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UH Graduate Student Wins State Award for Chicanos in Higher Education

Maria HoneyHigher education master’s student Maria Honey says her award from TACHE helps elevate the presence of Latinas and Latinos at colleges across Texas.

Posted June 2, 2017 – Like many graduate students, Maria Honey juggles coursework, a full-time job and motherhood. Reflecting on her childhood keeps her grounded, she said.

She went from speaking only Spanish as a child to graduating third in her high school class in Texas. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in higher education at the University of Houston College of Education while working on campus as assistant director of marketing and communications for Auxiliary Services. The department includes dining services, the bookstore, vending services and various retail lease partners.

Honey’s success on the job earned her the 2017 Distinguished University Staff Award from the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education (TACHE). The award, presented in March in Austin, recognizes superior professionalism and accomplishments in teaching, research or service to Chicano students.

Honey took time to chat with the College of Education about the award, a mentoring group she advises and the key to staying positive.

Q: What does the award mean to you?

A: Being selected as the TACHE Distinguished Staff Award winner tells me that my work as a staff member, emerging leader, colleague and mentor is making a difference at the University of Houston, but it is also elevating the presence of Latinas and Latinos at institutions of higher education across the state.

Q: Can you take us back to where you grew up?

A: I grew up in a small town on the coastal bend of Texas called Ingleside. It gave me a great public education and a safe community to grow up in.

Q: Can you tell us more about your background?

A: I am a Mexican immigrant. My parents brought my siblings and me to the United States when I was 7 years old. None of us knew a word of English, and we had to work very hard to learn the language and adjust to a new environment and to new customs. As a student, I took academics very seriously. My involvement in academic competitions and sports sparked my interest in college. I graduated from high school in 1996, third in my class, and I attended the University of Houston, where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Technology.

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be involved in higher education and marketing and communications?

A: Many of my major decisions in life were triggered by encouragement from people who see a greater potential in me. I transitioned from a job doing customer service into marketing when my supervisor recognized my skills as a graphic designer and a presenter. I’ve been doing marketing and communication for the University of Houston Office of Auxiliary Services for about eight years. Similarly, pursuing a master’s degree and career in higher education is due to the encouragement of my current supervisor, Dr. Emily Messa, associate vice president/associate vice chancellor for administration. By entering the master’s program in the College of Education, I am committing my career to higher education. I could not be more excited that I’ve found my calling.

Q: Can you describe your work at UH that led to the award?

A: The award process included a nomination and support letter from colleagues. Below is the text that was read out by the award selection committee members at the award ceremony.

“Maria is (an) assistant director, Marketing and Communications, at the University of Houston. Her colleagues say that she is a teacher and a mentor. Maria takes time out of her schedule to listen and provide advice to not only her staff but also the students in campus housing. Maria is involved on campus and outside campus. This includes Las Comadres Mentor Group that benefits from her knowledge and experience. Las Comadres is a group of young female Latina students that she works with to enrich their lives by promoting teamwork, encouragement, professionalism and guidance. "

The mentor group is a young group, just formed last fall. It is composed of about a dozen Latina UH faculty and staff. We work with first-generation, first-time-in-college and sophomore Latina students. We use a group mentoring model resembling an extension of family that emphasizes communication, encouragement and empowerment.

Looking more broadly, I believe that my focus on service and the desire to please is what drives me to be a better professional, colleague, friend and mother. I get more satisfaction from getting a sincere ‘thank you’ than anything else in the world.

Q: Are there a few professors at UH who’ve influenced you?

A: There are many professors I could mention, but I’ll limit it to three. Lyle McKinney’s devotion to higher education, his students and research is something I greatly admire. He motivates me to be a better student and practitioner with each interaction we have. I also want to acknowledge Dr. Heidi Kennedy and Dr. Jackie Thomas, who are not only exceptional instructors but also demand their students to stretch themselves in their studies and in their writing. I appreciate that they require excellence from us but also encourage us to not forget that we need family and personal time. (McKinney is an associate professor of higher education, and Thomas is an adjunct professor in the same program in the college’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Kennedy is assistant dean in the Office of the Provost).

Q: How do you manage to stay so positive and committed while juggling school and work?

A: Staying positive during the challenging times requires practice. My family and I faced challenges early in life. We had to work hard to get ahead – to get an education, to make smart financial choices, to challenge stereotypes, etc. When things get tough, I just have to think back to my past and remember how privileged I am today.

–By Kathy Patnaude