While youth in academia is often a handicap, Dr. Gabriel Sanchez has turned it into an advantage. He is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque, and a leading scholar on the impact of racial and ethnic diversity on the U.S. political system. At 31, he is also one of the youngest faculty members, giving him instant credibility with the many students he mentors, particularly those who share his Latino heritage.
“I completely understand what these kids are going through,” says Gabriel, “because I went through it, too. I was incredibly lucky to have two wonderful mentors and the financial assistance from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund to keep me on track. Whatever I can do to encourage and help my students is my way of giving back.”
Gabriel’s greatest academic inspirations were Dr. Charles Cottrell, who is now President of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX, where Gabriel earned his undergraduate degree, and Dr. John Garcia, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Arizona from which Gabriel received his Masters and PhD.
“These professors were not only role models,” Gabriel says, “they were instrumental in establishing me in my field, which is racial and ethnic politics, with a specific focus on Latino political behavior. Their help can’t be overstated.”
That’s why Gabriel is so committed to his students. In addition to a demanding teaching schedule—enrollment in his courses are high—and publication requirements, Gabriel devotes many hours to mentoring students, including chairing a graduate student’s dissertation committee, co-authoring multiple manuscripts (several published) with PhD students, engaging in research projects with multiple Graduate Fellows, and advising promising undergraduates to pursue graduate degrees.
Gabriel is also indebted to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) for the years of financial and advisory support they provided. “HSF provided scholarships all the way through graduate school,” Gabriel says. “That backing allowed me to concentrate on my studies and community service work, a balance that is so important when pursuing an academic career.”
So what led Gabriel to academia? “In high school, I was a pretty good athlete and thought baseball was going to be my ticket to success,” he explains. “But I soon realized I probably wasn’t professional material. That’s when I really started hitting the books.”
Gabriel’s parents have a different view. They believe that because he was born when they were in college, Gabriel became comfortable in an academic environment. Regardless of the reason, academia is clearly where he belongs.
Since receiving his PhD in 2005, Gabriel has garnered an impressive number of awards and academic honors, including the 2010 UNM’s Presidential Award for Commitment to Diversity; he is the first faculty member to receive the award. He also received Faculty of Color Awards from 2006 through 2009, and his papers on “State Politics and Policy” and “Latino Politics” were honored by the American Political Science Association and the Western Political Science Association, respectively.
“This is my dream job,” Gabriel enthuses, “given that I was raised in Albuquerque and my Mom still lives here. I have a beautiful wife and a five-month old baby girl, Gabriella. I just want other Latinos to have the same opportunities and success in their lives. I’ll do everything I can to help them.”