By Christina Rodriguez
As is tradition, The University of Texas at El Paso sets aside a few moments during Homecoming to focus the attention of the Miner Nation on graduates who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields and serve as examples of what can be accomplished through integrity, dedication and determination.
The University has selected three outstanding UTEP graduates whose achievements serve as an inspiration to present and future Miners. They join the distinctive ranks of Distinguished Alumni because they balanced big dreams with a confidence in the knowledge and skills that were honed at this institution.
We salute the 2016 Distinguished Alumni for raising the bar now and forever.
Eric J.C. Chan
BBA Accounting, 1978
It is Eric J.C. Chan’s resilience and ability to take risks without fear of failure that has led to his success as an entrepreneur, developer and investor since earning his bachelor’s degree in accounting from The University of Texas at El Paso in 1978.
Chan is the founder or co-founder of four companies in Hong Kong and China, including one that sells American rice in Hong Kong and another that deploys a citywide free wireless mesh network in Guangzhou City, China, by turning moving vehicles like taxis, buses and trams into hotspots.
Chan was born in Vientiane, Laos and grew up in Hong Kong. In 1973, he left Hong Kong to attend Riverside High School in El Paso through an international exchange program. After graduation, he decided to stay and attend UTEP.
Chan credits his UTEP education as the foundation for his success in business.
“I treasure my education from UTEP. It taught me the basic fundamentals to be an entrepreneur and taught me to develop a sense of completeness,” Chan said. “It has definitely broadened my mind and taught me new approaches to analytically think through problems and define predicaments.”
Shortly after graduation, Chan moved back to Hong Kong and, with help from his father and a few business partners, started his first business – a contracting company for fitting out interior spaces in buildings, making them suitable for occupation.
After just a year-and-a-half, Chan’s business partners backed out, leaving him on his own and desperate to keep the business afloat.
“When I started my business as an entrepreneur at the tender age of 25, I did not have a lot of life experience,” Chan said. “My father, who was a successful businessman, became my mentor and helped me with strategic decisions and problem solving, but I had to be independent and analyze the situation as an adult.”
That first challenge didn’t faze Chan; instead, he reevaluated his business plan and moved forward. He diversified his business to include building products, landscape amenities and technical products. Later, he developed Lotus Hill Golf Resort and Sun Valley golf course in China.
Chan’s business career has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs that have helped to propel his businesses to the next level and helped him grow as an entrepreneur.
“I have had many successes and failures in my investments and I try to learn every time from any inadequacies in business planning,” he said. “Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. If you have not failed before, you are not growing up.”
Words of Advice from Eric J.C. Chan
One thing that Eric Chan has learned since graduating from UTEP is that it takes a special kind of person to succeed in business. He feels both privileged and proud to be named a Distinguished Alumnus because it allows him to serve as a role model for all UTEP students with the goal of becoming future entrepreneurs and share with them what it takes to succeed.
“If you have a good idea and investors can see you are passionate and have integrity, the money will come,” Chan said. “Start small, build up your character, show your confidence and passion for what you are trying to accomplish. Talk about your goals all the time and have the drive to take on the challenge.”
Here are the eight characteristics Chan believes a successful entrepreneur must possess, in order of importance:
1. Risk taker
2. Decision maker
3. Rock solid integrity
4. Have a vision
Catalina E. García, M.D.
B.S. Biological Sciences 1961
Catalina E. García’ s success story is a testament to the American dream. Her grandparents came to El Paso with only what they could carry from Chihuahua, Mexico, to escape the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. García’ s parents – a mechanic and a seamstress – settled in a housing project in the segundo barrio neighborhood in south El Paso, where García grew up as the oldest of six siblings.
Today, García, M.D., is a highly regarded anesthesiologist with Dallas Anesthesiology Group, P.A., as well as a mentor and advocate for education and women’ s issues, particularly those of Latina women.
García’ s dream of becoming a doctor was initiated through regular visits to her pediatrician, a female whom her parents respected and revered. Since the age of five, she kept her dream to herself and began to work toward making it a reality.
Fortunately for García, education was always important in her household.
