Just after his retirement in 2017, business alumnus Bob Garza ('74) walked into a meeting with a blank pad of paper and a single goal -- to find a way to help the UNT community do more with and for Latinx students. That pad of paper filled over the years, and in early 2021, Garza became the first president of the UNT Alumni Association's new Latinx Alumni Network (LAN).
The program's mission? To engage Latinx alumni who will support the recruitment, retention and success of Latinx students.
"We're creating a community for alumni and, at the same time, saying that we need their help. We need alumni to come in and be an example of what it means to be UNT friendly to Latinx students," says Garza, who won the Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2019.
As a first-generation, non-traditional college graduate who was already married and had four years of military service when he enrolled at North Texas, Garza knows how difficult it can be to navigate the university system. George Esquivel ('91), vice president of LAN, had a similar experience as the youngest of eight children and the first to attend a four-year university.
"There were so many questions I had at the time -- some were as simple as wondering what a credit hour was," Esquivel says. "And I've talked to enough people who were in a similar position to know that I'm far from alone in that experience."
After working with the university to attract Latinx students, members of LAN will connect students with resources that help them succeed academically, as well as give them more opportunities to love campus life.
The first goal is to keep students enrolled until they cross the stage in a cap and gown, but LAN's work will not end at graduation.
"We're going to mentor students and help them achieve successful careers," says Esquivel, now the co-founder of Four Corners Brewing in Dallas. "I felt inadequate going out into the workforce -- the transition to my first job was harsh. With a strong network, I'm confident we can provide valuable guidance."
The founding members of LAN hope to move beyond helping individuals. They want to give back to the North Texas region by grooming top talent into a workforce that will bring more companies and jobs into the area.
"We have to invest in people now if we want a better tomorrow. We need to help create our next generation of leaders," Esquivel says.
For Garza, the core of LAN's mission is finding new ways for alumni to get involved and give back. He's encouraged that LAN is an official organization affiliated with the UNT Alumni Association and backed by university leadership.
"I feel really good about it, and I'm just so proud of UNT that we've come to this point and they've embraced it -- they've embraced it wholeheartedly," Garza says.