At the New Grand Challenges Forum


Powerful Voices returned virtually this fall as a webinar series! The series is part of the Honors College New Grand Challenges Forum and is in partnership with the Division of University Advancement. The themes of the fall New Grand Challenges Forum were Plagues and Pandemics, Justice and Equity and Mental Health. Thank you to everyone who joined us this semester. You can view recordings of the impactful conversations we had with our three distinguished speakers in the Previous Speakers section below.

We look forward to the return of the series in the spring. The spring themes of the Honors College New Grand Challenges Forum are Healthcare, Energy, and Sustainability. Event dates and RSVP information will be shared soon.

Previous Speakers

Elizabeth McIngvale (Ph.D. ’14), LCSW

Director of the McLean OCD Institute at Houston
Board Member and National Advocate for the International OCD Foundation

Dr. McIngvale is the Director of the McLean OCD Institute at Houston, where she maintains an active clinical, research and leadership role.Her clinical interests focus on OCD, anxiety disorders, mental health stigma and access to mental health care. She also serves on President Renu Khator's Board of Visitors.

She was the founder of the Peace of Mind Foundation, a non-profit foundation dedicated to OCD that was acquired by the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation (IOCDF) in 2020. OCDChallenge.com, which is a free self-help website with nearly 4,000 users, is a website she continues to play an active role in. She was the first ever national spokesperson for the IOCDF and now serves on their board of directors. She received her bachelors and master’s degrees in social work from Loyola University Chicago, her Ph.D. in social work at the University of Houston and is currently pursuing her MBA from Kellogg’s School of Business Management at Northwestern University.

Dr. McIngvale engages in advocacy, clinical work, research and teaching related to OCD and anxiety disorders. She is a renowned speaker on both the local and national level speaking on behalf of OCD, mental illness and mental health stigma. Dr. McIngvale has received numerous awards for her advocacy and impact on the mental health field and currently serves as a director on 5 boards. She is internationally known and recognized for her clinical work and advancements in the OCD field.

Dr. McIngvale is dedicated to giving a voice to the voiceless and is grateful for a career which allows her to improve the lives of those living with a mental illness every day.

Expertise/Clinical and Research Interests:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Anxiety Disorders
Access to care
Mental Health Stigma
Implementation and access to evidence based mental health interventions
Web-based Interventions for mental illness

Dennis Kennedy (’91, ’93, ’99, M.B.A. ’99)

Access reading materials from the webinar here.

Founder and Chair of the National Diversity Council

Dennis Kennedy has an unwavering passion for people and works to ensure that all individuals receive equal opportunities in the workplace regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, physical or mental handicap, physique, gender identity or sexual orientation. In 2004, Mr. Kennedy walked away from his job to start the Texas Diversity Council.

He saw a very strong need to create an organization that would champion Diversity & Inclusion across the state. Four years later, Mr. Kennedy found himself launching the National Diversity Council (NDC) for the exact same reasons he started the state council. Currently, the NDC is made up of 11 state and regional Councils: California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Tri-State (NY, NJ & CT). His vision is to have state and regional diversity councils in all 50 states. Along with the state councils, Mr. Kennedy has launched several statewide conferences focused on diversity, leadership and women. Currently there are conferences taking place in all over the country.

Furthermore, Mr. Kennedy spent several years as a college professor in the business schools at the following universities: University of Houston Downtown, Texas Southern University and University of Texas at San Antonio. Some of the courses he taught included: Business Statistics, Economics, HR Management, Compensation Management and Diversity Management. He also spent 5 years working in a corporate environment in the field of Human Resources.

Mr. Kennedy graduated from the University of Houston Main Campus (UofH) with undergraduate degrees in economics, business management, political science and physical education; he also earned a MBA from University of Houston Main Campus as well. In addition, he was a scholarship athlete for football.

