Alumnus rebounds from rocky start and shares inspiring journey

When the University of Houston-Victoria was choosing a student who had an inspiring message about what receiving his UHV ring meant to him, the university asked Ismael Gutierres to share the story of his journey from dropping out to earning his degree.

Ismael Gutierres

“To me, it was an accumulation of a 10-year plan,” he said. “So, basically I submitted kind of my life in a nutshell, and I got selected.”

Gutierres said he first attended UHV when he was 18 after graduating from Industrial High School in Vanderbilt. During his first year at UHV, he wasn’t mature enough and struggled with his grades, he said.

“I was still pretty much into video games and things like that,” he said. “I just about failed. I had a 1.7 GPA when I left UHV. I was academically suspended, and I had to pay back a loan that I owed the university.”

Gutierres moved to Sugar Land for work, but his life wasn’t really on the right track, he said. He eventually hit rock bottom financially, and if it wasn’t for his parents helping him, he might have been living on the streets.

“They were definitely my rock during that dark time,” he said. 

About 10 years ago, he woke up one day and decided it was time to start getting his life back on track. He was tired of feeling sorry for himself.

“I decided if something needs to be done, it had to be done now,” he said. “I got a job and started saving up money to pay back UHV. I was working as a zookeeper at the Texas Zoo in Victoria. I absolutely fell in love with the job. It helped me lose weight, and I got into shape.”

Next, Gutierres joined the Navy. He was inspired by his father, who previously served in the Navy and had fought in Vietnam.

“Around 25 or 26, they don’t really want to look at you because military is a young man’s game,” he said. “For someone who is 26 to join, I had to be in good shape. I had to lose 30 to 40 pounds in a month for them to be serious about me, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Gutierres was in the Navy Reserves for eight years. He said he was a master-at-arms, which is what the Navy calls a military policeman. His rank was a petty officer second class. At one point, he left the U.S. for a year.

“I was supposed to go to Djibouti, Africa, but my orders got changed at the last minute,” he said. “I ended up getting attached to a command called DEVGRU, which stands for Navy Special Warfare Development Group. I still don’t know how I got those orders to this very day. I did get to go all over the world.”

He ended up going to more than three continents and 12 countries, including Greece, Germany, Africa and the Middle East. Gutierres said he had an amazing time traveling all over the world. Along the way, he made lifelong friends. It also was very dangerous, he said.

“Once I made it back home safe and sound, the last part of the plan was to go back to college to finish my degree,” Gutierres said.

He worked at the zoo one more time before becoming a full-time student at UHV. His advisor told him he needed to raise his GPA to a 2.0. During the semester, he took his studies seriously and started studying a lot. He also was able to enroll in the honors program.

He graduated in May 2019 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice with a minor in psychology with an overall GPA of 3.5. He is originally from Victoria but spent his life mainly in Jackson County.

During his time in Africa, he was inspired to seek a career involving child welfare.

“When I was in certain parts of Africa, I saw children wondering the streets looking for bottles of water, and when you see that, it changes you,” he said. “I knew at that moment I needed to do something in child welfare. I wanted to do something to protect them. I applied for Child Protective Services as an investigator. I ended up getting the job. Ever since September, I’ve been an alternative responsive investigator for CPS.”

Gutierres is grateful for all that he learned at UHV.

“One of the biggest things I remember is how the staff truly cares,” Gutierres said. “They actually get to know the students, and they remember you by name. They were genuine people. There was nothing fake about them.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Lisa Shapiro, Special to UHV