One of the best ways to strengthen a community is through education. Increasing access to opportunity not only positively impacts the students involved,but it also benefits society as a whole. Several University of Texas at Arlington alumni are making a difference in their communities by serving on their local school boards. Find out what motivates them to pursue public service as they put their UTA educations to work in ways that will benefit young Texans and their communities for generations to come.
'10 B.A., Political Science
Member, Grand Prairie Independent School District Board
Growing up the youngest of five boys in a busy Mexican-American home, David Espinosa never imagined he'd become a community activist working to improve the lives of economically disadvantaged children and families.
He credits UTA with giving him the tools and vision he needed to be a force for change. Specifically, he appreciates the relationships he forged with professors in the Political Science Department who taught him that "[his] possibilities were endless."
In his senior year, Espinosa landed a paid internship with Texas Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas), where he learned the impact public policy could have on people's lives. He was also drawn to teaching, and his UTA adviser pointed him to a job opportunity through the group World Teach. With World Teach, Espinosa worked for more than a year in South America instructing students in pre-K through middle school.
"It was really about helping communities and making an impact on children's lives," he says.
Now he's putting his experience to use as a school board member. Last year, Espinosa won a seat on the Grand Prairie Independent School District Board at age 27, making him the youngest person ever elected to the position.
"I've become a great listener," he says. "Just knowing peoples' problems, what they're up against-that's what inspires me."
'88 B.A., Political Science
President, Mansfield Independent School District Board
A handshake and a smile sealed the deal for Michael Evans when choosing a college. UTA offered him not only a scholarship, but also a genuine warmth that made the campus feel like home.
As an honors student pursuing a political science degree, Dr. Evans learned from professors who instilled in him a love of politics.
"Their passion was contagious," he says. "It helped me determine early on that I wanted to devote my life to serving people."
Several years and degrees later, Evans is now serving his third term as the president of the Mansfield Independent School District Board. He's been involved with the board for nine years and is the first African-American president and only the third overall to serve since its founding in 1909.
"Education is the great equalizer," he says. "I don't care who you are, where you come from, or how much money you have in the bank-the more you learn, the better chance you have at succeeding in life."
Evans lives out that philosophy by doing everything he can to ensure everyone gets a fair chance at opportunity through education.
"People get excited about the gifted and talented kids, but what about the kids with learning disabilities?" he asks. "I wanted to see that our district pays attention to those kids as well. I'm always pulling for the underdogs."
Raul H. Gonzalez
'85 B.B.A., Management
Vice President, Mansfield Independent School District Board
Raul H. Gonzalez traces his path to serving on the Mansfield Independent School District's Board to the year 2006, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 43.
He had gone for testing because his father had died of the same disease at 62, just a couple of years into his retirement.
"My dad always said he would give back to the community when he retired," Gonzalez recalls. "I couldn't wait that long."
An El Paso native, Gonzalez first came to the Metroplex to attend UTA. After graduating in 1985, he landed a job in the business office of the law firm Passman & Jones, where he still works, currently serving as director of administration.
A longtime community volunteer through organizations such as the Optimist Club and Arlington Renewal, Gonzalez pursued public service at the urging of Arlington City Council member Robert Rivera, a 2007 UTA graduate.
He saw how being familiar with Arlington city leaders could lead to greater cooperation between the city and the Mansfield ISD-a key collaboration given that 40 percent of Mansfield students live in Arlington.
Elected to the school board in 2010, Gonzalez is glad he ran for office.
"Being on the school board is the best thing I've ever done in my life," he says. "Knowing that I'm making a difference in the lives of future leaders-it's incredible."
Aubrey C. Hooper
'10 M.A., Urban Affairs and Policy
Vice President, DeSoto Independent School District Board
Aubrey C. Hooper's day job is campus administrator and principal at the Medlock and Youth Village campuses of the Dallas County Juvenile Department, where he monitors at-risk youth. But he's also the vice president of the DeSoto Independent School Board and is working on his Ph.D. in urban and public administration with an urban policy concentration at UTA.
"I like to see how we can create policy and strategies for helping to improve the quality of life for urban citizens," says Hooper, who was elected to the NAACP national board of directors at age 32, becoming the youngest non-youth member to serve.
He believes his UTA education has played a crucial role in his civic career.
"It allows me to take both my educational background and my policy knowledge and merge the two," he says. "I get to have a holistic view of both the practical and the theoretical and see how we can merge those to work together to best benefit students."
He also appreciates the University's expert faculty and the opportunities it offers to engage with national and world leaders through events such as the Maverick Speakers Series.
"I'm confident that UTA is preparing me for the next level," Hooper says. "I'm a big policy person. My goal in life is to either serve as White House chief of staff or run the Urban Policy Office at the White House."
Jacinto Ramos Jr.
'97 B.A., Criminal Justice
President, Fort Worth Independent School District Board
If his car hadn't been stolen while he was in college, Fort Worth Independent School Board President Jacinto Ramos Jr. might not be where he is today. A brush with an intake officer while reporting the crime left him feeling even more victimized.
"I went in as a victim and was treated horribly," he says. "I thought I could do a better job."
As a result, the business major soon changed his focus to criminal justice.
"It was at UTA that I learned education and criminal justice go hand-in-hand," he says. "My advocacy for ethnic studies and equity are rooted in conversations I had with my professors."
Working in juvenile services for the last 17 years, Ramos has seen firsthand the role that educational opportunity can play in shaping people's lives, particularly for lower-income and minority children. But that disparity hit close to home when a move brought his kids to a new school where expectations were low and the quality of learning suffered.
"I immediately began to advocate, but when I went to school board meetings, I didn't get the help I thought we deserved from our elected official," he says.
Three months later, Ramos decided to take matters into his own hands. Now in his first term as president of the board, he is passionate about ensuring equal access to all children.
"Achievement gaps are too wide," he says. "We must serve all children in Fort Worth."
Illustrations by Kyle Hilton