Guzmán started his tenure at Herzing University in Sept. 2010, coming to the smaller campus as the youngest and the first Latino university president in the Toledo area after a stint as a vice provost at Bowling Green State University.
“The neat part about it is I’m a Toledo guy,” he said. “Love the area, raising my family here. I don’t want to go anywhere else. The other neat thing is I get to help people from Toledo: my neighbors, my friends, my colleagues and really help develop business.”
Guzmán pointed out that Herzing has the same accreditation as much larger universities, such as BGSU, the University of Toledo, Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan. He has a master’s degree in public administration from BGSU with an emphasis on planning and economic development.
“In my eyes, there’s nothing more beneficial to help economic growth than education, really helping students develop their minds and their skill sets,” he said. “The other neat thing here is we’re a workforce-ready institution. That means students come to us for career-focused education. They come in the door, prepare themselves for employment, then they get out and we try to help them find jobs. So I’m leading a group that’s helping Toledo.”
Herzing is a family-owned company, which Guzmán called “fantastic.” His background includes stints at public, private, two-year and four-year institutions, as well as the for-profit and non-profit sectors. His résumé highlights experience at virtually every college or university in Northwest Ohio: UT, BGSU, Lourdes, Owens Community College, and Tiffin University.
“There is no genre or level of education I haven’t worked in yet,” he noted.
Each institution was in some sort of transition mode when Guzmán worked there. Herzing University is no different, with a current capacity of 500 students. However, the young Latino president is hesitant to move the university forward too quickly.
Herzing focuses on education
“This is nimble. We have the same educational rigor as the University of Toledo. However, we can act with the efficiency and nimbleness of a real business, so we meet the community’s needs,” said Guzmán. “We’ve had businesses and a local governmental institution come to me and say ‘We need this. We’re not getting this with our other local academic institutions.’”
But Guzmán criticized larger institutions of higher learning whose main focus seems to be on how many students can be enrolled and how fast the university can expand. He pointed out that the university already owns a large tract of land surrounding the current site at the intersection of Hill and Reynolds.
“We don’t. We focus on educate,” said the Herzing University president. “Are we doing a good job with what we have? If we are, make it great. Don’t keep expanding until you make what you have great. So we’re building slowly and appropriately.”
The married father of two children stated his familiarity with the community will help the university gear its programs to the needs of local businesses, as well as help adult learners sharpen their skills or head in a new direction—aspects he sees as critical in a poor economy.
“I’m not someone from the outside, someone being brought in to change things, do something different,” said Guzmán. “I’m a Toledoan working to help change the lives of Toledoans. That’s really what it’s about. I think it’s critical, because there’s more at stake than providing an education. It’s about community. We’re working to help build our community up.”
The university president described Herzing as the equivalent of the old technical or business schools from the 1950s and 1960s, where students received a short-term degree and went right to work. In fact, that’s how Herzing was founded in Wisconsin in the mid-1960s.
Guzmán now lives in Monclova Twp. with his wife Jennifer, a third-grade teacher at St. Joan of Arc School. The couple has two children: Miranda, 14, a freshman at St. Ursula High School, and Caiden, 8, a third-grade student at St. Joan of Arc.
Guzmán’s mother, Patricia, 70, lives near her son. His father, Gilbert, passed away five years ago. The couple was raising their teenage grandsons Brandon and Dylan, a responsibility that Guzmán now shares.
As a result of his upbringing near the projects at South and Broadway, the Herzing University president goes out of his way to serve as a role model and mentor to Latino students at all stages of their education. Guzmán wants them to know anything is possible, a message that will be even more poignant when he finishes his doctorate in higher education at the University of Toledo.
“I love telling the students my story because I know they can relate,” said Guzmán. “Here’s someone who’s doing pretty well who grew up where I grew up, who went through the same things I went through. I have a great connection with them and I love it. They begin to say ‘I can do this. Even if I have to struggle, I can do this. There’s someone else out there who’s done it.”
Guzmán also tries to make a difference on that front through his volunteer work. He serves as the finance chairman on the board of directors at Adelante, Inc. and is president-elect with Partners in Education, a non-profit organization which develops and fosters partnerships between area schools and northwest Ohio businesses, government agencies, organizations, and churches.
Guzmán has been honored for his volunteer work as a Central Cities Ministries of Toledo All-American, the “20 Under 40” Leadership Award, and he has twice been a Diamante nominee and a one-time César Chávez Humanitarian nominee for service to his Latino community.
Those volunteer efforts mesh well with Guzmán’s current professional pursuits. He recently did a study of Herzing’s first graduating class. All of them came from Toledo and the surrounding area, but 85 percent attended other higher education institutions first and felt they didn’t fit in.
Guzmán is discovering his Latino identity
That fact even fits Guzmán’s own life, because he is just now discovering much of his Mexican heritage, a past his own father never wanted to discuss while he was growing up. Until the age of 19, he was only allowed to pronounce his last name in an Anglicized way: Gúz-man. As a result, Guzmán had long wondered how he fit in, too.
“My dad didn’t want anyone to know,” he said of his Mexican heritage. “He served two tours in Vietnam and I never knew his family. Didn’t know anything about them. He just kept it quiet.
He was a fantastic father, but he just didn’t want anyone to know. In that time and day, you weren’t proud to be a Latino or proud to be anything, for him, other than to be an American.”
Guzmán recalled that his father was frequently asked about his ethnicity and his ancestry. But his response was to say he “was American and leave it at that.” The Herzing president only found out more about his past by going through some of his father’s personal papers after his death.
Gilbert Guzmán became a legal U.S. citizen because of his military service during the Vietnam War and crossed into the U.S. at Hidalgo, Texas.
“I don’t know whether that makes me a first-generation U.S. citizen, but it makes sense now,” Guzmán said. “He didn’t want the attention. He was just a guy trying to work, do his job, and go home. That’s it.”
Guzmán even admits he cannot speak Spanish.
“We weren’t allowed,” he said. “It was spoken in our household, but my dad really didn’t want us to. He wanted us to speak English-- very good, proper English. That’s it, that’s all he really focused on. Now it’s up to me to make sure we don’t ever lose that we’re Latino.”
Since his dad’s death, Guzmán has done a lot of genealogical work and found he doesn’t have much family in the U.S. However, he has located and made contact with some additional relatives in Jalisco, Mexico. But he is establishing those ties “very slowly.”
“Language is a barrier, which is kind of odd,” he admitted.