UHV Legacies: The story of three families of UHV alumni
Across the region, and even the nation and around the world, siblings, parents, grandparents, sons and daughters have chosen to make UHV a part of their lives. Now, as UHV celebrates its 50th anniversary, some of the university’s alumni are sharing how UHV became part of their family legacy.
SETTING A NEW COURSE
When Ty Zeller decided to make a change and enroll at the University of Houston-Victoria to finish his degree in the 1980s, he had no idea that he would be changing his children’s lives as well.
“I was laid off during the oilfield downturn in the 1980s, and I ended up working at my brother-in-law’s gas station in Port Lavaca just to make ends meet,” the 63-year-old said. “I knew I wanted something better for myself and my family, so I decided to go back to school. Thankfully, UHV was right here, and I was able to work during the day and take classes at night.”
After he earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences in criminal justice in 1986, Zeller went on to get a law degree in 1989 and started his own practice in Port Lavaca. In 2012, he received his Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in psychology and history from UHV. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, and that began a legacy that was passed on to his sons, Ben and Josh.
“There were times when Dad would have to take us with him to attend his classes, so we’d all make the drive up to Victoria, wait for him to finish class, then head home,” Ben said. “Seeing him take this step and work so hard to improve himself and do more for our family instilled an expectation in us that we should do the same.”
Today, Ty, Ben, Joshua and Joshua’s wife, Sarah, all have degrees from UHV and went on to have successful careers. Ben received his Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing in 2005 and worked as a loan supervisor for Wells Fargo Bank before being elected as Victoria County Judge in 2014. Joshua has two degrees from UHV – a BBA in management from 2005 and a Master of Business Administration in management from 2009 – and today is a Certified Financial Planner with Raymond James, a wealth management firm. Sarah received a BBA in general business in 2007 and was named the outstanding undergraduate student for the UHV School of Business Administration for her graduating class. Today, she works in the business office at Trinity Episcopal School. Ty’s son Aaron also took some classes at UHV in 2010 before transferring to Texas State University, where he earned a BBA in marketing with a concentration in selling. Today, Aaron works as a construction recruiter at Sightcast Recruiting Group in Victoria.
When Ty attended UHV in the 1980s, many of the students in his classes were also working during the day and taking classes to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees at night. At that time, UHV only offered classes for juniors, seniors and graduate programs. The university didn’t add freshman and sophomore courses until downward expansion in 2008.
When it was time for Ben and Joshua to go to college, they remembered the positive experience their father had at UHV, so they chose to follow the same path. They started by attending Victoria College, just like their father had, then transferred to UHV.
“The seamless transfer process between VC and UHV was a convenient and great opportunity and partnership at the time, and it’s great to know that the partnership is still here today,” Ben said. “We enjoyed our time at both institutions. They prepared and equipped us to be as successful as we are today.”
When Josh was taking classes at VC, he met Sarah, who would eventually become his wife. Sarah was born and raised in Victoria. When it was time for her to go to college, she visited several colleges and universities in Texas, but she decided to stay in Victoria and attend VC and then UHV.
“I heard from many people in the area that UHV has a good reputation,” she said. “In addition, it was a good economic choice because I could live at home while attending classes and still get the same quality education as I would at any other university.”
At one point, Sarah had the opportunity to attend Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, but she transferred back to UHV after only a semester away so she could return home and be close to Joshua.
“We like to say that love brought her back,” Joshua said.
Both Joshua and Sarah were working full time while they were earning their degrees, and they remember taking night classes and lots of late nights studying together in the computer labs on campus.
“We have so many good memories from our time at UHV,” Joshua said. “I especially remember how the faculty guided us. So many of them, like Ron Salazar, Jifu Wang and David Summers, helped me better understand the business world and had a big impact on who I am today.”
In 2005, when Josh graduated, he was able to get an internship that turned into a job with the UHV Small Business Development Center. That job enabled him to get his master’s degree because UHV helps pay for employees’ classes. When Sarah graduated in 2007, she also benefitted from the connections she made in college. Thanks to a recommendation from one of her professors from VC, she was able to get an interview and then a position with Hospice of South Texas.
That was one of the major advantages of attending UHV and having connections at the university as well as in the community, Sarah said. And she wasn’t the only one who had that experience.
"Many of our fellow students are now leaders in the regional business community,” she said. “Whether they took over the family business, started new businesses or became part of some of the longstanding companies in town, those contacts they made combined with the education they got from UHV had made an impact in our area and in their lives, just like it did for us.”