Rob Nicol, Ph.D. (’92)

Senior Director of Technology Development at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

An engineer focused on solving biomedical research challenges, Robert Nicol, Ph.D. leads a research laboratory at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard focused on creating new technologies for DNA Sequencing, DNA synthesis, and therapeutic development. Dr. Nicol brings a diverse multi-disciplinary background to creating biomedical technologies including mechanical, chemical, systems, and business engineering across a career spanning work in petrochemicals, aerospace, and biotechnology. Dr. Nicol is also a co-founder of multiple biotechnology companies built on technologies developed in his laboratory.

Dr. Nicol worked in petrochemical engineering for Fluor Daniel after he got his B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston starting as a fluid dynamics simulation engineer and working his way up to Project Manager leading large scale petrochemical processing engineering and construction projects for the firm in the US, Russia, and South America. However, after 7 years at the firm he felt restless and ready for a change. “I wanted to work on the leading edge of technology.” “I decided to leave a very comfortable high paying job to go back and be a graduate student.” At MIT Dr. Nicol refocused his career towards biotechnology with degrees in chemical and systems engineering. Dr. Nicol was also a Leaders for Manufacturing Fellow at MIT, where he also worked on production line optimization for Raytheon’s AMRAAM missile and Boeing’s 777.

When he graduated, the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research, now part of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, hired him to incorporate industrial techniques into genome research. “I brought expertise in systems engineering and management to a field where it had not been fully applied. The biggest advances are often at the interfaces of two disciplines.” he says. Dr. Nicol led the technology development and operations groups of the sequencing platform at the Broad Institute for over 10 years from the completion of the Human Genome Project efforts to the introduction of several generations of DNA sequencing technologies. Dr. Nicol later created a research laboratory to apply multi-disciplinary systems engineering approaches to address biomedical research challenges. These technologies include high throughput single cell, sequencing, synthetic biology, and DNA synthesis methods.

Dr. Nicol received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston, and an M.S. in chemical engineering, M.B.A., and Ph.D. in engineering systems from MIT.

Bruce Broussard (M.B.A. ’89)

Bruce Broussard (M.B.A. ’89) Event Photos

Bruce Broussard

“Purpose, principles and how you spend your time” – these three things sum up Bruce Broussard, CEO and President of Humana, and his life’s motto.

“Your purpose is your passion,” Broussard explained. When I started working, I put in long hours and made my career my first priority. Eventually, I had to ask myself: “How much risk do I want to take?” I left the consulting world and went into corporate America; I gave up something comfortable. It all depends on how much you’re willing to be uncomfortable. Like entrepreneurs, they give up comfort and take risks. Now, I am the CEO/President of a $60 billion organization.”

When Broussard wakes up at 4:30 a.m. each morning, he says it’s “his time” – to work out and meditate. However, when he walks out the door, his time becomes other peoples’ time. “Servitude” is what Broussard calls it – the idea of being. “We were put on this earth to help others and when you do, it will come back to you in spades,” he said.

“Time is your best resource,” Broussard reminded the students at Cemo Hall. In his opinion, life is a summation of small decisions. “You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll learn from them.”

When asked about health care, Broussard responded that that 85 percent of health care problems can be chalked up to bad life decisions. He believes that we need to get away from a model where providers are rewarded to fix things rather than to prevent things. In the future, genetics-targeted therapy and robotic surgical procedures will help combat these issues.

Broussard closed his thoughtful presentation with the following advice: “If you get in a car with no direction to go, you won’t go anywhere. Keep a beacon in your mind of where you’re going.”

- Sarah F. Hill

Don Bacigalupi, Ph.D. (’83)

Don Bacigalupi, Ph.D. (’83) Event Photos

Don Bacigalupi, Ph.D. ('83)

Don Bacigalupi, Ph.D. (’83), The former valedictorian of his 1983 graduating class at the University of Houston, Bacigalupi stands a formidable six foot three or four. But on the day of the ceremony, he was told he would be sharing the stage with someone else, bearing flags upon the stage. He thought he would tower above whoever was coming on stage with him -- until he was introduced to Mr. Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon! He was, needless to say, NOT the tallest student on the stage that day, but it taught him a lesson: everything is relative. That's a critical lesson for someone who is an art critic, curator and museum president.

