Chaye Pena learned the value of education after a rocky start to college.
By Felicia Mora
The director of the outreach and recruitment office, Chaye Pena, didn’t start off with a traditional college experience.
She didn’t do well her first semester at Texas A&M university-Kingsville and was put on academic suspension.
Because she had moved out of her parents’ house, she had to find a job to pay her bills.
“My parents, very good parents, were firm believers in the, if you made your bed, you lay in it type of thing,” Pena said.
From there, she ended up as a work-study student in an office for TRIO programs at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
“I ended up applying for a full time, administrative assistant and so I got that position, and I stayed there from 1997 to 2003.”
After her first year on academic dismissal, she sat out the year and explained it was hard for her.
“It’s really difficult to work at a college campus as a 19- or 20-year-old and not have the desire to take classes because you see all these young people going to school and enjoying a traditional college life, in student organizations, Greek organizations, and here I was a secretary working 8-5 every day,” Pena said
This motivated her to want to get back on track, and so after her academic dismissal was over she enrolled in classes again.
The first major she went for was fashion and interior merchandising, but since the department was so small she was advised to look for another major that offered her more classes when she was available to take them.
She then looked into a business major.
“I really did enjoy the human resources aspect, working with people understanding their behaviors,” Pena said.
So she decided to major in business with a concentration in business management.
Even after she graduated in 2003, she continued to work at Texas A&M- Kingsville as a coordinator.
“It was work that I really enjoyed doing it, I loved the college it was my home town and so it just really felt like a good fit for me at the time,” she said.
She then decided to pursue a master’s in business since she already had an undergraduate degree in that field.
“I’ve never really used the degree,” she said. “I’ve done budgets, and you pull some of that into your day-to-day work regardless of what you do.
“But I don’t really practice it because when I stated working in student affairs, my heart just really stayed with working with students in a college,” Pena said.
She didn’t immediately start at this college after working for Texas A&M-Kingsville.
When her husband, who works for Whataburger’s headquarters, was relocated to from Kingsville to San Antonio in 2009, she was hired at the University of the incarnate word.
Then she came to this college in 2012, where her extensive background in student affairs landed her a full-time position as a coordinator.
What makes her so passionate about her job is being able to see the opportunities for younger students through her perspective as someone who has been through similar circumstance.
“I think it’s seeing all the opportunity that’s available,” she said.
Certain students don’t realize the opportunities available.
“So when you go into high schools, a lot of them feel that it’s too difficult that they don’t have the money, they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the support,” she said.
“So I think that with a little bit of motivation from us, from building a solid family foundation, and encouragement, they can see there is a lot of opportunity and potential within themselves,” Pena said.
She also said that since teachers and counselors are overworked, her department offered to help high schools with events encouraging college exploration.
“Treat us like an extension of your staff,” she said. “So if you have a college day or an event that is about college or career, we can help you take the lead so you won’t feel so overwhelmed with it.
“I feel like as a community college that our obligation to make sure our community is educated because it really only benefits us in the long run,” Pena Said.
Pena said if she could give advice to her younger self, she would say, “You’re doing the best you can.”
She believes she’s done well given the situation she put herself in when she was younger and she had to become self-motivated as a result.
Pena said the ’90s were different since college wasn’t taken as seriously as it is now.
She had a good job and benefits, but that didn’t improve her marketability for the future as much as having a degree would.
When Pena went into a master’s program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, she worked at A&M-Kingsville and drove 40 minutes’ home to Corpus Christi, grabbed something to eat and spent evenings until 9 p.m. in classes at the university.
“I’m glad that I did it that way because I think it shows how much I value education, and I think that it means more that way than if it were handed to me,” Pena said.
Her advice to students in college now is to join student organizations because that builds life skills.
“Getting involved and being passionate about the community that you’re in whether it be SAC now or UTSA later or you stop at SAC,” Pena said. “Really involve yourself because that’s really going to build a good foundation for you as you enter the next phase in your life.”