Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

Juliet García

"We are very close to Mexico," says Juliet García, who has led the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) for 18 years. And she's not just talking culturally. The 17,000-student campus is located literally blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border. And as the first female Hispanic to lead a U.S. college or university, García takes pride in her young institution's makeup: 93% Hispanic, mostly bilingual and 91% first-generation university students. "We are a preview of what the rest of Texas and the rest of the U.S. is going to morph into," says García. Established in 1991, UTB is the result of a partnership between the University of Texas system and a then 65-year-old community college. García refers to the setup — an open-admissions school that offers baccalaureate and graduate degrees — as a "community university" that has eliminated many of the barriers that first-generation students usually face when transferring from two- to four-year campuses. Given that only about a quarter of community-college students make that transition, García hopes that UTB can serve as a model for how to make it work. Says she: "We're trying to send a very clear signal that the Latino human capital in this country simply needs access to the same opportunities that have been present for other people." —Gilbert Cruz