Natural Sciences and Mathematics Communications
For Alan Ma Wong, the path to success as a geophysicist started with the rigorous training he received at UH which equipped him to hit the ground running in the oil business. And Victor Cardenas, a physician and professor of medicine, credits the ease with which he sailed through medical school with the first-rate undergraduate education he got at UH.
Wong, Cardenas and Bates hail from different backgrounds, excelled in diverse careers and are at different stages in their lives. What these alums of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics share is a deep appreciation for the life-changing experiences they had at UH and NSM.
Like hundreds of other NSM alums, Bates, Cardenas and Wong are loyal donors to the college through the UH annual fund. Their varied stories underscore the lasting impact of an NSM education and they exemplify the commitment of NSM donors to share that UH experience with future generations.
The college’s annual fund donors are not super-rich philanthropists whose names might grace a campus building, just successful professionals who know their gifts make a real difference to NSM students.
These regular contributions are a critical source of funding for student programs and services, including scholarships, said NSM Dean John Bear.
“More than ever our college is counting on support from alumni to help us attract and keep top-notch students,” Bear said. “Because our graduates are excelling in their respective fields, they are eager and able to give something back.”
For Bates, who grew up in small-town Oklahoma and got married right after high school, coming to UH opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Her annual gift to NSM is one way to help provide those same opportunities to today’s students, Bates said.
Homemaker Becomes Successful Career Woman
“I would love for everybody to have the kind of life transformation that I was able to have because of this university,” Bates said.
Bates had started college in Oklahoma but dropped out after having a baby. She became a homemaker while her husband finished school and then the family moved to Houston when he took a job at NASA. Then, at 27, this stay-at-home wife and mother of two read the Feminine Mystique, a stirring call to action for women to make their mark outside the home.
But making the transition from homemaker to student to career woman would not be easy for Bates. Fortunately, UH had a new program to help students like her who had dropped out to start families but who wanted to resume their studies.
Bates and other women in the program talked about balancing classes with home life and shared tips about managing their husbands and throwing together quick and easy meals after a long day at school.
From an eye-opening course Bates took on women’s literature to the campus activism that was prevalent in the 70s, her time at UH was a cultural awakening, Bates said.
Bates was among the first to enroll in what was then a new degree program in computer science. When she graduated in 1979, Bates was equipped with the skills to launch a successful career in information technology, first at an oil company and then as an independent consultant.
Bates is now retired and stays busy with her grandchildren and volunteer work.
“I never saw UH as just a commuter school,” she said. “My teachers were incredible and my education was excellent. To me, it was a big time university.”
Like Bates, Wong also understands the importance of opening doors for today’s NSM students. He got through UH thanks in part to a couple of scholarships.
NSM Degree Paves Way for Career Success
Now a sales manager for Petroleum Geo-Services, a major oilfield services firm with offices in Houston, Wong received a bachelor’s and master’s in geophysics from UH in 1991 and 1994, respectively.
UH’s geoscience graduates are well-regarded in Houston’s energy business community, Wong said, and his studies at UH prepared him to make an impact at his job from day one. The training and skills students learn in the geophysics master’s program in particular make them especially valuable to oil companies looking for employees who can hit the ground running, Wong said.
As his career advanced and his salary rose, Wong decided he and his wife would not wait until their golden years to get serious about charitable giving – they wanted to make a difference immediately.
“My wife and I believe very strongly that anybody who is qualified should have the opportunity to go to college,” Wong said.
He also emphasizes that giving back is not just the responsibility of gray-haired alumni at the pinnacle of their careers. Younger professionals still on the way up should start looking at making early and regular gifts to UH a part of their charitable giving, Wong said.
Cardenas agrees giving should start early and become a lifelong habit. Even as a young doctor in training he budgeted for charitable gifts, and Cardenas now includes NSM in his regular giving.
“You don’t have to give millions to make a difference,” Cardenas said. “It’s important to give what you can as often as you can.”
Thanks to UH, Medical School a Breeze
Cardenas is a professor at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Director of the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary, Immunology, Critical Care and Sleep. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UH in 1979 and a medical degree from UTMB.
Teaching at UTMB helps him stay involved in different aspects of medical care, Cardenas said, from treating patients to training up-and-coming doctors and research.
Cardenas credits his success in medical school in part to the quality of education he received as an undergraduate. Thanks to rigorous courses and top-notch professors at UH, the first two years of medical school were largely a review of material he already had learned, Cardenas said.
Despite UH’s reputation then as a commuter school, Cardenas believed he could get a first-rate education without leaving town, and he was right.
“I was impressed with (UH’s) sound academics and reputation for premedical education so I gave it a shot, and I’ve never regretted it,” Cardenas said.
He became a regular donor to NSM to help ensure that first-rate education he received at UH would be available to future generations. Cardenas stresses the importance of annual giving. Having a stable and predictable stream of contributions helps the college plan for the future, he said.