Although she’s worked as a broadcast journalist for more than two decades, Maria-Leticia Gomez (SOCY ’93) has always considered herself a sociologist at heart.
“Once you study a social science, you just see the world differently,” said Gomez, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and evening anchor for Univision affiliate KDTV in San Francisco. “You bring more depth to whatever work you do. You have a skill that sets you ahead from the rest in the way you perceive things.”
This high praise for sociologists will undoubtedly resonate with her audience on May 19, when Gomez addresses graduates from the University of Maryland’s Department of Sociology at spring commencement.
“It’s just a gift to be able to go back to a place that opened up the doors to the rest of the world for me,” Gomez said.
Gomez’s path to College Park likely looked a bit different than that of her classmates. Born in Argentina, Gomez and her family fled that country’s military dictatorship when she was 4 years old and moved to Mexico City. Her mother, who worked for the United Nations, got a job offer in Washington, D.C. and relocated the family to Chevy Chase, Md. when Gomez was 13. No one in the family spoke a word of English before their move to the United States.
“I remember asking my ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] teacher what the word ‘hi’ meant,” she recalled of her first day at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. “I’m not going to lie. It was traumatic.”
School counselors tried to convince Gomez to drop back a grade or two to help make the transition easier but she wouldn’t hear of it. Just four years after stepping foot on American soil for the first time, Gomez received her high school diploma and decided to follow in the footsteps of her older brothers—twins Emiliano and Gervasio—and become a University of Maryland Terrapin.
Gomez said her most vivid memories of her time on campus include pulling all-nighters, eating chicken wings from the dining hall at midnight, playing tennis at one in the morning and moving into the language house the first semester it opened.
“It was fun, it was challenging, it was a time of freedom but also of getting yourself together,” she recalled.
Gomez majored in French language and literature. Although she’d always been interested in becoming a reporter, she still wasn’t confident enough in her English. It stopped her from pursuing a major in journalism at the time.
“I chickened out because of the language barrier,” Gomez said.
Then, after coming across a brochure for the Department of Sociology, she decided to pursue a second degree in sociology.
“I just loved the descriptions of the classes I would have to take in the Department of Sociology,” Gomez said.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in sociology from UMD in 1993, Gomez went on to receive a master’s degree in sociology from The George Washington University. It was while conducting interviews and field research for her thesis on the Zapatista rebellion in the Mexican state of Chiapas that Gomez decided to finally go after her dream of becoming a reporter.
“I loved being out in the field and gathering the data and telling a story -- that's what journalists do. But I didn’t necessarily want to sit down and analyze the data using sociological theory. That would have meant a career in academia,” she said.
Despite a lengthy and successful broadcast journalism career that has taken her through jobs in Mexico City, Charlotte, NC, Washington, DC, New York City and now San Francisco, Gomez said she has never once regretted her decision to study sociology.
“It made me more marketable,” she said. “Everything you learn in sociology can be applied to putting together a good news report or newscast. Everything we learn can be put to work to make the world a better place in general.”