, and the way to start is education.”
She then attended St. Edward’s University where she got a master’s in social justice, but despite her dislike for politics, González said she eventually realized it was the best way to work toward her goals.
Even when she left politics, she still advocated for more funding for education in the state and was among those protesting state budget cuts in 2011. She won her first election to the Texas House in 2012 while still in her 20s.
González said her time in higher education has informed much of her work as a state lawmaker. She protested the passage of tuition deregulation in 2003, an act many believe contributes to the rising costs of public higher education in the state, and filed a bill earlier this session to reinstate it.
“It has completely shaped how I do this work,” González said. “There's not a break between Mary the academic and Mary the legislator. These things inform each other. They're tangled and woven together.”