UH taught him to find himself; he was a pre-med undergraduate before changing his major to art history. His thesis was on the punk bands of the time and his professors allowed him to explore the genre of music he preferred in an academic setting.

Bacigalupi spoke about his career after graduate school and how he parlayed his job at the San Antonio Museum of Art into a job at his alma mater, as curator of the Blaffer Art Museum. He surrounded himself with what he referred to as a "high-functioning team of colleagues," and proceeded to work with neighborhood schools, partner with other museums and bring Frank Stella's art to the University.

One other career pinnacle was when he opened the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, with the heir to the Walmart fortune, Alice Walton. This natural building was set among trees and nature and even boasted running water beneath the museum. The museum was a huge success and shuttles, more refreshments and gift shop stock had to be increased in earnest.

After completion of that museum, his curiosity led him to something he called The State of the Art tour – Bacigalupi and his colleagues traveled 140,000 miles, through 44 states and visited 1,000 artist studios across the United States. His goal was to find as many underrepresented artists working in all types of media for possible inclusion in a new museum. The State of the Art tour shone a light on amateur, self-taught and underrepresented artists from all over our nation. Bacigalupi's The State of the Art tour is currently being featured on PBS as a documentary film. His latest collaboration, with the filmmaker George Lucas, will be realized as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Bacigalupi says that narrative art is the "story of our shared humanity." Lucas was concerned that the story of filmmakers, graphic novelists, and other artists might be lost. The museum, aiming to open in 2022, will even host a large, futuristic movie studio in order to watch classic films and, of course, Star Wars! Lucas is one of the top collectors of Norman Rockwell paintings and the museum will host a number of them, the cowardly lion's costume from the Wizard of Oz and even ancient murals painted in France in the 1490s. Hovering over the western edge of Expo Park in Los Angeles, the "Cloud City"- inspired and futuristic facility will no doubt be another success for this UH graduate and art aficionado.

— Sarah F. Hill

John Gibson, Jr. (M.S.’90)

John Gibson, Jr. (M.S.’90) Event Photos

John Gibson, Jr. (M.S.’90)

John Gibson, Jr. (M.S.’90), the Chairman for Energy Technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., a larger-than-life personality, kicked off an exciting new season of Powerful Voices in partnership with the Grand Challenges Forum in the Honors College at the University of Houston. He gave interesting advice to a packed auditorium which included notable guests like President Renu Khator, Vice President Eloise Brice and Dean William Monroe.

Gibson runs billion dollar companies and determines why start-ups work or fail. Gibson opened his speech on a somber note, speaking about Suicide Prevention Week. He talked openly about the brilliant professors and friends he had lost to suicide and how important this issue was to him. It was clear that with the unique platform of Powerful Voices, he wanted to make sure to talk to students who were under immense pressure during college – to share with them that communication and asking for help were key. In fact, he said that asking for help was one of the

most important lessons he had learned in business, as well.

Gibson’s early life was rife with change and obstacles, but the most interesting stories involved his life after serving in Korea. As a veteran, he had a young daughter who became very ill and incurred a nearly $30,000 hospital bill. He and his family “slept on the floor” while he paid back every cent of his debt. He told the students who listened attentively: “Don’t take on more debt than you need to – don’t become a slave to your stuff!” He said that as far as a career goes, you have to be able to quit at any time in order not to compromise your beliefs. “You should never compromise your power as a human being,” Gibson stated in a fatherly tone.

Then he got a big laugh with the joke, “What do you call a graduate of UH?” The answer? “Boss!”

He continued with one nugget of advice after another. “If you haven’t learned anything new in 10 years, you’re worth the same to your employer,” he warned. Gibson was a big proponent of trimming the fat, so to speak, and getting rid of workers who were no longer actively learning.

Gibson went on to say: “When you’re not qualified for a job, you work harder.” “I’m still learning, even in my 60’s!” He relayed a story about how he had to take a financial exam just a few years back and had never studied finance before in his life – he is actually a geologist and mathematician.

