Alums show Dreamers road to success

Alumna Melisa Gomez, who owns two small businesses, tells a story during the DREAMing of Careers business workshop about a former teacher who wasn't supportive of her.

Photos by Ralph Freso

The suggestion that Melisa Gomez might not be suited for nursing or even a successful role in the business world has stuck with her since high school.

“My own teacher from high school, one of them in particular, told me she didn’t see the point in me graduating from school,” she recalled. “That I might as well drop out.”

Since hearing those discouraging words, Gomez earned a bachelor’s degree in health care administration in 2014 from Grand Canyon University and a master’s degree in business administration from GCU two years later.

And she did not stop there.

Through perseverance and available resources, she became owner of M&M Envision home improvement company and Zion Latin Delights.

Sophomore Susana Hernandez directs a question to the panel during the DREAMing of Careers business workshop.

Gomez was part of a three-person panel – all GCU alums – at a recent DREAMing of Careers workshop who shared their journeys as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to become business owners. The event, by GCU's Students Inspiring Students and Career Services, was held recently at the lecture hall of the GCU Innovation Center at 27th Avenue and Camelback Road.

Gomez was joined by Luis Peña Espinoza, product owner for ProPass, and Evelyn Gomez-Robles, co-owner of Juanderful Tacos and an injury claims specialist for State Farm Insurance.

Maria Santana Leon, program specialist for Students Inspiring Students and TheDream.US at GCU, moderated the event and asked insightful questions while allowing students to learn how each panelist ascended as a DACA recipient.

Canyon Ventures Director Robert Vera leads a session called “You Are the Company,” which instructed students on how to create a limited liability company and the steps to take to become independent contractors and entrepreneurs.

Robert Vera, founding director for GCU’s Canyon Ventures center for innovation and development, helped organize the event and assisted TheDream.US students navigate the process of applying for their own limited liability company to start a business.

Vera gained students' attention by setting the record straight on whether it was illegal for DACA recipients and undocumented students to work and operate a business.

“It’s wrong,” Vera said in a convincing tone. “You can have a company. I recommend to all students they set up an LLC.”

Alumnus Luis Peña Espinoza speaks during the DREAMing of Careers business workshop.

Vera devoted nearly an hour talking to students about such LLC benefits as write-offs on business-related expenses and being taxed solely on net profit.

“Dreamers can succeed,” Peña said.

Melisa Gomez elaborated on the lengthy process of starting her home improvement business, learning the ropes through contracting school, licenses and insurance.

“Do your research,” she said.

Alumna Evelyn Gomez-Robles discusses serving the community.

Peña went from being a GCU SIS scholarship recipient to earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science with an emphasis in entrepreneurship in 2022.

His software background has helped make him a fit for various companies, including PrePass, in which he is a product owner. He focuses on commercial transportation safety.

“What inspired me was the ability to make an impact through myself, working with other people and individuals,” Peña said. “You realize you can make an impact. It’s all dependent on you, and you have the power to do so.”

He did stress to potential business owners and entrepreneurs to be mindful of taxes, even putting money aside in advance and keeping receipts.

SIS Program Specialist and event host Maria Santana Leon asks panelists questions during the DREAMing of Careers business workshop.

There’s also the debate whether to operate as an LLC or a partnership. Peña has a 50-50 partnership with someone he trusts.

“Getting into business with someone else is a very serious matter,” he said. "Do your research.”

And if legal work is too complicated, hire an advisor – even on campus – to understand each step of the process.

“Make sure you do it the right way,” Peña said.

Evelyn Gomez-Robles was realistic in telling students that you are not going to be motivated every day. She isn't always at 100%, considering the demands of her two jobs.

“That’s OK, as long as you keep moving forward and remain consistent with your work,” said Gomez-Robles, who runs Juanderful Tacos with her husband, fellow GCU alum Juan Robles. “Focus on why you started in the first place.”

GCU alumni from left, Luis Pena Espinoza, Evelyn Gomez-Robles and Melisa Gomez, speak as guest panelists.

And the panel expressed the importance of community to their businesses.

Juanderful Tacos, for one, started at home during the pandemic but now is now a brick-and-mortar business supported by the community near Alhambra High School and GCU.

“The word ‘success’ is very subjective,” Peña said. “Some people see it as owning a home. Some people see it as having a family. Some see it as having a career. But I see it as leaving a positive impact wherever I go. For my business, I was supporting immigrants in the local community, and I felt being a part of that allowed me to be successful.”

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]


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