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The University of Texas System celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting a handful of the hardworking and dedicated employees at System Administration. Read on to discover the insightful stories, perspectives and journeys that have shaped their lives and led them here.
“During this time of year, my husband and I reflect on our family traditions and values and share those with our son. We attempt to weave our values into our daily lives not only as a remembrance of our past but as a continuation of our future.”
Melissa Villarreal García
Assistant Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs
I was the first person in my immediate family to go to college. I was fearful of leaving home for the first time, fearful of whether I was ready for the academic rigor, fearful of what college was like and who I would meet. I faced those apprehensions, applied to several colleges, was accepted and ultimately paved an academic path for myself that lead to post-graduate work. I graduated from law school and again confronted the unknown. I am a strong believer in facing challenges — often met with failure — in order to overcome them. They provide the foundation for intellectual growth, improvement and success in each aspect of life. That is exactly what higher education did for me.
The value of strong work ethic was instilled in both of my parents and passed down to me and my sisters. The importance of education was also instilled into our family’s work ethic….
My paternal and maternal grandparents were farmers and ranchers who endured hours of laborious tasks and sacrifice. The value of strong work ethic was instilled in both of my parents and passed down to me and my sisters. The importance of education was also instilled into our family’s work ethic….
During my 10-year tenure at UT System, it has been a privilege to engage in sophisticated, challenging work for the benefit of the students, faculty and staff whom we serve. It is due to the quality of colleagues and leaders who continue to mentor and support me in realizing success within our organization.
We need to ensure our communities, schools and businesses embrace people from varying backgrounds, cultures, ideologies, interests and talents. We should be ready to ask each other what do you think? and pay close attention to that person’s insights and opinions. We should make others feel appreciated and valued — especially when we disagree. Actively listening to others with whom we have differences will bring unity and breed inclusivity for a stronger nation.
“I look at my family and I recognize that they were all hard workers in everything they did. No matter what the task was, my family always told me to “Dale Ganas!’”
HIPAA Information Security Officer
I had to take a leap of faith and finished my Associate Degree in Information Technology. While it was a great accomplishment to be a first-generation college student, I knew that I was not finished.
I completed my Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and recently earned my Master’s in Jurisprudence in Cybersecurity Law.
“There is power for minorities in seeing people who look like them in positions of leadership. It makes our dream of success all the more realistic and achievable. It’s human to gravitate to people who share our background and culture. Being able to know and work with such esteemed Hispanic leaders in the UT System solidified my place. I could see them, so I could be them.”
Business and Administrative Operations Manager,
Office of Government Relations
I was fortunate in that my parents instilled the need to break our family’s cycle of poverty via a college education and meaningful career. Our family mantra was, “Su éxito es nuestro éxito,” which means, “Your success is our success.” It still resonates and steers me along my path today.
Our family mantra was, “Su éxito es nuestro éxito,” which means, “Your success is our success.”
Higher education is still a very strong value for me. My parents stressed it with me, and I stress it with my daughter. She just began her freshman year in college studying computer science, which really makes me a proud father! We need to continue to address and expand efforts toward access and affordability for all those who desire higher education. Education is a key to unlocking opportunity and strength.
"Hispanic Heritage Month is fundamentally a reminder of my cultural past. It gives me a moment to remember where my culture began and helps me contextualize what the future might be…. There is not a single aspect of my life that my Hispanic heritage does not influence because it’s prevalent in my genes, my past experience, and influences how I interact with my environment."
Innovation Program Manager
My race had a direct influence on my educational opportunities. In some ways, my race, culture, and accompanied life experience opened opportunities that I never knew possible. I was the first person in my immediate and extended family to ever attend a four-year university. I had no help transitioning into college life. After scrapping together financial aid and building a support network, I successfully navigated my first academic year in college. It was then I learned that it was not how I started that mattered; it was how I finished.
My family has been in Texas since before Texas was even considered a state. Taking the time to reflect on my family’s past and my personal journey helps me feel more grateful for what opportunities I’ve been afforded…. My sense of service is deeply rooted in growing up in a Hispanic community. Our livelihood, at times, depended on our community and service. When I left graduate school, I wanted to have direct influence on problems that the world is currently facing. This has ultimately led me to seek a job where the work I do has significant reach on the people I serve.
My sense of service is deeply rooted in growing up in a Hispanic community.
I believe there are three ways to address the theme of “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation.” First, don’t be afraid to meet someone new. Second, be open-minded to other world perspectives. And third, remember that we are all humans trying our best to make it in this world. Underlying all three is empathy. Being empathetic to our fellow humans and acknowledging their lived experience is central to remembering why we are stronger together.
“As a Hispanic female, I feel like I must work extra hard to prove we can do any job. We have come a long way, but we still have a journey…. One thing that is still a challenge for me is learning the English language. I am not afraid to ask questions and was lucky to have teachers that would help my family and me. And being Hispanic in law enforcement is a plus, because you’re bilingual – you can [communicate with] more people.”
We have come a long way, but we still have a journey
Working here at the UT System has helped me grow in my career by being introduced to high profile people – lawyers, doctors, mayors, regents, governors, college presidents, chancellors and generals. I have learned their individual needs, different protocols and details needed to [perform their jobs]. In the end, they are human beings that breathe the same way I do – just with different titles and duties.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to spotlight the celebration of my cultural heritage; is sharing my story on how I came to this country; is continuing family traditions; is embracing my first language, Spanish; is discovering opportunities where I can contribute to my community; and, most importantly, is setting an example to my two sons of how to honor and recognize our culture.”
Georgina “Gina” Areval
I grew up in Mexico and moved to Minnesota in my early twenties. When the time came to search for a job, I always looked for an opportunity where I could make a difference by embracing my culture. Fast forward 25 years, and I believe I am still doing the same thing but on a much bigger scale at UT System. Knowing that I am working in a place where my job matters and contributes to the greater goal of providing innovative ideas, and inclusive educational programs to students, is the greatest satisfaction.
There is a misconception that Hispanics are uneducated. By the time I arrived in this country, I already had my Computer and Information Science degree and a Master's in Communications. I have been told many things and treated certain ways based on stereotypes. It is sad to see a distinctive shift in a conversation when people find out about my education and achievements. One of the greatest things about the Hispanic culture is that even through adversity, we stay positive; I take every opportunity to create awareness and advocate for change.
One of the greatest things about the Hispanic culture is that even through adversity, we stay positive;
The saying ‘it takes a village’ is a key part of Hispanic culture. Family unity plays an essential role in children's upbringing. Having the tía, abuela, vecina, comadre, padrinos, etc., be part of daily life and family celebrations are the stepping-stones to imparting more emphatic, inclusive, diverse and respectful values in our children. I believe such values are what can make a difference for future generations.