He could have skipped six. “If I was 18 again, I wouldn’t have visited the other places. I would have gone directly to Missouri State.”
Vargas, who is from Santiago, Chile, came to MSU in 2001 to study politics and international business. He played intramural soccer and was involved with the International Student Association.
Vargas came to MSU without knowing anyone: “I had no family or friends here — I had to be brave!” However, students and University community members “invited me to dinner and out at night.”
That the MSU community wanted to make Vargas feel welcome makes sense to Steve Robinette, associate vice president for international programs.
“The first time I met Gonzalo was in spring 2013 at a recruiting event in Santiago at our partner school, the University of Andres Bello,” Robinette said. “He’s the kind of guy you want to hang out with. He’s extremely competent with great business skills, but he also has a free spirit and is fun to be around.”
Vargas liked MSU so much that after earning his bachelor’s in 2004, he stayed for graduate studies. Former MSU political science professor Mehrdad Haghayeghi, who now works for the U.S. Department of Defense, helped Vargas earn a graduate assistantship.
“He was very inspirational to me, because he had a similar background of being from somewhere else,” Vargas said. “He was Iranian, and came to school in the U.S. ... He would say anytime you need anything, come back — not only in terms of school, but in terms of my personal life. I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if he had not done that. He was the first one to believe in me in the United States.”
As a graduate assistant, Vargas helped teach courses in American democracy and comparative politics. He earned a master’s in global studies, with an emphasis in international economics and business, in 2006.
After that he held U.S.-based jobs in the finance sector, managing portfolios and analyzing accounts.
About three years ago he took a job in Santiago with Groupon, one of the
major players in online deal-of-the-day coupons. Vargas is Groupon’s finance director in Latin America, which means he has a leadership role in managing assets for the company in eight countries.
He travels extensively to places such as Argentina and Brazil. He also goes to Groupon’s corporate offices in Chicago, ensuring he maintains ties to the U.S. and practices his three languages: Spanish, English and some Portuguese.
“My Missouri State education definitely aided me, because I have both the U.S. background and Latin American background. This lets me have the responsibilities I have today.”
Robinette said Vargas is becoming an unofficial Missouri State University ambassador in Chile.
“At our event in Santiago, he talked about what it meant for him to go to MSU and how he’s a young alum who parlayed his MSU degree into his current success. All the students there sat in rapt attention. Since I met him we have emailed back and forth, and he has become a real resource for us as we talk about how Missouri State can be involved in Latin America.”