Imagine this: you’re fresh out of school and it’s your first day of your dream job. As you’re gushing to your boss about how thrilled you are to be there, you accidentally bump into his boss, spilling your cup of hot chocolate all over him. Now, imagine it’s your first day in this career-making position, and an omnipresent being flings your ship into another part of the galaxy, right in the path of a genocidal race of cybernetic jerks.
This was day one for Ensign Sonya Gomez (Lycia Naff).
After the hot chocolate incident, Lt. LaForge (LeVar Burton) went out of his way to reassure the ensign, encouraging her to slow down her pacing out of the fear that her mistakes could grow in severity. She insisted that her drive was what distinguished her from her peers, and explained that her ambition was only due to her willingness to pioneer the final frontier. Later on in the episode (“Q Who”), when the Borg began interfering with various ship’s functions, Ensign Gomez faltered again, and expressed remorse for the crewmembers that had been lost. LaForge re-focused her efforts on getting the shields operating again without demeaning her emotional state, once again enabling her to do her best work.
During a later mission (“Samaritan Snare”), a more confident Ensign Gomez was able to share some wisdom with a troubled Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) regarding an upcoming transport mission with Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart), demonstrating that LaForge’s mentorship had a lasting effect on her perspective. After LaForge was held against his will by the Pakleds, Gomez acted as the project lead in the attempt to rescue him.
All in all, experiences like Ensign Gomez’s are probably not entirely uncommon (save for the encountering the Borg part). Many of us have most likely done or said something embarrassing while trying to make a good first impression in a new space. The most remarkable part about her debut is that her superiors handled her mistakes with dignity and grace, enabling her to continue to do her best work, even amidst something horrifying like a confrontation with the Borg. By protecting the ingenuity of young officers while allowing them to make mistakes, team leaders establish a work environment that rewards fresh perspectives, cultivating talent and rewarding resourcefulness.
So whatever happened to Ensign Gomez? If she was so brilliant, why do we only hear mention of the character in novelizations and games? Sadly, the reason behind her exclusion is painfully superficial: Lycia Naff cut her hair a bit shorter after her two episodes when told she would not be in a third. There was also some confusion as to whether the relationship dynamic between Gomez and LaForge would be platonic or romantic, and rather than take time to develop the relationship organically, the character was never used on screen again.
The largest resulting tragedy of this omission, is that Ensign Sonya Guadalupe Gomez is sadly one of the few representations of Latinx characters in Star Trek. Now that the most recent series are exploring new realms within the Trek universe, there are rumors in the fandom that we’ll see Gomez again in Lower Decks. It will be gratifying to see her professional development and personal growth, and hopefully we’ll also see a few more pips on her collar.