Cynthia Gonzalez

Cynthia Gonzalez, PhD, MPH, not only co-leads the UCLA CTSI Community Engagement & Research Program, but she is also an Assistant Professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU). She serves as the Director of the Community-Partnered Policy and Action stream for the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

A true Watts native, Cynthia was born in the original MLK Hospital, attended King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science and was selected for a research program mentored by a CDU researcher between her junior and senior years. Called the National High School Student Summer Research Apprenticeship Program, the program provided a transformative experience in her teen years that fueled her passion for health equity and led to her participation in a diabetes clinic at MLK where she performed research in the same room she was born! The program became her lifeline and, after graduating, she dedicated a decade to the program and built her passion for youth engagement, social justice and equity; creating her own youth programs.

Cynthia is a first-generation Mexican American lifetime resident of Watts that brings a strong background in community-based participatory research, cultural anthropology, and social ethnography to the understanding of community wellness. Influenced by her upbringing in Watts and daughter of immigrants, Cynthia develops place-based initiatives through community engagement and neighborhood assessments to improve the quality of life for low-income and racial/ethnic minority residents living in under-resourced neighborhoods. She has developed partnerships between community, government, and academia through efforts like the Watts Rising Collaborative, Watts Community Studio and Los Angeles Promise Zone Young Ethnographers Program.  

Through this work, she partnered with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) to write a multi-million-dollar application that launched the Watts Rising Collaborative. During this time, she also worked on state and federal grants that have maintained the collaborative and its community-centered priorities. She continues to serve as the data and accountability partner.

Cynthia is a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants, wife, and mother to the most dynamic twins; she has rooted her family in her Watts neighborhood and aims to make Watts a model for community wellbeing. In Cynthia’s leisure time, she enjoys her cultural traditions, travel, dancing, and exploring Los Angeles.