UHD Alumnus Sergio Lira Takes Community Service to Heart
By Mark Kramer
Dr. Sergio Lira believes in going the extra mile when it comes to service to others. He experienced these values firsthand as a student at the University of Houston-Downtown.
As a longtime volunteer and retired public school educator, Lira was honored with one of the highest honors from the City of Houston as he received Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Hispanic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I was very humbled to receive this award,” the 1985 alumnus said. “I consider it an honor and a privilege to give back to this community. It is a sacrifice to pour time, talent and energy into helping others or volunteering for a cause after work hours and on the weekends.”
Lira said he experienced such kindness as a student the first time he walked onto the UHD campus.
"UHD is a great school,” he said. “The University was and still is flexible, diverse and progressive. Thanks to the opportunities afforded to me, I was able to grow and learn. The faculty was very patient in assisting me with my learning gaps, which made me feel that someone really cared and I wasn't just a number. This personalized teaching made a difference in my life. This is what made UHD unique and special.”
The Beginning of Service: Educating Young Minds
After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in purchasing and material management from the College of Business (now Marilyn Davies College of Business), Lira went to work as a purchasing agent for Schlumberger. One day outside of his regular workday, a Catholic nun approached him to assist her with English tutoring at the Open Door Mission for homeless men where he devoted many hours a week assisting others.
“It was at that moment that the teaching bug hit me and it never let go,” he said.
Lira went on to earn his teacher certification for the University of Houston and began teaching fourth grade bilingual classes at Sanchez Elementary in the Houston Independent School District (HISD). He would later earn a master’s degree in educational management from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a doctorate from University of Houston.
The veteran educator served as an Assistant Principal at Matthys Elementary and Pomeroy in the Pasadena Independent School District, before returning to HISD as an Assistant Principal at Chavez and Bellaire High Schools. He retired in 2018 when he was elected to the HISD Board of Education, a position he held until 2020.
Commitment to the Community
Lira and his wife, Maria, are also involved with the non-profit organization, Texas Organizing Project, to support causes of criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, housing, and improved wages. He also serves on various committees and boards, including El Zocalo – The Alley Theatre and Bikes 4 Excellence, among others.
As an active member of his parish, Queen of Peace Catholic Church, he is a founding member of the Catholic youth group, Encuentros de Promocion Juvenil (“Encounters Promoting Youths”), and Timonel Foundation, which aims to lessen the financial burden of Houston’s Spanish-speaking Catholic young adults.
Share Your Time With Others
When asked about his extensive community service efforts, Lira replied that a colleague once said, "it's after 5 p.m. when a person makes a difference in the lives of others".
“I truly believe this because it is no longer your job. It is going the extra mile,” he emphasized. "We are here on earth for a very brief time. If we are blessed with gifts, talents, opportunities to share with others, why not? It is not wise to bury our treasures. We must continue to give until the giving tree can no longer give.”
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.