Gibson finished by encouraging the crowd to thank their supervisors. He said that as CEO or President, you are a “battery,” and you give energy away to the people who report to you. He said having a grounded life involved making sure you had an outlet. His outlet, he explained was faith and family. A huge applause followed an interactive question and answer session where Gibson revealed that he had done stand-up comedy in his past. To say that Gibson had a bigger-than-life personality is no stretch, and he certainly showcased an acumen that UH graduates can exemplify.

— Sarah F. Hill

Michael Dimock (’90)

Pew Research Center

Michael Dimock Event Photos

Elliott Rose

Michael Dimock (’90) began his Powerful Voices lecture by relating how happy he was to be back in Houston. Dimock even replaced his burnt orange tie with a UH one in honor of Cougar Red Friday!

After receiving his graduate degree from the University of California San Diego and teaching political science for a while at North Carolina State University, Dimock started his career at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.

The Pew Research Center is a “fact tank” as opposed to a “think tank,” with its mission to inform responsible decision-making, as well as to communicate information. The Pew Research Center holds an interesting position on elections in that they aren’t always reflective of the public’s actual preferences.

“I was always interested in how you measure things effectively,” said Dimock. He told a story about writing a treatise on the back of a Human Situation Honors test — he felt that the test didn’t demonstrate what he actually learned and he wanted the professor to know! Thankfully, that particular professor was lenient and discussed Dimock’s concerns instead of dismissing them!

Dimock discussed at length how humans are wired to see meaning, and how the more we’re stressed or threatened, we tend to oversimplify issues — which leads to ugliness such as discrimination and conspiracy theories.

Dimock has had to “break down bias” in order to rise to the rank of President of the Pew Research Center. For example, Dimock always thought of himself as a shy introvert — yet he excels at public speaking. Dimock constantly needs to remind himself not to see patterns in data that aren’t really there. Yet he reminded the audience members that skepticism can lead to cynicism, and cause people to ask, “Why should I believe anything?” “This is dangerous,” he posited, “because we risk becoming the only gatekeepers to the immense amount of data we experience on a daily basis.”

Dimock’s question to the students in the audience was: “What kind of stress do you thrive on?” He maintains that stress will never leave our lives totally. However, if we enjoy working under tight deadlines or working with other people – those are the kind of stresses we should acknowledge and seek out. He also emphasized that individuals can make an impact on mega trends like the environment, health care or how technology is changing our lives.

“More data,” Dimock concluded, reminding the group, “does not mean more precision.” As self-curators of information in all its complexity, Dimock calls for us to seek out information that is precise, free of bias and rich in meaning.

— Sarah F. Hill

Elliott H. Rose, M.D. (’66)

Elliott H. Rose, M.D. Event Photos   Elliott H. Rose, M.D. Event Video

Elliott Rose

Dr. Elliott Rose (’66), a distinguished alumnus of the University of Houston, is a first generation college student, whose story is a resounding testament to the value of grit and determination.

Dr. Rose’s grandfather arrived on Ellis Island from Russia, fleeing during World War II in the early 1940s. An odyssey across America to California found the elder Rose (formerly Rosenblum, before they shortened their last name upon arrival in the United States) in a hospital located in Beaumont, Texas with a minor illness. While convalescing, he decided to explore Houston, which at the time was a booming oil town. He was so impressed with the city, he settled there and opened Rose Jewelry Company on Telephone Road.

Dr. Rose’s mother passed away when he was just seven. The young Elliott Rose, at eight years old, was selling donuts door-to-door. He had a paper route by the age of 10. He and his five siblings, in a blended family, helped contribute to clothing costs for their parents. Dr. Rose describes himself as “industrious” during this time and throughout most phases of his life. His father had only an eighth grade education, but worked as a watchmaker and jeweler when Elliott was a child.

“Education opens the doors to your future,” was the phrase Dr. Rose remembers his father and stepmother instilling in their six children. The children took this to heart, two are doctors, two are lawyers, one is a CPA and one is a Ph.D.- educated English professor. After attending Bellaire High School, Dr. Rose was accepted to UH and among the very first Honors College cohort. All of the Rose siblings either attended or taught at UH.

