Gonzalez Chavez is Maximizing Every Experience

January 29, 2024

Senior David Gonzalez Chavez was making the most of UNC before he even stepped foot on campus. As a recipient of the Global Gap Year Fellowship from Campus Y, he spent nine months working with children in a community center in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When his gap year got cut short because of COVID-19, he found a full-time job while waiting to start classes in Fall 2020.

Those first post-high-school experiences had a major impact on David’s future at UNC. His experience in Belfast spurred an interest in religious conflict, so he decided to add a major in religious studies. Later, during a Global Gap Year Fellowship networking event, David met a graduate of the M.S. in Information Science program. Their talk sparked an interest in the field, and David started to do some research. He realized the major connected his interests in social science and religious studies with his work experience in data analysis, and so added a major in Information Science.

“There are so many different classes you can take at SILS (the School of Information & Library Science). I love learning about database management in one class, UX/UI design in another, and more sociological stuff in another. I can get a very broad perspective on things and then I can hone in on what I want to study the most.”

David has not just taken undergraduate classes with SILS, he has also taken graduate-level courses, both for the opportunity to work with diverse groups of students and for the academic challenge.

“I’ve been able to take some awesome classes. If you’re the kind of student who wants to try your hand at that (graduate work), it’s encouraged. The professors can hone in on their specialty, and I like that. When the professor is excited about the topic, you get excited as a student.”

David said part of the reason he came to SILS was the reputation of the school’s faculty.

“The class I took with Dr. McMillan Cottom was the best class I’ve ever had at UNC by far.”

An experience in one of her classes sparked a lightbulb moment of learning.

“We went on a site visit to the Durham library. We all took notes while we were there, analyzing it. Everyone came out of that with super different perspectives on it — the accessibility, the architecture...a bunch of different things. And it was surprising how much of a conversation could happen around that. It reinforced the value of interdisciplinary work. Everyone can bring different ideas to the table.”

David has also enjoyed how these experiences and classes have benefitted not just his life as an Information Studies major, but also in his other classes:

“I think information science is just a wonderful program for anyone in humanities to get some level of quantitative background, but in a way that’s not just statistics or computer science. I think there are a lot of benefits. I’m doing an honors thesis in religious studies right now, and I’m using a ton of skills that I’ve learned in information science.”

David is also a part of a student organization called Catalyst Conference, a group under Campus Y, that leads an annual three-day conference for high school students.

“They come to UNC, they stay overnight, and we have a big curriculum for them around social justice and civic engagement. That was fun, leading that — organizing the conference, getting funding for it, organizing some really cool speakers. It was awesome having a bunch of people come to UNC and having UNC students organize the curriculum and the activities. I think all the high school students enjoyed it. It was a whole lot of work, but it was a fulfilling experience.”

David has received numerous accolades during his time at UNC, including the Pogue Scholarship, the Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service, and the B.S. in Information Science Excellence Fund. He was recently inducted into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society and has also developed a resume any young professional would envy. His full-time work has enabled him to purchase his first home.

David hopes his next step is a Ph.D. program in sociology. He’s interested in studying demographic shifts related to religious affiliation and religiosity. His studies in information science have helped him understand data, how to critique different data processing methods, and how those methods can be applied to sociological research.

“I want to work in academia. I would love to be a professor and do research. I’d love to be a professor at a place like SILS. Eventually, I’d like to do work on improving access to graduate school, especially given that Hispanics have some of the lowest enrollment in graduate programs. That’s a real aspiration of mine. I have to get there first, but once I get there — helping other people out. I’ve had so many transformation classes at UNC. I’d love to be that professor for someone else.”