One of the major advantages of having a university in the local community has been how UHV creates a legacy of success not just for families, but for the communities in the area, Ben said.
“Having UHV in the Crossroads is actually a huge deal because it is such a significant asset,” he said. “It’s a big economic driver because of how much money it brings into the area through state funds, grants and other sources, not to mention the students it brings to the area. As the university grows, so, too, does the economic benefit it brings to the region.”
In addition to UHV helping their family, the Zellers also have made an impact on the university and become part of UHV’s legacy. For example, Ty had the opportunity to be part of a search committee for one of the university’s presidents, and when Joshua was a student, he was part of the student committee that helped the university’s business school achieve accreditation from the AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business for the first time. And today, Ben comes to campus from time to time to speak to students in political science classes.
“UHV was one of my first leadership experiences,” Joshua said. “There were so many opportunities to grow and learn, especially when it came to serving others and finding ways to give back.”
As Ben, Joshua and Sarah raise their own children now, they are encouraging them all to consider getting their degrees. Although they haven’t specifically encouraged their children to attend UHV, they continue to teach the lessons they learned here every day.
“As parents, I’m thankful that we have a university like UHV in town, and I hope my children will consider it when they graduate high school,” Sarah said. “For me, I’ve noticed that many of the skills I learned at UHV show up in my daily decisions. I want my kids to see the same kind of benefits that we received from getting our degrees.”
Even if the next generation is unsure about what they want to do in life, Ben hopes they will start by going to college and search for their direction, and UHV is a good place to do that.
“UHV is close to home, and it offers people in our region so much in the way of education as well as connections to the community,” he said. “It’s a blessing to have UHV in our area. UHV equals opportunity.”
LEGACY OF COMPASSION
For Juno Dickerson of Wharton and her daughter, Jade Weaver, that legacy began in 2007 when Dickerson received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from what was then the UHV School of Nursing. She was one of the first students to receive a BSN from UHV’s new nursing program after working 15 years as a registered nurse.
“Going back to school to get my BSN was a good career move for me,” Juno said. “More hospitals were wanting nurses who had that extra level of education and experience, so it offered me better opportunities to advance in health care. UHV was a great option because, at the time, they offered classes in Sugar Land, so I was able to attend classes while still working.”
Five years later, Jade followed in her mother’s footsteps and also earned a BSN from UHV.
“Seeing my mother go back to school and earn her bachelor's degree made me very proud,” Jade said. “She inspired me to pursue a career in nursing. Her decision showed me that age doesn’t matter. It was so encouraging and inspiring to see her be resilient, push through and complete her goal.”
Both Jade and Juno chose to pursue nursing because they share a natural desire to be compassionate and care for others. When Juno was young, she grew up taking care of her father, who suffered from kidney disease. Her mother recognized Juno’s natural inclination to care for others, so she encouraged her daughter to pursue nursing at the local college, where she became a registered nurse. Attending UHV’s program to earn a BSN was a little daunting at first because it had been 15 years since she attended college, but it was the best move for her career.
“My job was very supportive because they understood the value of getting more training to become a better nurse,” Juno said. “I was able to work out a schedule so I could go to class once a week and then work nights in the emergency room. That decision ended up inspiring so many people I know and love, both friends and in my family.”
That inspiration was part of what brought Jade to UHV to pursue a nursing degree just five years after her mother. Jade grew up with a compassionate, caring personality, and she always felt that she wanted to work in a field that would allow her to help others. When Juno set the example of going to college and getting a degree, Jade wanted to follow in her footsteps. When Jade joined UHV’s nursing program, the mother and daughter duo became the first multigenerational family to come through the nursing program.
“UHV was such a great option for her, and I knew it would work well for me as well,” Jade said. “There were excellent instructors who were easy to communicate with and cared about their students. When combined with the affordable cost and the convenient location and schedule, UHV’s program was exactly what we needed.”
After she graduated from UHV, Jade went on to receive a master’s degree and became a Psychiatric Mental Health Practitioner. Today, she travels the nation providing behavioral health services in different states as a Locums provider. She’s also considering applying to the UH nursing program to earn her doctorate in the future.
For Juno, after a 40-year career as a nurse, she is taking her love for the profession to the next level by working toward a nursing education master’s degree at the University of Houston by taking classes at the Katy instructional site.
