The University of Houston Magazine

Celebrating Nearly 40 Years of Mexican American Studies at UH

CMAS Increases Knowledge About the Latino Culture and Community

By Emily Smart

CMAS StudentsWith its 40th anniversary on the horizon, the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) is gearing up for a celebration of the program’s progress. “Forty years is a real milestone for us, and if you look at where we started and where we are now, there’s been tremendous growth,” said CMAS director Tatcho Mindiola Jr. (’67, M.A. ’70).

CMAS, which has been instrumental in fostering research and understanding of the Mexican-American experience, as well as providing the Houston community with well-educated Latinos, is anticipating the upcoming anniversary as an opportunity to further develop its current initiatives and plan for its future.

The center’s Visiting Scholars Program and Graduate Fellowship Program have advanced serious intellectual interest among the Mexican-American community. Visiting scholars, who are invited by CMAS to the University of Houston to study and conduct research, play a significant role in increasing knowledge about the Latino community and raise the status of the university. To date, CMAS has brought in 32 scholars who may be interested in staying at UH in a tenure or tenure-track position.

Through the University of Houston Series in Mexican American Studies, the program’s print partnership with Texas A&M University Press, previous visiting scholars have published five books with two additional titles currently under review. This series includes some of the first books ever written about Mexican-Americans in Houston.

Graduate student fellowships advance the specialized study of topics relating to the Mexican-American experience. By encouraging the development of this research, CMAS fosters a higher degree of knowledge among Mexican- Americans and places a stronger emphasis on the value of education for this community’s future generations. To date, CMAS has supported 41 successful graduate students.

Beyond its research and scholarly contributions, the center has played a large role in increasing the number of Latinos with a college education in the Houston area. CMAS’s Academic Achievers Program (AAP), which provides students with financial and academic assistance, has aided in the graduation of numerous students and has a graduation rate of 77 percent.

Viridiana Hernandez (’08), one of the AAP graduates, credits her success to the program and the resources it offered her. “There’s a lot of different streams of support that I used to get from the center,” Hernandez said. “There’s nothing I needed that I wasn’t able to get from them.”

The center’s annual banquet to raise scholarship funds for students in AAP is set for Oct. 21 and will feature NASA astronaut José Hernández as the keynote speaker. The event generates the majority of scholarship funding for the program and involves members of the local community in raising awareness of the center’s mission. Juanita Elizondo, director of Corporate Relations for Fiesta Mart Inc., joined the committee for this year’s banquet to personally support what she sees as a vital mission. “I just think that the program has done so much in addressing a need in the community, and the fact that they have provided this opportunity is truly a commitment to this generation and future generations,” she said.

A $5 million fundraising campaign recently was launched to ensure the longevity of the center’s overall impact and its distinct initiatives. The plan involves five separate $1 million endowments to support each of the major areas: the Visiting Scholars Program, the Graduate Fellowship Program, AAP, the director’s chair and a discretionary fund. It also will provide long-term funding for the program and ensure an eventual successor for Mindiola.

Tatcho Mindiola Jr.Along with continuing to advance its current programs, the center is exploring additional options for expansion, including the establishment of an academic major in Mexican and Mexican American Studies. With plans to develop a proposal for the idea still at least a year away, Mindiola sees the major, which would offer courses on the history, culture and geography of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, as benefiting a growing number of people. “The Mexican culture is spreading in the U.S., and the U.S. culture is spreading in Mexico,” Minidola said. “So we think the long-term future is that there will be more integration between the two countries, and we hope to bring forth a greater understanding of both communities.”

CMAS also is considering a future collaboration with the Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities & Scholarships (VAMOS) that would expand their recruiting efforts in the Rio Grande Valley. Alonzo Cantu and Eliva Saenz, two of the founders of VAMOS, are enthusiastic about the potential benefits of the relationship. “We’re very excited about the CMAS program,” Saenz said. “If we can learn from them and work together, then I think it’s going to be wonderful for years to come.” While no concrete plans for a partnership between the two groups have been developed, CMAS is looking forward to the possibility of opportunities for additional growth.

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Giving to UH, Benefitting Houston

Businesswoman, Alumna Recognizes the Importance of a Tier One Urban University

by Kelli Gifford

Beth MadisonBeth Madison (’72), president and co-founder of Madison Benefits Group, Inc., has spent years giving generously to the University of Houston, the city of Houston, and its dynamic business community out of gratitude for the opportunities they have afforded her. She is determined that others get those same opportunities.

“We must promote and maintain this vibrant cultural and business context we have in Houston. One of the best ways is to support our youth being educated in a first-class, Tier One university,” she said.

Madison devotes countless hours and financial resources to helping UH reach greater heights, especially through her devotion to the athletics program, the Moores School of Music and the Cullen College of Engineering, to name a few.

“I personally believe in urban universities. They are wonderful places to get an education, develop negotiating skills and a different kind of leadership,” she said. “You can see it play out in a real-life environment … an education in the middle of a business community. I think it’s important that all our youth with talent can access that sort of resource.”

But Madison isn’t all business — she’s a big UH sports fan. She saw the personal impact UH had on her brother when he played football under Coach Bill Yeoman and the relationships he developed that never faded. From that she realized how athletics create “an opportunity for students and alumni to spend time together in a spirited format that inspires all of us to appreciate education and the values that are important in our world.”

Her other passion is the arts — she serves on the boards of the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony and the Alley Theatre.

“Music and the arts are such an important part of our cultural landscape, and we look to our universities to feed these world-class arts programs that we have,” she said. The Moores School of Music honored Madison this spring, giving her the Outstanding Philanthropist Award for her ongoing support. Madison recognizes that with Houston being the “energy capital of the world,” support of the Cullen College of Engineering is vital. “One of the most important leadership contributions that [UH President] Renu Khator brought to UH is emphasizing those particular disciplines that create and maintain our vigorous economy. Engineering is clearly cornerstone to developing our key energy resources.”

Having a university full of opportunity in this great city inspires Madison, who sees the importance of being able to provide an educated work force for area industry.

“Universities make cities world-class,” she said. “It’s simply important to have the opportunity for young scholars to develop academically here within our community. It’s motivating to be part of that dynamic.”