One of Dr. Rose’s favorite UH memories is attending the 1968 historical UCLA versus UH game in the Astrodome – where UH broke UCLA’s winning streak with a grand victory. At the beginning of his Powerful Voices lecture, he said that today’s basketball team is reminiscent of those great past wins. His talk was actually on the day of the NCAA game between the Houston Cougars and the Georgia State Panthers, and he joked he wasn’t sure anyone would attend.

A large crowd did, in fact, come out to hear about Dr. Rose’s plastic and reconstructive surgery practice on Park Avenue in New York City. They were captivated by his amazing burn reconstruction surgeries and reanimation of body parts damaged by multiple causes. Dr. Rose credits his father and grandfather’s manual dexterity –as jewelers and watchmakers – for his surgical prowess. Dr. Rose has been known to put eight to 10 stitches in a vein the size of a pencil lead.

He also described how he attended UCLA and Stanford, graduating first in his class in medical school. He says being a doctor is really about increasing peoples’ quality of life. “Only in America could the son of a first generation immigrant go on to become a Park Avenue plastic surgeon,” Dr. Rose mused. “The UH faculty, administration and students were an important part of that trajectory.”

— Sarah F. Hill

Hanneke Faber (’90, M.B.A.’92)

Unilever, President Europe

Hanneke Faber Event Photos

Hanneke Faber

Hanneke Faber recently delivered a lecture entitled, “Of Ice Cream and Business,” to the Grand Challenges Forum in partnership with the University of Houston Honors College. The soon-to-be Distinguished Alumna lives in the Netherlands and speaks five languages. She is the President Europe of Unilever and manages a nearly $60 billion per-year business, which boasts products from brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Hellman’s, Lipton and Dove. The question of the hour was: Can businesses do well by doing good? Faber was speaking of the sustainability efforts of brands such as Ben & Jerry’s motto “Peace, Love and Ice Cream,” and to bring it full-circle, Klondike bars from another ice cream company acquired by Unilever, were passed out at the end of the talk. “Purpose-led” and “Future-fit” are the two words Faber uses to describe Unilever’s approach to business.

Unilever is committed to acquiring brands that are purposeful, such as Seventh Generation. For instance, the hygiene company’s recycling goal is ambitious. By 2025, one hundred percent of packaging will be recyclable, re-usable or compostable. “Big companies have to demand less plastic, better plastic or no plastic”, says Faber. Mega-trends that are challenging the mission of big companies include health and obesity, inequality and poverty and climate change. Faber believes big companies have a duty and a responsibility to do well by doing good within their communities and throughout the world – after all, nearly 95 percent of the world’s households have Unilever products in them. That is what Faber means by “Purpose-led.”

“Future-fit” is perhaps a little less comfortable of a concept. “The world will never move slower than it’s moving today,” said Faber. Therefore, we must think of products as “computes” and change the way we think about how we produce them and use them.

Marketing has changed. An example would be the use of autonomous stores in Shanghai, which can be called to your home by your phone. Robots are doing more manufacturing jobs than ever before. And perhaps most shockingly, Unilever has streamlined the hiring process from four months to two weeks by using Artificial Intelligence to screen their potential candidates. You basically are interviewed by a robot who is programmed to save time and hire a diversity of workers.

There are many difficult questions for big companies to answer – for instance, one student asked about animal testing – which is still required in order to do business in China. But for the most part, the answer was clear: you can do well while doing good, and it’s a win not just for the company itself, but for the environment and consumers, as well.

— Sarah F. Hill

Renu Khator

University of Houston System/University of Houston

Renu Khator

Nationally known as an education thought leader and higher education policy expert, President Renu Khator, Ph.D. is currently serving as Chancellor and President of the University of Houston System/University of Houston where she oversees a four-university system that serves nearly 71,000 students. The System has an annual budget that exceeds $1.7 billion and has a $6 billion-plus impact on the Greater Houston area’s economy each year.

Throughout her nearly 35-year career, Dr. Khator has directed the transformation of complex global organizations responsible for fulfilling critical and challenging missions worldwide in the health, technology, and energy industry.

