A Public Gator
By Cynthia Gonzales
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gave her a shout out at the University of Houston-Downtown’s (UHD) recent topping out ceremony.
In her Downtown office, she proudly displays a crystal UHD apple given to her by UHD President Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz.
And, while attending a Gator Grit Series, she intentionally sat next to a student attendee to pay it forward through mentorship.
Who is this public Gator?
Meet, Maria Del Pilar Montes, director of the Boards & Commissions for the Mayor’s Office, a job she’s held since July. In May of 2017, she earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Marilyn Davies College of Business.
UHD News recently sat down with Montes at city hall learn how her role with the City of Houston and how she’s putting her MBA to work.
UHD News: Let’s talk about your time at UHD, where you earned an MBA. What led you to choose UHD for your graduate degree?
Montes: I’m a native Houstonian. While growing up everyone talked about The University of Houston System. For my undergraduate degree, I attended an out-of-state college, but for some reason I always had this idea to get another degree. At one point, I was deciding between a law degree and an MBA. I eventually opted for an MBA. UHD was very affordable and was close to my full-time job.
UHD News: What sort of advice would you give to both students considering UHD and those already in the program?
Montes: Baby steps. Since my undergrad degree was in communications, I found some of the finance and statistics courses to be a bit challenging, and at times frustrating. What helped me were my parents who are immigrants. They encouraged me not to give up.
UHD News: How often do you come back to campus?
Montes: I get back quite often. While in the MBA program, I was part of the MBA Student Association. I helped coordinate all of our club’s events to encourage networking and invite alumni to get involved. During my time at UHD, our MBA group bonded a lot and we even formed a LinkedIn group keep in touch and stay connected to our University.
UHD News: Okay, let’s talk about your new position with the City of Houston. How did that come about?
Montes: I heard about the position through my previous employer. I could not pass up the possibility of working under Mayor Turner’s dynamic leadership. I believe that my professional accomplishments, along with my extensive volunteer work in the community, helped me land the job. I worked on various campaigns and for Commissioner Rodney Ellis when he was a senator; I was a volunteer with the Harris County Young Democrats and was involved in the Eastex/Jensen neighborhood.
UHD News: What exactly is your role and how can it be of value to the UHD Community?
Montes: My role is to find qualified individuals with the necessary talents and skills to serve the city’s 100-plus boards and commissions. As a UHD alum, I would love for my fellow Gators to learn about these boards and to consider serving. This would be a great benefit for UHD because it would allow our alumni to be active participants in our city’s future. The Mayor’s board appointees do important work related to our airports, the Port of Houston, libraries, parks, public housing, the arts, BARC, and much more.
UHD News: If a member of the community wanted to be appointed to a Boards & Commissions area, how do they navigate through the process?
Montes: I would ask that they visit the city’s website. There, they will find information about the various boards, open positions, term lengths, and more. Once a person determines where they can best serve, they select “apply for a board” to complete the application form. The application process will allow individuals to select more than one board and instruct how to upload a résumé. When it’s time to review a specific board or commission, I search our site for candidates who have expressed an interest. If the applicant has the skills necessary to serve on that board or commission, I present their résumé to the Mayor who ultimately chooses the individuals who will serve.
Our site also contains some positions that are by nomination-only (Council Members, County Commissioners, State Senators, State Representatives, School Districts and other municipalities).
UHD News: Do interested applicants have to be a Houston resident?
Montes: Most of the boards require individuals to be Houston residents. There are few exceptions and that information is available at http://www.houstontx.gov/boards/.
UHD News: Are these board positions paid?
Montes: No, these are all volunteer positions.
UHD News: How are you applying your UHD education in your current position?
Montes: I had a really great course on strategy. I learned how to create strategies for issues that you may experience in business, which I experience in my current job. In my role, I have to strategize to how to find and screen the best candidates for a specific board. Also, a leadership course helped me with public speaking and networking. Also, I love that the program’s provides a team-teaching with Corporate Fellows who are industry leaders that offer real-world scenarios to learn from.
UHD News: What sort of advice would you give to you fellow Gators?
Montes: Don’t give up. Find something or someone who will push you to achieve your goal, whether that’s your family or friends. There will be days when it’s not easy—juggling life and school—just take one day at a time. A fellow student once gave me the advice to “find your group.” Most people end up in the same classes with the same people. If you have a group of friends; try maintain to those relationships because they may be the ones who help you power through.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.