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Former UTB-TSC president Garcia delivers keynote address

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - Juliet V. Garcia, former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College and keynote speaker at Wednesday’s Women’s Leadership Breakfast & Women’s Business Expo at the Brownsville Event Center, said women have a long way to go to close the leadership gap with men.

Garcia, who in 1986 became the first Mexican-American female college president in the country when she took the helm at TexasSouthmostCollege, said that in higher education today only 25 percent of college and university presidents are women. At the current rate, it will take 50 years for women to pull even with their male counterparts in higher education, she said.

Women make up just 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, meanwhile, a figure lower than it’s been in the past, Garcia said. The health care industry is even worse, with a mere 1.6 percent of CEO posts occupied by women, she said. Garcia noted that it’s never been easy for women in business and still isn’t.

“Your road is tough,” she told the audience. “Too bad.”

The Brownsville native said growing up in a household full of boys gave her a thick skin and taught her a valuable lesson: don’t hold grudges. You might fight, but then you make up right away so you can keep playing, she said.

Garcia conceded that her own path to success wasn’t an easy one, relating the story of becoming engaged at 18 and married at 19, with two children by the age of 22, in the meantime earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from the University of Houston while her husband supported the family by working at Cameron Iron Works.

Garcia took a job with TSC in 1972 but eventually became restless. She won a Ford Foundation Fellowship to work on her Ph.D. and applied to the University of Texas at Austin. Despite going to great lengths to submit a perfect application, Garcia received a polite letter from UT that was clearly a brushoff — not a rejection but also not an acceptance.

Her fifth phone call to the woman who wrote the letter got results. Garcia was put on hold — or so the woman thought. She pressed the conference call button by mistake, and Garcia was able to hear the woman and the dean of the college discussing her fate.
“Finally he said, ‘Oh, let her in,’” Garcia said.

She never doubted she would do well once she got into the doctorate program, though there were rough patches, sometimes requiring encouragement from Garcia’s husband in the form of straight talk, she said.
“Sometimes you need someone close to you to tell you to buck up,” Garcia said.

She said it’s important not only to celebrate successes but also to examine failure. Garcia said that when she decided to apply for the TSC president’s job, she had three major strikes against her. She was too young — 37 at a time when the average age for college presidents was 52. Also, she was Mexican-American and a woman. No one else fitting that description led any of the state’s 50-plus community colleges, Garcia said.

She said she knew failure was a possibility but felt it was important to signal that she wanted to “do more,” Garcia said. As much as she enjoyed being TSC’s president, she said, Garcia felt that students needed more than an associate’s degree — a bachelor’s at the very least — to be competitive in the job market.

Garcia started working to bring UT to Brownsville, and in 1991 became the president of UTB-TSC, a position she held until the merger of UTB and the University of Texas-Pan American in 2014. The UTB-TSC relationship came with challenges, though it created a fine campus for Brownsville and a seamless transition between community college and the university for students, Garcia said.

“We also graduated 40,000 graduates,” she said.

Garcia encouraged everyone in the audience to advocate for those who don’t spend their time in board rooms, and help open doors for the next generation of female business leaders. It’s a more vital mission, even, then being a CEO or an entrepreneur, she said.
“What’s more important is that you be an advocate,” Garcia said.

The Women in Leadership & Women’s Business Expo was hosted by the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Business Center of Cameron County, and was presented in partnership with the Brownsville Community Improvement Corp.

The breakfast and keynote speech were followed by a panel discussion featuring Garcia; Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville CEO Leslie Bingham; Claudia Cantu-Grimaldo, Wells Fargo Lower Rio Grande Valley district manager and Brownsville chamber chairwoman; and Deborah Portillo, Brownsville city commissioner and founder/president of Portillo Chic Inc.

The expo featured roughly 30 exhibitors, including UTRGV, the U.S. Small Business Administration, Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, area banks, merchants, and health care providers and hospitals.

Source: The Brownsville Herald
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