“I’ve always had a desire to earn a master’s degree, and it’s a known fact that there is a shortage of nursing instructors, which leads to a shortage of nurses,” Juno said. “I learned so much from my instructors at UHV. UHV Nursing stands for nursing excellence. Their vision and philosophy set a standard in teaching, and I want to continue that by helping to teach the next generation of nurses.”
A FAMILY COMMITMENT
When Beverly Tomek was growing up, she didn’t think she would be working in higher education. In fact, when she first went to college at Victoria College, she planned to be a public-school teacher or maybe a journalist. But then she took a U.S. History class and everything changed.
“That first experience really opened my eyes to how important history is and how fascinating it can be,” she said. “I was in class with Charles Spurlin, and he showed me that there’s nothing in the world like history. It’s like journalism of past events.”
After transferring to UHV, Tomek met UHV history faculty member Hal Smith, who encouraged her to be part of the growing history program.
“I knew I wanted to go into history, but I didn’t really know what my options were for the future,” Beverly said. “When I spoke with him, he literally dropped everything and spent time talking with me about the field of history and UHV’s growing program. I got the chance to be part of a program that was becoming something more, not one that had been established long ago.”
Beverly graduated from UHV in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts in humanities with a history concentration. In January 2000, she returned to UHV to teach part time, which she did until she was named a visiting assistant professor from 2007 to 2008, when she left to teach at Wharton County Junior College. She returned to the university in 2012 as a faculty member and eventually became the associate provost for curriculum and student success. In July, Beverly started a new phase of her career as the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Monroe County Community College in Monroe, Michigan. As she was preparing for her next step, she looked back on her career at UHV with pride. She was able to help the university grow and give back to current and future students, including her own son, Andy, who is a UHV sophomore majoring in English and history with a minor in humanities.
Just as Beverly chose to attend UHV after meeting one of the university’s history faculty members, Andy decided to do the same after meeting Justin Bell, an associate professor of philosophy and chair of the multidisciplinary studies program in the UHV College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences. He met Bell when he was in elementary school and came to a campus event. Later during a school trip during which his sixth-grade class toured UHV, he was able to sit in on one of Bell’s classes. From there, he was hooked.
Unfortunately, the pandemic hit during Andy’s sophomore year of high school, just as UHV was beginning to expand its dual credit options.
“During the pandemic, I was able to take some UHV courses,” Andy said. “One of the classes I attended was taught by Dr. Bell, and I just loved his approach to learning and how he thinks of the world. Since then, I’ve met other amazing instructors in English, such as Anthony Madrid and Jake Snyder, and in history, including Esther Cuenca and Joe Locke.”
Beverly has a passion for offering higher education to underserved rural communities, especially students who don’t want to leave their hometown area to earn a degree, and her previous role at UHV allowed her to do just that.
“UHV plays such an important role in our community because it is here to equip and offer experience to people who live in the area and want to get an education but aren’t able or willing to go elsewhere to get it,” Beverly said. “It’s so important that we help people in this area understand that they don’t have to leave to achieve their dreams.”
That passion for investing in and supporting rural communities is a family trait. Andy was accepted to the University of Texas honors program, but he chose to attend UHV because he wants to be close to home and his community. Today, in addition to his studies at UHV, he is involved in community organizations such as the Lavaca County Historical Commission. He also works in the UHV Tutoring Center. Even though his family is moving up north, he plans to remain at UHV to finish his degree and perhaps stay in the area even longer.
Beverly returned to UHV as a faculty member during the university’s downward expansion to add freshmen and sophomores. Her goal at the time was to help the university grow and thrive in that new phase of the university’s history. During her tenure as associate provost, she said having Andy at UHV as well felt like she had a fellow warrior working with her to support UHV and the community.
“It adds an extra layer to the pride I feel for him,” Beverly said. “I’m proud of his talents, his excellent writing skills and his intelligence, but in some ways I’m even more proud that he chose to stay at UHV because he cares about the university and the people here.”
In addition to being part of organizations in the community, Andy is enjoying the opportunity to be part of new organizations and efforts at UHV, including the literary magazine, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and the UHV Trap & Skeet Club, which reaches out to area high schools to encourage students to attend UHV.
“UHV has changed so much through the years and is still growing and changing, but the idea of what the university does for the community remains the same,” Andy said. “I like having the ability to get an education while working in and serving my community. It helps me make a difference, just like the university has made a difference for so many of the people who came before.”
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 50 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.