Before joining the University of Houston System in early 2008, Dr. Khator held a variety of increasingly responsible executive positions within higher education, including Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at University of South Florida and Dean, College of Arts and Sciences at University of South Florida.

A champion of public universities, Dr. Khator has served on several leading national associations and advisory boards, including serving as the former Chair of the American Council on Education, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

A native of India, Dr. Khator earned her Bachelor degree from Kanpur University and her Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy from Purdue University.

“Life is not easy; life is not fair,” said University of Houston President Renu Khator at the last Powerful Voices event. “It doesn’t matter the hand you’re dealt, play your very best game.” That’s what Renu Khator did, when she was 18 years old and told that she had to enter into an arranged marriage. Her father came to her school and told her that her mother was sick. When she got home, she saw 12 people from her family and the family of her groom-to-be — and her mother was not ill after all. Renu cried her eyes out, but three hours later, she was engaged.

Thankfully, her husband, Suresh Khator, was as passionate about her dreams as she was, and supported her desire to obtain her Master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science. After a five year detour in which Suresh worked in India, Renu completed both degrees at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. After discussing her 22 year career at the University of South Florida and her experience as Chancellor/President at the University of Houston, Renu encouraged students to get out of their comfort zone. “It forces you to learn – when you are not comfortable,” she went on. That’s how she became a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’s Board of Directors. She was not comfortable in the banking sector at first, so she self-taught herself about the industry.

“You cannot control what people do to you,” she reminded the audience. “You have control over becoming a victim.”

In her eleventh year as President/Chancellor of UH, and just under two years away from the conclusion of the $1 billion “Here, We Go” Campaign, Renu has more to accomplish and even more ambitious goals than before.

One of these includes the “50-in-5” Initiative, which calls for 50 percent growth in all research and scholarly outputs, from research expenditures to publications in top journals to cited performances. It also calls for doubling the number of national centers on campus.

Renu Khator has come a long way from the young Master’s student who cried after each draft of her college papers were edited for clarity – she recalled how her husband took her out for ice cream in between every cry and every new draft! Her favorite quote: “Own your dream.”

- Sarah F. Hill

Tony Buzbee J.D.

The Buzbee Law Firm

Tony Buzbee J.D.

Tony Buzbee (UH Alumnus) has practiced law in Texas for over twenty years. He graduated from Texas A&M University and served as an Infantry and Recon Officer in the United States Marine Corps.

After the Marines, Buzbee graduated summa cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center finishing second in his class and started his own firm. Buzbee has since been routinely recognized as one of the most successful and talented lawyers in the United States. An American trial lawyer who has been involved in multiple high-profile cases. He won the largest jury verdict against British Petroleum (BP) in history. On November 2, 2015, Buzbee was awarded Attorney Of The Year by Texas Lawyer Magazine.

The second event in the University of Houston’s Powerful Voices Speaker Series in conjunction with the Grand Challenges Forum in the Honors College at UH, featured famed trial lawyer and UH alumnus, Tony Buzbee (J.D. ’97). A graduate of Texas A&M and an Infantry and Recon Officer in the United States Marine Corps, who was stationed in the Persian Gulf and Somalia, delighted and entertained during his power-fueled presentation. Focused on the question: “Is it all up to chance?” — Buzbee drew from his passions. In his patented drawl, the Queen City, Texas native produced a litany of odds that people are up against. From shark attacks to the startling knowledge he had for a soldier’s chance of survival in Normandy during the summer of 1944, Buzbee threw out percentages to what he maintained was a crowd of “over-achievers.” Is it all chance? — A 1 in 4 chance of being killed on a certain day in battle. A 50 percent chance your marriage will fail. Buzbee showed a clip form the film “No Country for Old Men” about the probability of a coin toss. And should one even try to defy the odds?

His first and most important lesson was this takeaway: “Damn the odds!” With his trademark southern style, he encouraged students to be bold, focus on their goals (especially reminding them to WRITE THEM DOWN) and work their plans. “Just win!” he went on to say.

