“Tomorrow is never granted, but how do we continue to use our difference to make a difference?”

That’s the question and guiding principle that epitomizes José González’s life philosophy. The University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) alum, who goes by the nickname “EZ,” sees every obstacle as an opportunity for personal and collective growth.

There is richness, José explains, in being able to expand the horizon for others. As an associate vice president for Fortune 500 retailer Best Buy, José commits as much time to his employees’ development as he does on the customer experience. He’s always looking for ways to be a mentor and emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding in a nurturing and inclusive work environment. Through various employee resource groups and development programs, José wants others to see the importance of routinely being curious, “slowing down” and listening to others, without jumping to conclusions or making assumptions.

“I just have a passion for serving, helping, enabling learning, innovating, and problem solving,” José says.

His role challenges him to look for paths of innovative continuous improvement, and currently, one of his favorite exercises to conduct with his team is dubbed “Psychological Safety,” which is largely about finding a safe space for everyone.

“Without spending intentional time understand everyone’s journey, life experiences, cultures, and beliefs, you can’t really create a safe space for others to thrive,” José explains, adding that once people begin to understand the experiences and stories of others, they can begin to remove their biases.

“When you create that environment for others, I always get blown away by how much more interconnected teams, and people, become. Because it builds trust, it builds understanding, it builds empathy, it creates vulnerability across individuals, and when you get individuals and teams in that type of environment, you can have much more impact on the organization and culture.”

From Struggle to Strength

José knows the value of hard work and patience – two qualities essential for success in college. He began his career as a part-time employee before rising through the ranks to become assistant manager, then district manager, and now associate vice president. Climbing up the career ladder has not only been fulfilling, he says, but it has given him the opportunity to make an impact on people and the organization.

The “climb” is also reflective of his own journey.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, José spent most of his formative years in East Los Angeles, CA. He was raised in a modest household where his parents struggled to support a family of five on a single minimum wage income. Growing up, he says he couldn’t understand why his family had so little and couldn’t afford many things.

As he got older, José started looking at the world another way. Instead of focusing on what he lacked, he started focusing on what he could contribute. He thought about what his strengths were, not his weaknesses.

“As I grew old enough to understand, it ignited a drive in me that anything was possible with intention, commitment, discipline, and determination,” he explains.

At 16, he began working in retail at Sears, where he quickly found a passion for serving, helping others, and problem-solving.

And he loved a challenge. As a native Spanish speaker, English was not his strong suit, so when he enrolled in East Los Angeles Community College, he joined the speech and debate team to accelerate his understanding of the language, creating a passion for the power of communication. It also strengthened his love of learning.

“Education is something that nobody can take away from you,” José says.

After earning his associate and bachelor’s degrees from local colleges, he started looking for a graduate program that would elevate his position in the retail industry. With each promotion, José was finding opportunities to improve the culture of his company and build positive relationships with colleagues and direct reports, and he knew a master’s degree would be critical to his continued success.

Leadership Beckons

Listening. Team-building. Advocating. These are the hallmarks of great leaders, and as José was rising through the ranks, he was searching for a way to merge his real-life experience with academic lessons in leadership.

That’s when he found UAGC and the Master of Business Administration program from the Forbes School of Business and Technology®. Like other adult learners, José was able to earn his degree while working full time, and even earned a spot in the Golden Key International Honour Society, as well as Sigma Beta Delta.

“I remember growing up dreaming that one day I would eventually complete a master’s program,” he says. “I also wanted my parents to be proud, I owe them everything.”

While at UAGC, José made organizational leadership the focus of his degree program. Those lessons, he explains, would help him understand different team dynamics and the diversity of personalities and backgrounds. Today, he says his degree has not only equipped him to lead teams to success and build something sustainable but has also propelled him to have a stronger mental model for continuous learning both inside and outside of work.

He earned his MBA in 2020, but some of the lessons he learned were not just about business.

Throughout his life, José has grappled with anxiety, depression, bullying, and navigating his identity within the LGBTQ+ community.

Despite these challenges, however, he says he is grateful for all those experiences. His work to control his anxiety and depression led him to his passion for physical activity, his love for the outdoors, visiting national parks, and his practice of Jiu-Jitsu.

José acknowledges that if he can overcome all those obstacles, there is nothing he commits to that he won’t be able to achieve.

Most importantly, he says, all these experiences led him to find his passion for wanting to help others that may be on a similar journey and don’t know where to look.

“I am who I am, and I don’t fit in a specific box,” he says. “I am a better leader and a better human as a result of my education at UAGC.”

A Persisting Passion

There was a time when José didn’t think he would ever fulfill his dream of completing a master's degree, especially while working full time.

Yet today, he is living his dream of being an impactful leader, making a difference in other people’s lives with no signs of slowing down.

In the last two years, José has continued his schooling in strategy and innovation while also working to increase his knowledge to further his commitment to helping others.

Most recently, he has enrolled in a doctoral program at another institution to pursue his passion for service, holistic health, and wellness. In the next year, he hopes to begin his dissertation process and take on a new perspective in education and transformational leadership. He may even pursue a coaching profession.

Although his future is yet to be written, the one thing that will never change for José is his constant pursuit of growth. He is always looking to learn new skills, gain more knowledge, enable representation, and keep making a difference for himself and those around him.

“I am proud that I’ve been able to break through the stigmas, the statistics, the barriers, and the adversity,” he says. “But I know that I haven’t arrived at a destination, and I never will. These are only milestones in the journey. I know my purpose is to serve, to help others, and inspire them to pursue their purpose and potential.”

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Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.

Student success stories should not be interpreted as a promise or guarantee of career advancement or future earnings. The stories shared here represent the outcomes of individual students for illustrative purposes only.

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