Outstanding Grad Student is a role model, entrepreneur
Among all the titles that Harriet Gomez can claim - mother, wife, business owner, graduate student – one seems to stand out.
Dating back to her childhood in Gambia, West Africa, Gomez has been motivated to shrug off the naysayers and be a positive example for those battling through life’s challenges.
Gomez, who is on track to graduate this August with a Lakeland University master of science in leadership & organizational development degree through LU’s Madison Center, has been named the inaugural winner of Lakeland’s Outstanding Kellett Graduate Student Award.
Nominees must complete at least 15 credits of graduate work at Lakeland with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 and meet the following:
Gomez had a leg amputated following a car accident when she was 5, and due to a lack of resources in the third-world country she went without prosthesis until she was 10. She was motivated to one day help others in Africa with limb loss and limb difference and she recently founded the non-profit Dreams Foundation Africa Inc.
“The purpose is to help people dealing with limb loss and limb difference in Africa get what they need to lead happy and healthy lives and make something of themselves,” said Gomez, who moved to the U.S. in 2001. “The opportunity I have here is not available there.
“Growing up people didn’t believe in me. Being able to do this for myself and achieve my dreams, it’s a big deal. I want to be that motivational person or inspiration to anyone who thinks they don’t matter or can’t do this. Despite my challenges, it’s never stopped me from wanting more for myself.”
Gomez’s higher education journey started at Madison College where she earned her associate degree in marketing, and she was a member of the Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society and Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. She transferred to Lakeland and completed a bachelor's degree in marketing with honors in 2019, and shortly thereafter she started the MSLOD program with a focus in project management.
Gomez created Dreams Foundation Africa with prior experience as an entrepreneur, skills she learned from her LU undergraduate courses and a strong, personal drive.
“I always set goals for myself be it my personal or professional life,” Gomez said. “I think about the end goal - what do I want to achieve? – and I make sure to achieve those goals.”
As she started taking MSLOD classes, her husband, who serves in the military, left for duty, leaving her at home caring for two children and juggling her career and her new master’s-level coursework.
“I started second guessing and wondered if I should take time off from school,” Gomez said. “I took time off from work to regroup, get myself back together and think, ‘You can do this.’
Gomez often studied and completed homework when her children were asleep, a practice common for many Kellett School students.
“I started believing again that I can do this despite everything else that’s going on,” she said.
Her perseverance has inspired her peers, teachers and LU staff members.
“Harriet truly exemplifies what it means to be a Kellett student,” said Pang Kou Khang, director of Lakeland’s Madison Center. “On top of her personal and professional responsibilities, she has also made positive contributions both in the classroom and within her community through leadership and service.”