For the Love of Language: How a USU Employee Makes Meaning out of Words

September 15, 2023

By: Riley Sullivan

Language is a way of communicating, whether it be verbal, physical, written or any other form. Once a man versed in the language of Information Technology (IT), Tomas Gonzalez has switched gears to broaden his love of communicating both locally and abroad.

Courtesy of Tomas Gonzalez

Gonzalez, a senior creative writing student at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), works as a student copywriter for the University Student Union (USU). In that role, he creates the messages used on print and digital advertisements for USU events and services. Those quips about a Pride Center event or motivational statements for an SRC workout challenge come from the mind of Gonzalez.

“In my time here, I’ve come to learn a lot about working in marketing and at an agency,” said Gonzalez, “It’s work that I find really rewarding and really inspiring in a lot of ways.”

Gonzalez, a wordsmith, also works as a publisher for the Northridge Review, the literary magazine produced by CSUN’s creative writing program.

 As one of its publishers, Gonzalez is responsible for taking pieces of writing from other students and compiling them into a well-crafted and professional magazine. He considers himself a “caretaker” of other peoples’ work and said he takes great pride in making sure each writer is able to share their art’s message as intended. It is a skill that proved especially useful during his internship.

Gonzalez recently completed a summer internship at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) where he and a team of seven others worked in what is known as digital humanities. As part of that team, they read decades-old letters by Quakers from Ireland and analyzed the communication. Gonzalez and his coworkers transcribed, researched, and conducted active data correcting to make sure all of the messages were communicated accurately.

We’re using modern technology to look at this cache of documents to find connections between their world and ours,” Gonzalez said.

These archived letters are stored in the “special collections” section of UCSB’s library. The team physically handled the documents which provided them with more insight into past ways of communicating, down to the way specific folds in the paper were used as a language of its own. Gonzalez and his team even took a field trip to CSUN to learn about its special collections artifacts.

While he spends most of his time on or around college campuses, that has not always been the case for Gonzalez. His experience in the higher education system tells a different story.

Gonzalez started his college journey at a community college in Merced, but with no clear path in mind, he stepped away from school and focused on work. Over the course of five years, he attended three community colleges, and eventually quit school to focus on a full-time career in IT. Nearly a decade after he last stepped inside of a classroom, Gonzalez had an epiphany about returning to school.

“I’m at home, I’m working, but I feel like I’m not producing anything that’s meaningful,” he said. “I just went for it and there was the first time I could see a clear path.”

He enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) and said he found the motivation he needed to fully commit. After spending a few years at LAVC, Gonzalez earned his associate’s degree, an accomplishment that he said is one of the greatest of his life. He then transferred to CSUN where he expects to earn his bachelor’s degree next spring.

As Gonzalez approaches his final year as an undergraduate at CSUN, he reflects on his hopes for the future, both immediate and over the next few years. Working for the USU, this will be his second year as a student copywriter for the marketing department. As a returning employee, Gonzalez said he aims to help incoming colleagues refine their writing craft.

“I really learned that you can help people grow into their work without telling them to change their voice. I feel like that’s probably the most damaging thing you can do to any young writer or really any young creative person,” Gonzalez said.

Looking beyond graduation, Gonzalez has his heart set on working and living overseas. He minors in Japanese—which he hopes to explore further through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program. The program sponsors people from the U.S. to live in Japan and teach children English. Only about a quarter of those who apply are accepted each year.

Until then, Gonzalez remains dedicated to school, work and his hobbies. Whether he is biking around Santa Barbara, working on his car, reading a novel or adding to his vinyl record collection, Gonzalez said he is happiest when busy.

“If you keep yourself busy, you’ll be pretty happy. If you’re busy doing the things you’re interested in, especially the things you love, time flies by like you wouldn’t even imagine,” Gonzalez said.