By Jessica Mize
When Maya Thornton was a little girl, her parents, both first generation college graduates with a love for learning, gave her two options – grow up and join the military or enroll in college and go on to attend a professional school.
Not cut out for the armed forces, Thornton, the director of UH’s Historically Underutilized Businesses department, chose the latter option and hasn’t looked back since.
After earning her undergraduate degree in political science from Xavier University, the native Houstonian quickly hit the books and worked hard to complete her Juris Doctor at Southern University Law Center, her father’s alma mater.
“My older cousin, who has always been like a mentor to me, actually first planted the seed in my head that I should consider attending law school,” she said. “I have always loved reading and writing, so it just seemed like the natural choice.”
A couple of jobs and roughly ten years of experience later, Thornton now finds herself overseeing the operations of the University’s HUB program, a department that’s in place to help connect HUB-certified vendors with business opportunities on campus.
Thornton explained that HUB vendors are small companies that not only have to have their principal place of business in Texas, but also must be 51 percent or more actively owned by an Asian Pacific American, African American, Hispanic American, Native American, American woman or a service-disabled veteran.
“Being a state agency, UH is required by law to have a HUB program in place,” she said. “We have a responsibility to these entities and many of them do have a lot to offer the University.”
In her role, Thornton is responsible for a multitude of tasks such as preparing external reports for the state and internal updates on HUB statistics for the University. She also plays a large part in planning and overseeing educational and informative programs and events like the annual HUB Forum, the monthly HUB vendor showcase and the yearly HUB vendor fair.
It’s a big job, so it’s no wonder, then, that in the short year and a half that she’s held the position her department has tripled in size.
“When I started, it was a one-woman show, it was just me, and before that the University’s purchasing director oversaw everything,” she said. “We’re now a team of three and it’s making all of the difference.”
The benefit of the increased support is especially evident when it comes to the department’s outreach efforts. Since she started, the annual vendor fair has nearly doubled in size.
“The first fair I helped host back in 2014 included just 50 vendors,” said Thornton. “This past October, I’m proud to say we had 92 vendors on-campus discussing their businesses face-to-face with potential University clients.”
Although Thornton and her team are making great strides, the happily married mother of two knows there’s still lots of room for improvement.
“Our biggest challenge is educating University departments and colleges about who we are and what we do and why it’s of value to them,” said Thornton. “My hope is that, eventually, anyone looking for a new contract for goods or services will reach out to the HUB department to see if there’s a HUB vendor who can get the job done.”
While Thornton may be all business while at work, the number one priority and accomplishment in her life is her family. Any spare time she gets, she spends with them and she’s grateful that the University’s culture, as well as her immediate boss, encourages that.
“I almost didn’t accept this job when I got the offer; however, my wonderful boss, Mike Glisson talked me into it and I’m so glad he did,” said Thornton. “I love working here, it’s definitely the perfect fit for me.”