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First-Gen FAU Graduate Uses Accounting to Pay it Forward

First Generation Johnson Transfer Scholar and Florida Atlantic University (FAU) graduate Christopher Gonzalez believes helping others can make a big difference in someone’s life. After experiencing it firsthand, he was inspired to do the same for others.

Gonzalez grew up in Hialeah, Florida. His parents are Cuban immigrants, and every year during tax season, he joined his mom on outings to their CPA to file taxes.

“The [CPA] was so helpful,” he says. “She spoke fluent Spanish and would talk to us and show us how bills or [anything else] would affect the tax return. It always helped, because I feel like every dollar counted.”

For his family, education was always highly regarded.

“They knew that me getting an education would be very important—like typical parents, they wanted me to be a doctor,” he laughs. “They wanted me to do good in school, and growing up, [they] made sure I was completing my homework and doing well in classes.”

Those CPA meetings, combined with Gonzalez’s affinity for math and numbers, helped him decide what he wanted to do with his life.

“It always piqued my interest, and I felt like I could do this someday to help other families,” he says.

With a goal to pursue accounting, he started his higher education career at Palm Beach State College (PBSC)—partly because he loved Palm Beach County and partly because his father lived in West Palm Beach.

“I fell in love with the area, so I moved to West Palm Beach on my own and enrolled at PBSC,” he says. 

After receiving his associates degree, he transferred to FAU in 2021 with a spot in the accounting scholars program. He was also accepted to the very first cohort of FAUs Johnson Transfer Scholars Program, which aims to improve the retention, matriculation, graduation and career readiness of first-generation transfer students.

Gonzalez says the scholarship enabled him to worry less about finances and focus on his studies.

“The events I went to also got me out of my comfort zone,” he recalls. “At PBSC I would park, go to class, and then get back to my car and leave. I started to enjoy going to these events [at FAU] and hearing other people’s stories.”

Christopher Gonzalez (front row, third from left) with other Florida Atlantic University Johnson Scholars and JSF board members, staff and consultants, during a JSF site visit in March 2023.

He was even invited to attend lunch with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in March 2023, where he was able to share his journey with JSF staff, board members, and consultants.

In addition to easing the financial burden, Gonzalez believes the scholarship program’s mentorship offerings contributed to his success.

When he first began at FAU, he was assigned a mentor, whom he met five times per semester to ensure he was on track with his goals. He also met with the career development team to review his résumé, go over job interview questions, and make sure he was prepared for future career opportunities.

“It was good to know I had someone to reach out to if I had any questions or concerns,” Gonzalez says. “FAU offers a lot of resources, but sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Knowing there was someone specifically assigned to help was great. It felt easy to ask for help—and if [my mentor] couldnt help me, he would connect me with someone or share resources.”

Gonzalez graduated with his bachelor’s in accounting in December 2023. This August, he will begin a fellowship at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the Big Four accounting firms. While at PwC, he’ll be working toward his masters through the DAmore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. 

When he thinks about his future, Gonzalez says he wants to help as many people as possible, especially families and single parents. 

His advice to others who want to chase their dreams? Set a goal and keep moving forward.

“Never give up or fall into the pressures of what a normal college path looks like,” he advises. “It took me six years to get my associates. If you take one step forward, its still one step closer to where you’re meant to go.”