May 7, 2021 — Sometimes inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places. Mark Perez ’21 was in his fifth year of managing Stonewerks at the Rim, a job he worked his way up to since graduating high school. He was making a living for himself and his family, but felt a bit restless.
As the service and hospitality manager, he would often see UTSA students come in and out. Many of his employees were also UTSA students. Hearing them talk about their experiences ignited a fire within him, and he decided it was time for a change.
As a first-generation American, this was a big move for Perez. His parents migrated to Muleshoe, Texas, and neither of them completed high school. They worked as field laborers – a job that Perez himself had a taste of at 16 when he began working with them.
In Muleshoe, Perez had a teacher who gifted him a Harry Potter book for his birthday, sparking his passion for books. But also in Muleshoe, Perez learned what true, hard work really was.
“When I was young, my parents sent me to work in the same fields they did to learn the value of a dollar,” Perez recalled. “And I attribute that to the work ethic that I have now.”
That work ethic brought Perez into the Public Administration program at UTSA, where he immediately became involved in community service and projects to help others.
“I wanted to be in the service of others,” Perez said. “I really appreciate vulnerable populations like immigrants, LGBT, and black people. And so, I want to give them a voice when they don’t have a voice.”
Perez initially considered majoring in business, but found the atmosphere in Public Administration to be much more suited to his needs. “It’s not a very large major, so it has that capacity to be intimate,” Perez said. “I really got to know everyone, even my professors, on a first name basis.”
Perez has built several lasting relationships in the two years he has spent at UTSA. In addition to volunteering with My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, he is in the process of helping friends turn their annual event into a registered nonprofit.
“It’s called the Jingle Mingle,” Perez said. “It’s a gala in the wintertime that serves as a toy drive and fundraiser.” The group is going on six years of hosting the event, and Perez joined in over the last few years. “Because of my degree, this group of friends has encouraged everyone, including myself, to make it an actual nonprofit.”
When Perez first made the decision to return to school, he didn’t dream it would have the impact it did. But because of his professors and experiences in the classroom, he is now applying to graduate school to earn an MBA.
“I give credit to Professors Gina Amatangelo and Jaramillo,” Perez says. “Both of them are change agents in educational leadership, and they both provide a space and a nurturing environment to really foster challenging thinking.”
Leaving UTSA to head to graduate school is a daunting prospect for Perez, who calls UTSA his home, but he believes it’s a necessary step to accomplish his goals. He also hopes to inspire others in similar circumstances, and prove that no matter where you come from, education is possible.
“There’s always a way to go out there again,” Perez said. “I’m a non-traditional student. I had college out of my mind at one point in my life. And I just jumped back into it and it was the greatest blessing.”
Perez will be applying to several top-tier, challenging MBA schools. He intentionally chose those that would push him out of his comfort zone, even knowing it would be difficult for him. But he remains focused and motivated – thanks to his days spent as a teenager in the tiny farm town of Muleshoe, Texas.
“My biggest motivator is experiencing the work that my parents had to do their whole lives firsthand myself,” Perez said. “It’s why I decided to go to school and change. It’s really for them.”