Maria Eugenia Calderon-Porter dove into a second career at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), not on “some noble quest to enter education,” she laughs, but rather to challenge herself to use the other side of her brain and “keep all neurons firing.” The assistant vice president for global initiatives at the TAMIU, however, is making waves.
After a successful career as an interior designer focusing on professional buildings—such as federal court houses, banks, and hospitals—Calderon-Porter decided to return to school for a graduate degree in public administration at the age of fifty.
“Honestly, I was afraid I’d be bored, but it was an experiment that worked,” she says. “After decades of a creative career in design, I wanted to see what the other side of my brain had to offer.”
Calderon-Porter has become actively involved at Laredo, Texas-based TAMIU, the only international member of Texas A&M’s eleven-university system. The school hosts professors from across the globe and students from more than forty countries. According to the university, the campus serves as a “cultural and intellectual hub” and “gateway to Mexico.” Or, as Calderon-Porter likes to say, TAMIU is “creating the CFOs, CEOs, and COOs for all development going on in the international region.”
Perhaps most importantly, Laredo shares the border with Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo, creating an economy based on international trade. Laredo is also home of the largest international inland port in the nation, which is especially impressive considering the relatively small population of the Texas town.
Texas A&M International University By the Numbers
Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) is number one in the United States among colleges with the highest enrollment of Hispanic students.
TAMIU is ranked number five in the country for having the best educational value for its price of tuition.
The student to professor ratio is 20:1.
At 78 percent, TAMIU has the highest regional retention rate in the Texas A&M University system.
Students at TAMIU represent 38 different countries.
“Some of the success of the port is a reflection of the university, what we offer academically, and our dedicated presence in this community. TAMIU is active, fully engaged, and totally committed to Laredo and all of the surrounding regions. We are a vibrant, successful port city that continues to expand,” she says. “Business students at Texas A&M International get to see how the global community manages its trade and transports its goods right here at the international border. Students get to see up front, first row, how to be successful in global trading.”
After obtaining her graduate degree from Texas A&M International, Calderon-Porter was asked to stay on and teach. It was then that the wheels started turning about creating a binational center at TAMIU. Calderon-Porter was born and raised on the border of Mexico and Texas, has lived on both sides of the border, and spent the bulk of her life in the Laredo area. Inherently bicultural and fully bilingual, the prospect of a binational center excited her, and the interior designer side of her was uniquely qualified to lead such a project. The center was approved by the A&M system in 2009.
“As a binational community and a university on the border, we needed a binational center to engage both communities in the multiple tasks required for sustainable and comprehensive international development, as well as allow regional access for all international students. And that’s what we built,” she says.
The endeavor was so successful that in 2014, the binational center morphed into the Office of Global Initiatives, where Calderon-Porter is vice president.
Though the center is relatively new, the mission has remained the same: to provide leadership, public service, education, and research that relates to the global community. Her role as vice president and her special interest in public policy implementation has taken Calderon-Porter all over the world: Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Hong Kong, Germany, Mexico—the list is endless.
The major takeaway from her travels might “sound cliché,” but she says it’s that people all over the world are more alike than they are different. All over the globe, people want the young people in their lives to find success. Success might look different relative to where in the world you are, but wanting more and better for the next generation is a commonality we all share, Calderon-Porter says.
“When it comes to shaping academic ventures or creating programs that examine public policy, I never focus on what a school or country doesn’t have. That doesn’t do anyone any good,” she says. “I say, let’s focus on the qualities and assets you do have and build a foundation that benefits all. We must appreciate diversity and recognize the common goal, which is seeking success for our academic institutions and our future generations. That’s what we embrace at Texas A&M International.”
The Office of Global Initiatives has dealings with multiple countries focusing on public policy implementation, economic development, and the academia that supports it, and works closely with Mexico in all areas related to education, border issues, public policy, economic development, and energy.
A border town native, Calderon-Porter says the polarity of Mexico and the United States is very real. The two countries have different economies, languages, currencies, styles of public policy implementation, laws, and protocols. Despite all of this, they have a positive working relationship and share one of the most successful inland ports in the world. Calderon-Porter says the successful working relationship between these two countries should be used as a model of success, not a source of worry. One of her 2017 goals is to raise awareness of how important international border inland ports like the Port of Laredo are.
“This last election showed that many do not understand the significance of inland border ports,” Calderon-Porter says. “The people of Laredo are actively engaged in a dynamic work environment that sustains the largest inland port in the United States. We want the rest of the country to witness this success as well. With $284 billion in trade annually, going through our port cities, we binational Laredoans are doing amazing work down here.”