Columbia College Chicago houses some true characters — everyone from directors to drag queens has graced the campus at some point. The school’s director of student engagement, Aldo Guzman, is just one of thousands of characters the school has to offer, but he stands out in ways other faculty can’t even begin to perceive.
The college, no stranger to pushing the envelope, introduces their freshmen with a “Hell yeah” pledge every year. There’s never a shortage of loud music, student showcases, or someone creating change. Free condoms, monthly STD tests, and a large gay student population are all factors that may make some parents cringe. But regardless of all that, the very professional Guzman is more than happy to be working at a school like Columbia.
“I enjoy the way Columbia encourages students to search deep down to find out who they really are,” he said. “I respect that there’s no judgment here. You are who you are.”
His job at the college keeps him in contact with some of the most involved students on campus. As director of student engagement, he oversees organizations like the Student Government Association, Student Programming Board, and multiple others. Most likely, he meshes so well with these students because of his personal college experience. At his alma mater, University of Illinois at Chicago, Guzman said he was involved all across the board — he performed in the on-campus circus, he was in the SGA, Latin club, and countless other activities.
Contrary to his history with clubs, his overall college experience was the opposite of Columbia.
“It was very different. The interests and majors at this school are so widespread, and we express creativity in everything we do,” Guzman said. “There’s such a colorful blanket of diversity over the entire campus. Unlike other colleges, we have different backgrounds and I don’t just mean race. We have cultures and subcultures here that other schools don’t.”
Guzman’s experiences and outlook on life set him apart from the other faculty and staff at Columbia. Though he’s a modest person by nature, Guzman isn’t afraid to recognize his strengths.
“I’m very proud that as both a student and a professional, I’ve been able to carry myself with integrity. People give in or take the easy way out, but I don’t,” he said. He takes his position very seriously, and wants to present himself in a way he’d like to see his students emulate later in life.
“In a position of influence, be it in a student organization or a manager, you can use that influence in either a negative or positive way. Use it wisely, because once you go back on your values, that’s it.”
The students that encounter him don’t take his values for granted. Andy King, a senior at Columbia and new senator in the SGA, was just recently introduced to Aldo and already speaks highly of him.
“[Aldo] helped introduce me to the way things work around here. He’s a really relatable individual, but at the same time he’s got so much to share, which sets him apart,” King said.
John Trierweiler, president of the SGA, has known Guzman for the duration of his time on the Senate. “Aldo has a very eccentric and enthusiastic personality that really helps and directs the SGA. We’ve been pleased to have him as our adviser for the last three years and look forward to working with him for many years to come,” he said.
When asked what his favorite thing is about the young people he works with is, he had a lengthy list of great qualities, but it centered on their personal drive and individuality.
“I respect that the students here don’t fit a mold. Many students probably faced challenges and judgment before they got here but they overcame that to get where they want to be,” he said. He thinks that in comparison to other schools, Columbia lacked those “pre-packaged answers like ‘lawyer’ or ‘doctor’” when discussing what students want to do when they grow up.
“Kids here throw that to the wind and say, ‘No, I want to be a dancer. An artist.’ I really respect that.”
At the end of the day, Guzman lives by the best advice he has ever been given: “It goes back to integrity. Once you find your morals and values, don’t break that. When we die, the people and memories we leave behind are largely influenced by how we carried ourselves.”