The first president of TAMU-SA shared the impact of education in her life.
By Thomas Macias
“Creating opportunity,” “giving back” and “opening doors,” were common sentiments voiced by attendees at the Chancellor’s Partnership Breakfast April 25 at the Sutton Learning Building at St. Philip’s College.
The early-morning event served as a meeting place for both community-service organizations and Alamo Colleges administrators, both of which advanced collaborative efforts to benefit college students.
Forty-four not-for-profit, faith-based, wellness, educational, charity and environmental organizations were represented.
The Partnership Breakfast connected community service organizations with district administrators who place work-study students in positions outside the district.
Steven Acton, director of Public Allies-AmeriCorps, said the strength of the partnership was shown in its commitment “to breaking down barriers to access, education, and opportunity.”
Dr. Martha Treviño, director of the office of experiential learning for the district, said her office oversees the district’s community-based work-study program.
“The program aims to provide eligible students work experience that is related to their field of study and to provide community agencies with human resources to help them serve the community,” Treviño said.
Community agencies that hire work-study students benefit as federal funds provided through the Department of Education pay 100 percent of the students’ wages, Treviño said.
Chancellor Bruce Leslie said the program adds to the educational experience of students beyond material learned in classrooms.
Community service programs provide a means for students to acquire the self-confidence that comes through work-place achievement, Leslie said
“Our goal is … that there are no barriers, no cap to a person’s capabilities and potential,” Leslie said, “Having experiences working with an organization affirms and connects that person to the real world of work. In higher ed today, we have to do that. It isn’t just about the academic exercise.”
The keynote speaker was Dr. Maria Ferrier, the inaugural president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
Ferrier recounted her history as a young woman in mid-20th century San Antonio where cultural norms directed her to marry and begin rearing children soon after completing high school.
Young women of this time were not encouraged to contemplate career aspirations other than as a homemaker, Ferrier said.
Ferrier said that she found herself divorced at age 30 with only a high school education.
She was responsible for two young children without even the ability to drive an automobile, Ferrier said.
She eventually found employment, but more important a mentor when she obtained a job as a teacher’s aide to a speech pathologist.
Despite holding personal reservations “that she was just not college material,” Ferrier said her mentor encouraged her to obtain a degree to the point of paying for her first semester at this college.
Ferrier said she was nervous to begin as an undergraduate but soon discovered class material was not beyond her comprehension or ability to perform.
“I was not as dumb as I thought I was,” Ferrier said.
After completing 20 credit hours, Ferrier said she transferred to Our Lady of the Lakes University where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology.
Ferrier said she began a professional career devoted to education and soon after became involved in various commissions.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Ferrier to the Commission for National and Community Service.
In 1992, U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander selected Ferrier to direct bilingual education for the Department of Education.
Ferrier said she served in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
In 2008 Ferrier was named the first president of TAMU-SA.
Ferrier said the university was accredited with no recommendations by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the highest score a university can receive.
It soon became the fastest-growing university in the United States, Ferrier said.
After departing as president in 2015 to serve as the university’s director of development and Mexico relations, Ferrier said she was divinely guided to retire in 2016 to become the caretaker for her 99-year-old mother.
“What a privilege, what an entrustment to take care of the lady who had instilled in me faith and love and guided me through my life,” Ferrier said.
She said she has always had a “burning love for community service” and credits her speech pathology mentor for intervening at a critical moment in her life.
“When I was 30 I thought my life was over, but it was just the beginning,” Ferrier said.