Campus and Community

A Note from Interim President Michael A. Olivas: Finding Golden Opportunities Under UHD’s ‘Rainbow Connection’

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Photos by Thomas Shea

It’s only September, but the fall semester already has proven to be quite momentous. In just a few weeks since classes resumed at the University of Houston-Downtown, I’ve had wonderful opportunities to connect with members of the campus community and other UHD supporters.

The most recent event was the outstanding Community Engagement Luncheon that assembled many generous Houstonians and Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos. They were there to meet three outstanding individuals whose academic experiences at UHD were enhanced by service learning opportunities. Gabriel Morales, Charles Hearne and Jerriann Nettles are shining examples of how our students are applying talents honed in our classrooms to our community. They’ve touched the lives of Houstonians, as well as everyone who was in attendance.

Fine arts student Gabriel was once discouraged from pursuing his creative ambitions. Like every great artist, he didn’t listen to naysayers. That’s good news for the community! He recently applied his talents to a project that enriched the lives of elementary school students.

Charles is Houston’s executive relations manager for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. He overcame adversities (including a prison sentence) and took advantage of the opportunities offered by our Center for Entrepreneurship. Now, he helps prison inmates turn their lives around.

And Jerriann, a social work graduate, worked diligently in Houston’s Third Ward to assist its residents, including one special woman named Grandma Lois. Jerriann’s tale of helping Grandma Lois see photos of her family on a cell phone was particularly touching.

Of course, these are only some of the stories emanating from our campus. I look forward to hearing about more UHD students, who are making our city a better place.

I also had a great time chatting with UHD’s staff during the recent Staff Council Town Hall Meeting. This was an excellent opportunity for me to engage in a sit-down discussion with some of the folks who make UHD such a special place for our students. This particular event also allowed me to learn what is on the minds of staff members. I told everyone in attendance, and I’ll say it again, staff development is among my top priorities while I’m in this role. I’ve made a lot of discoveries here at UHD, but one thing stands out. We have staff members who are committed to our students and to this institution. For that, I will do what I can to support them.

And I’d be remiss not to mention the recent Fall Conversation with my friend and UH System Regent Paula Mendoza. Instead of me delivering the usual State of the University address, I invited UHD almuna Regent Mendoza to campus for a frank conversation on UHD. During this event, I also was pleased to see many familiar faces in the audience including former Board of Regents chair Welcome W. Wilson Sr., Student Regent Joshua Freed and longtime UHD president Max Castillo. This was a very special event that brought faculty and staff together to celebrate the wonderful things happening here now and to look toward UHD’s future.

Another special event was a visit by UH System Regent Gerald W. McElvey. I always am pleased to host members of the Board of Regents and soon will welcome Student Regent Freed back to campus.

Connecting with our faculty, staff and students is one of my favorite aspects of my job. It’s also a necessary part of being a university leader. Listening to the campus community is very important, and I’ve been all ears as of late. As the semester continues, I look forward to more exchanges and making more connections.

Considering the rich diversity on campus, you might say … to borrow from songwriter Paul Williams … that UHD is truly the “Rainbow Connection.”

As that song goes:

“What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing, and what do you think we might see? Someday, we’ll find it. The rainbow connection.”

I’m not Kermit the Frog, but I have found the Rainbow Connection, and it’s right here at UHD.

Michael