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Education, family style

Using their UT Arlington degrees as a foundation, the Ponce siblings fashioned successful careers in law, teaching, computing, engineering and journalism.

Ponce Family
From left: Andrew Ponce, Peter Ponce, Susan Ponce, Linda Ponce Campbell and Julie Ponce Grondin at the Distinguished Alumni Gala.

Growing up in the Ponce home, everybody knew that all five children would go to college. But the same college?

Young people with such varied interests might be expected to select different institutions of higher education. But one by one, for entirely individual reasons, all five offspring of Abraham and Jovita Ponce chose UT Arlington.

Five students, five degrees, five successful careers—a Ponce high-five for the hometown university.

The story truly begins with the parents, who provided a house full of books, regular pilgrimages to the library, in-depth conversation around the dinner table, and the example of a father who earned two degrees at night while raising a family. In the Ponce household, college was unarguably the next step after high school.

Receiving a scholarship from UT Arlington cemented the college decision for first daughter Julie, who graduated from the University in 1978 with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and a computer science option.

“When I first went to college, I was going to get a degree in English,” she explained. “I had done some writing in high school and thought I’d teach English. But I found that I was good at math, and my dad suggested computers.”

After a Fortran course, Julie was hooked.

“Computing was new and different and incorporated logic, which made it intriguing. My math and computer science professors gave me a great foundation in the basics, and my English teachers gave me insights into the world through great literature and its history.”

After discovering her talent for computing, Julie began working at an on-campus computer center. Before graduation, she joined the UT Arlington applications programming staff and spent several years managing a small team of programmers before joining the private sector.

“My computer foundations took me through more than two decades of programming and analysis—and my first layoff—and into the age of personal computing,” she said. “When information technology met with the outsourcing craze, I encountered my second layoff. This time I chose a different path, relying on my basics, and landed a position in sales analysis.”

Today, Julie Ponce Grondin is a senior analyst in American Airlines’ corporate account analysis department. “Those research skills from my computer background translated into new jobs for me,” she said.

Interestingly, although Julie works for a major airline, she is not the family’s most frequent flier. Second daughter Linda has done some serious traveling.

“I believe that life takes you where it’s supposed to. So, even when your ambitions don’t work out exactly as you planned, you often get opportunities that you never envisioned.”
– Linda Ponce Campbell (’79 BA)

“I believe that life takes you where it’s supposed to,” Linda said. “So, even when your ambitions don’t work out exactly as you planned, you often get opportunities that you never envisioned.”

Like Julie, Linda started college as an English major. She wanted to write the great American novel. Then she became interested in journalism, first television, then newspaper reporting.

She soon made several discoveries.

“I wanted to go into print journalism rather than TV because I really loved to write. I didn’t want to be an editor because it’s too hard to fire people. John Dycus, who was the longtime Shorthorn adviser, is the best mentor a journalist could have. You could make mortifying mistakes in print and live to tell about them.”

Linda graduated summa cum laude in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She credits former Student Publications Director Dorothy Estes with launching her journalism career.

“One day Dorothy called me in to her office, handed me some papers and told me I should apply for a fellowship I had never heard about before. Dorothy said to apply, so I did. I ended up receiving a fellowship from the Rotary Foundation to study journalism in London. After graduating from UTA, I spent the 1979-1980 school year at City University in London. It was a fabulous experience for a shy, naive Texas girl.”

Upon returning to Texas, Linda began working for the Star-Telegram, but her globetrotting days were far from finished. In a few years, she received a fellowship to Yale University, where she earned a master of studies in law in a program designed to help journalists write more informed stories about the law.

From New Haven, Conn., she made career stops in Fort Worth (again), Austin and Washington, D.C., where she covered the Supreme Court. It was in the Supreme Court pressroom that she met her future husband, Geoff Campbell.

Today the couple and their children are back in Texas, and Linda is once again at the Star-Telegram, now as an editorial writer and columnist. Not long ago, her weekly column addressed the possible return of football to her alma mater.

“It was an odd experience to write a column in the style of a letter to President Spaniolo arguing that UTA should not revive its football program,” she said. “For research, I dug through old clips and found stories I had written previewing the Southland Conference season and talking about efforts to build Maverick Stadium. I also came across editorials I had written for The Shorthorn. I really had no idea what I was doing then and never envisioned myself as an opinion writer. I thought covering the Supreme Court was the best job I ever had—until I started writing commentary.

“It seems that my experiences at UTA led me to other things, that led me to where I am today.”

Andrew, the third Ponce at UT Arlington and the family’s oldest son, could have attended the Air Force Academy. He had an appointment to the Colorado Springs campus, but military life wasn’t for him.

“The real reason I selected UTA was the reputation of the College of Engineering,” he said. “I chose wisely because I received an excellent education that has served me well for 25 years.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1982, Andrew went to work for Electrospace Systems in Richardson. His career has taken him to Virginia, then to Louisiana, where he is a senior project manager with Booz Allen Hamilton, a global technical and management consulting company. He heads the firm’s New Orleans office.

“When an opportunity to manage a large project in New Orleans presented itself, I relocated my family from our home of 17 years in Virginia to the Big Easy,” he said. “I had lived there for 10 months and had just moved into my new home when Hurricane Katrina hit.”

He was among the very fortunate residents who sustained little property loss. But his main client’s building was extensively damaged, so Andrew spent the next seven months managing the project from Houston. Now back in New Orleans, he is one of the thousands working to help the city rebuild.

Following in her siblings’ footsteps, Susan Ponce graduated from UT Arlington in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She earned a degree from the UT School of Law in 1988 and a master of laws degree from the University of London in 1990.

Named the UT Arlington Honors College Distinguished Alumna for 2006, Susan is senior vice president, commercial law, for the Halliburton Energy Services Group. Based in Houston, she is general counsel for the oilfield services legal department, leading 30 lawyers in 13 offices worldwide.

Being a lawyer, she figured the crowd expected her to be either long-winded or argumentative at the Distinguished Alumni Gala in October.

“So maybe I should talk to my sister Julie, who works with computer languages and systems, and she could help me be more streamlined and efficient,” Susan said in her acceptance remarks. “Or my sister Linda, who’s a journalist, who can help me be more succinct and be current.

“Or maybe my brother Andrew, the engineer, who will be fact-based and precise. Or maybe my brother Peter, the teacher, who’ll help me be educational and credible.”

Peter, the teacher, graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He had considered several schools, but a couple of scholarships and being named a drum major in the Marching Band tipped the scales toward UT Arlington.

“Once those circumstances were in place, my other options for college simply faded into the background,” he said.

Peter’s best college memories come with musical accompaniment. He even met his wife in the band.

“The organization was instrumental—pun intended, cue the rim shot—in my personal development throughout college,” said Peter, who returned to the University for his teaching certification in 1994.

One of his band moments, when he subbed for the announcer at a UT Arlington marching contest, led to a side job: public address announcing, including being the voice of the Marching Band.

He still does as many UT Arlington shows as possible, plus he now has duties for the Mansfield Independent School District, announcing football and basketball for Summit High School (where he teaches economics) and playoff events at MISD Stadium.

He also has announced at Texas Stadium, the Alamodome in San Antonio and the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, and he’s beginning to pursue voiceover work.

“And all because I used to hear Dr. Jack Gibson announcing the UTA band and said to myself, ‘I could do that; it seems like fun.’ ”

Perhaps Susan best summed up the Ponce legacy at UT Arlington.

“It’s a tribute to the breadth and depth of the University as an institution of higher learning that it was able to provide such a solid foundation to each of us so that we could have successful careers in very different professions.”

— Sherry W. Neaves

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