Her good qualities were developed from her childhood as she witnessed how dedicated her mother was in taking care of her and her siblings, and how her father worked hard in the field for them to have a good life. Through this, she became a respected teacher; revered by her students and fellow professors as a kind and compassionate woman. She is Dr. Zenaida C. Gonzaga, Visayas State University’s Outstanding Teacher Awardee for 2016.
As a child, her goal was just to finish her studies. She recalled the times when her father would tell them the value of education. “After dinner, we would gather around and my parents would tell us the importance of finishing a degree.” Unable to decide which course to take in the Visayas State College of Agriculture (ViSCA, now VSU), she enrolled in Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness because her high school friends also enrolled in the said program. But after taking General Horticulture subject, she realized that her interest was in horticultural crops. So after finishing her second year in Agribusiness, she shifted to BS in Agriculture, major in Horticulture.
After finishing her Bachelor's degree, she worked as a science research assistant in the Department of Horticulture in ViSCA. She was determined to learn more and didn't want to be stagnant, so she decided to pursue her Master’s degree in Horticulture in ViSCA in 1997. She finished her PhD in Horticulture in UP Los Baños in 2005 through the scholarship awarded to her by the Department of Agriculture −Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA−BAR). Results of her research projects have been presented both in national and international conferences. “I feel great and fulfilled… glad that our findings don't end only in submitting reports to the funding agency,” said Dr. Gonzaga.
Like other working mothers, Dr. Gonzaga encounters problems. But she said, “It's normal for everybody to have problems. I don't take it seriously, whether it is professional or personal problems because it can be solved later on.” There are times, though, when such problems would take a toll on her emotionally, especially that her husband is working overseas. However, Dr. Gonzaga manages to get through it all because of her second and youngest child. “My child really helps me a lot… she is really a blessing to me. I should say that if I haven't had my second child, life would be boring.” Dr. Gonzaga's eldest daughter is in New Zealand to pursue graduate studies.
Dr. Gonzaga didn't know at first that she has a passion for teaching. She first experienced teaching the students when she was still working as a research assistant. “There are times that my study leader would be on travel so she requested me to take over her class. There, I realized that teaching is good especially when you see your students nodding, knowing that they understood what you're imparting to them,” says Dr. Gonzaga. Now, even with the years of experience as a professor, Dr. Gonzaga said there are still times that she feels handling students becomes difficult. “But I took it as a challenge. I should learn how to discipline these students.” She made class policies, giving a quiz at the start or before dismissing the class to prevent absences or tardiness.
Aside from being a dedicated teacher, Dr. Gonzaga also became the second mother to her students. She helped some of her students to find part-time jobs. “They would approach me crying, telling me about their problems. That's how they became close to me,” Dr. Gonzaga recalled. “There were also some of my students, advisees in particular, who really didn't have the means to buy food, to pay for their dorm and were about to give up… I helped them. I told them not to give up and not to let their problems defeat them.” Dr. Gonzaga would let them stay in the shed house in the ACIAR Project Site inside the campus. She could easily relate with their situation because she also experienced some difficulties as a student. “I told them not to be shy”. Your parents are not here; your mothers are not here. Aside from being your adviser, I am also your mother', I said to them”, she recalled.
Dr. Gonzaga finished her studies through scholarships and she can only imagine how hard it would have been if she wasn't granted with scholarships. That's what she had seen on her students. She allowed her advisees to borrow money from her to pay for the reproduction of their manuscripts and other expenses. For her, watching a student go through difficulties like this breaks her heart. “It pays when you see them come back and they already have jobs. Knowing that you’ve helped them…they never forgot what you did for them.”
With all her successes and achievements, Dr. Gonzaga has not forgotten the good things that the people around her did for her, and being a good teacher and a mother to her students is her own way of giving back. The good values taught by her teachers molded her into what she is right now. She said, “I am indebted to my parents for living, and to my teachers for living well.”