“My parents saw education as a means to get a good job,” García said. “Mother completed fourth grade and my father graduated from a technical high school, but they read a lot and were both mainly self-educated. They were very aware that education was the key to success.”
García graduated from Texas Western College, now UTEP, in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences. She remembers fondly how her professors and fellow TWC students were always willing to lend a hand.
“I used to sleep on the padded easy chairs in the student union during the day between classes,” García recalled. “I would pin a note on my shoulder stating what time I had a class, with the request, ‘Please wake me.’ And you know what? Someone always did!”
The success García enjoys today did not always come easy. The newly married medical student faced adversity as a Mexican-American woman when discrimination was common in the United States, as well as the added challenges of adjusting to marriage and homesickness after leaving her hometown to attend medical school in Dallas.
“Failure is a very good teacher; a painful teacher, but a good one,” García said. “I didn’t do well in medical school the first time. I had a difficult time, but I grew up, got back on track and convinced the medical school administration to give me a second chance. From that point on, I just ignored the outside world and people who didn’t like me and worked like the dickens to get the job done.”
Words of Advice from Catalina E. García
Through her recognition as a Distinguished Alumna, García hopes to be able to inspire up-and-coming UTEP graduates who may face the same kinds of challenges she did by reminding them that anything that means something does not always come easy but is well worth the effort.
“It is at times hard work to finish school and accomplish your dreams,” García said. “Yes, it is work, but work and investment of time that lead to a life of one’s choosing, and what can be better than that? Achieving your dreams is a gift you give yourself!”
Mario T. García, Ph.D.
B.A. History, 1966; M.A. History, 1968
Mario T. García’s history professors at Texas Western College, now The University of Texas at El Paso, inspired him on his path to become a distinguished university history professor, historian, researcher, author and trailblazer for Chicano studies.
García, Ph.D., is an El Paso native who, since childhood, had a love of history but wished to pursue a career in politics like former El Paso Mayor Raymond L. Telles, the first Hispanic mayor of a major American city. Telles was a leader with whom García could easily identify: they were both Mexican-American and graduates of Cathedral High School. He looked up to Telles and would later write a biography of the iconic mayor and U.S. ambassador.
As a student at Texas Western, García majored in political science but soon found himself taking more interest in his history classes.
“I particularly enjoyed courses with Professor Wayne Fuller on late 19th and early 20th century American history,” Garciá said. “My professors were all very dedicated to their work. Seeing how they were excited about history added to my own excitement.”
During García’s senior year at TWC, he thought, “I can do that!” while listening to one of Fuller’s enjoyable lectures. He started on the path to become a college professor, earning a master’s degree in history from UTEP and a doctoral degree in history from the University of California, San Diego.
While at UC San Diego, García assisted in the development of a Chicano studies program. He later was appointed as distinguished professor of history and Chicano studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, were he has remained a faculty member for 41 years.
“The Chicano Movement provided the context for my decision to study history and apply learning and knowledge to my people [Mexican-American] because it hadn’t been integrated in U.S. history,” García said. “My goal in life is to be the best Chicano historian in the country.”
García has written numerous books and biographies on Chicano history, received awards and fellowships for his teaching and research including the distinguished Guggenheim Fellowship, and served as history and American studies professor and director of ethnic studies for Yale University from 1990-92 before moving to his current position.
“I have come a long way from thinking in Professor Fuller’s class that I could become a college professor, but the foundation that the history department gave me at UTEP was fundamental for me in achieving my goal,” García said. “I fulfilled my love of history at UTEP and I am thankful for the professors I had and the support the department gave me.”
Words of Advice from Mario T. García
García has always remained close to UTEP and feels very much connected to the University that provided him the foundation to accomplish his dreams. He always looks forward to visiting the campus and meeting with professors and students, especially to share words of encouragement with students looking to follow in his footsteps.
“Never sell yourself short; always aim to accomplish the highest goal you have for yourself,” García said. “There is no substitution for hard work and dedication. Never settle for anything less than what you set out to accomplish. A lot of UTEP students like myself are first-generation college students, and our parents define success in terms of their children. Aim to achieve the utmost not only for yourself but for your hard-working parents as well.”