Christina Villarreal didn’t expect to move back to her native Rio Grande Valley after going away to college and teaching in the Dallas area for five years. But in 2003, during her pregnancy, she realized that as a single mom she would need some family support. She returned home to Brownsville to look for a job.
“Although I was a Spanish teacher, I was always interested in the medical field. At the time my sister was doing her nursing studies in Brownsville and met a professor who was collaborating with the then brand, new School of Public Health. A position opened for a tuberculosis study outreach worker so I applied and was hired. It was very interesting as I worked closely with the health departments across the border in Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I really stumbled into public health with this job.”
By 2004 Villarreal was promoted into an administrative position in grants management and eventually worked her way up to become campus’ senior administrative manager.
“Lessons I had learned managing the classroom have carried over to managing a campus.”
Colleagues in Houston have been so supportive of me at the regional campus. I’ve met many people who I consider long-distance friends from the other campuses.”
Villarreal enjoys the variety and challenge of her work.
“Our work here in Brownsville is really focused on improving our community. Working with the community can be imperfect because it is not an academic bubble. Sometimes it’s a challenge to make it work administratively, but we really see a tangible impact.”
Villarreal says her work has inspired her own personal wellness journey.
“When I first started working here I had just had a baby 8 months earlier. I had been diagnosed with diabetes two years before I was only 25 years old and weighed over 300 pounds, about 325 to be exact. I learned how bad the disease could be so in December of 2007 I had a sleeve gastric bypass. I wanted to be around to see my daughter go to college and not keep her from studying to care for her mom! I had to do the work to keep the weight off, like walking and making healthy food choices. The programs here on our campus inspired me to live a healthier lifestyle and I continue that journey daily. Eighteen years later, I am healthier and my daughter is now in college in San Antonio. I’m proud of both of us.”
“My goal is to continue to grow personally with this campus so we can help the members of this community, who include my family members and friends. I may not be a scientist or researcher, but as an administrator I contribute to the amazing work at the Brownsville campus.”