In a stunning bout of transparency, Buzbee tells the story about one of his ancestors, a convict, who was killed with a rock in 1860 during a prison release. What are the odds that one of this man’s descendants (Buzbee, himself) would go on to represent rappers, heads of state and even the governor of Texas? What’s the chance, he asked? “Damn the odds!” he answered himself in front of the enthralled group of students, UH leadership and community members.

Secondly, Buzbee advised students to have a strong work ethic. “‘The harder you work, the luckier you become’ is really a true saying,” he said.

Buzbee urged young people who wanted to work at high-pressure, high-reward jobs to be honest in their dealings, make themselves indispensable, and once they “arrive” — to be good to their staffs.

Buzbee reminded the crowd to take time for themselves. Buzbee enjoys wine, and according to the New York Times cover story from 2010 — the one where they report the $100 million settlement Buzbee won against BP — fine cigars. Self-care plays prominently in his lifestyle, although his work ethic would seem to rival it.

Lastly, Buzbee showed a clip from the film, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” with Will Smith. He echoed the film’s scene and said, “Don’t quit.” He said: “If we made it harder to quit, people would do better.”

Maria Rios

Nation Waste, Inc.

Maria Rios

Maria Rios is the President and CEO of Nation Waste, Inc., the first female Hispanic-owned waste removal company in United States history. In 2018, Rios launched a revolutionizing new division, Nation Safety Net powered by IBM Watson IoT to leverage environmental sensors and wearable devices in identifying potential dangers and helping employees avoid injury.

Rios was named one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Goldman Sachs honored Rios as one of its 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs. She has been featured on CNBC’s Blue Collar Millionaires. Rios is a proud graduate from the University of Houston.

The new Powerful Voices Speaker Series, in conjunction with the Honors College’s Grand Challenges Forum, brought the first of several speakers to Stubblefield Auditorium in Cemo Hall on Friday, October 5, 2018. Introduced by Bill Monroe, dean of the Honors College, and preceded by a short video about her rise to prominence in the field of waste management, Maria Rios of Nation Waste was visibly emotional about her return to the University of Houston. The first female and Hispanic-owned waste removal service in the nation began as a UH class project: she simply wrote a thorough business plan. “Trash is not going away,” she thought. It wasn’t that long after that she acquired a business loan and two trucks – and Nation Waste was born.

After a short recap of her childhood spent in El Salvador until age 13, Rios touched on the pride she feels as an American citizen and how wonderful a privilege it is to contribute millions to the country and bring jobs to hundreds of people. “I am living the American dream,” she added. It wasn’t always easy. As a young teenager, her accent was ridiculed at her American school. Rios went to fill out a loan application after college, and the loan officer called out for a “Mario Rios” instead of “Maria” – waste is a notoriously male-dominated field, as one may imagine.

After providing waste management services to small business, Fortune 500 companies and government entities, Rios knew it was time to expand – into the safety and technology sector. Combining the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor technology, Nation Safety Net identifies 20+ threats to workers’ safety such as, fatigue.

While Rios believes nothing is possible without great sacrifice, she feels eternally grateful for her success; it has landed her on many entrepreneurial achievement lists, such as Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Entrepreneurs” and Goldman Sachs’ “Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.” Rios was even profiled on the television program “Blue Collar Millionaires.”

Rios’s last piece of advice? “Surround yourself with smarter people than you,” she says. “Then, network.” Achievement has always made her hungrier, and it doesn’t stop with her Nation Safety Net collaboration with IBM. She is constantly thinking of new ways to expand. She finished by quoting UH’s Alma Mater: “When the going gets so rough and tough, we never worry, ‘cause we got the stuff.”

For more information and stories about Maria Rios, visit: http://development.uh.edu/blog/the-empire-that-trash-built-maria-rios-97-and-nation-waste-inc/ or watch Rios’ CNBC “Blue Collar Millionaires” episode at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9hPysO8EeQ.

By Sarah F. Hill

More About The New Grand Challenges Forum

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Powerful Voices

For more information about the lecture series, contact Beth Harrington at (713) 743-8999 or ekharrington2@uh.edu.

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