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More than 14,500 strong. This December approximately 800 graduates will join the ranks of Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s alumni network. Three of these alumni were honored during the university’s 2020 Alumni Awards Ceremony held Oct. 17.

Their dramatically different career pathways share two things in common: a personal passion that propelled them to learn more and a desire to share their expertise with others.

Get fit

When Tim Ingram and his business partner and wife, Michelle, opened Heavy Metal Fitness in 2014, it was the first real strength-focused gym in San Antonio, said Ingram. His clientele includes athletes, competitive powerlifters, and “anyone who wants to get stronger and is willing to put in the work.”

It’s a dream come true for Ingram, who became obsessed with his own fitness around the age of 20. While individual training and coaching remain core components of this niche gym, Heavy Metal does have a substantial “strongman community” membership base of hardcore lifters, says Ingram. He does his best to reduce the intimidation factor for newcomers. In fact, rule No. 1 of the facility is this: “Heavy Metal is a family of lifters. Do your part to make everyone feel welcome.”

Like many local business owners, Ingram had to close his doors during the onset of the pandemic. “That was rough, and a bit terrifying not knowing when we could resume operations,” he said.

When Heavy Metal reopened two months later, Ingram was thankful to serve a crowd of fitness-goers more motivated than most.

Helping others set personal strength goals and build confidence in reaching those goals is what motivates Ingram most. “The benefits are tangible. If you can bench press 300 pounds and then work up to 320, that is objective progress,” says Ingram. “This isn’t rocket science. Set a goal. Do the work. Accomplish your goal. Set another goal.”

Yet, the science is equally important, notes Ingram. It wasn’t until his late 20s when Ingram says he finally felt ready to apply himself in school. He enrolled in the kinesiology program at TAMU-SA’s College of Education and Human Development, from which he graduated in 2013. Learning about human anatomy and physiology and proper body mechanics provided the know-how to Ingram’s can-do training philosophy.

“Now that I work professionally in this field, I know my education separates me from the average personal trainer who loves to work out,” he said.

Ingram’s professional advice is simple: Follow your passion, but back it up with knowledge.

Get involved

In her role as senior housing policy coordinator for the City of San Antonio, Irma Iris Duran de Rodriguez had worked largely on the back end of ensuring passage of fair housing regulations. When COVID-19 hit, “it was all hands on deck,” said Duran. “The pandemic shifted everything to an emergency services focus,” with everyone from her department directly assisting individuals.

Her 2014 master’s degree in business administration from TAMU-SA, with a concentration in project management, has served Duran especially well at this time. “In shifting to crisis management mode, we’ve all had to get creative with how to work from home and still serve the community,” she said.

Her hours have increased, but Duran also feels more informed. “I can now attend more virtual meetings with different community organizations I otherwise could not if physically commuting to in-person events,” she said.

She’s also been able to volunteer more. Among her many roles, Duran is serving as a Fiesta commissioner until 2023 and was recently appointed to sit on the Texas A&M-San Antonio Regional Center Plan for which she advocates for sustainable housing and farmland preservation. Giving back to kids holds a special place in her heart. As a lifetime Girl Scout member, Duran is active in her daughters’ troop. She not only mentors scout members but encourages parents to empower their children to pursue their interests and dreams.

Her own career took a different turn than she first envisioned, with ideas of one day working in Europe. Before that could happen, Duran landed a mentorship assisting a small business consultant she found cold-calling members of the city’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Learning she was good at creating financial and marketing plans for business owners made her realize she had a skillset others needed.

She applied for a position with San Antonio’s economic development division that has since led to other opportunities within city government and a serendipitous decision to pursue her MBA. A chance encounter with a TAMU-SA recruitment representative when she took a different path to a meeting ended with a discussion about program requirements and the university’s flexibility to attend evening classes.

Duran’s career advice: Be proactive in planning your future but open to exploring a different path.

Get curious

“You get to know yourself better when you have to rely on others to figure things out,” says Christopher Castro, a 2017 finance graduate of TAMU-SA’s College of Business.

Castro honed his group problem-solving skills while on a month-long European Innovation Academy study abroad program during his senior year. Not understanding how to navigate the train system in Rome, and trying to exchange American dollars with the locals so he could do his laundry, underscored for him the importance of working with others across differences in language and culture.

Castro applies that experience to his current role as IT Business Analyst for Zachry Group, where he helps translate the needs of end-users to the tech-savvy programmers building the automated business systems used by client firms worldwide in the engineering, construction, and fabrication services sectors. Castro’s studies at TAMU-SA included an internship with the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

“That gave me a much better understanding of the business and financial needs of the community and a greater appreciation of the improvements I see taking place on the South Side,” said Castro.

He is personally invested in the area as a “house hacker,” renting the other half of the South Side duplex he owns to help pay his mortgage. Castro’s entrepreneurial interests are nothing new. Even before attending Business Careers High School on the West Side, the bug to translate dollars earned into long-term savings came at an early age, through “mowing lawns, selling candy at school, and reading anything by Dave Ramsey.”

What really energizes Castro is “helping the next person.” In addition to serving as a United Way campaign ambassador for Zachry Group, he mentors TAMU-SA students considering an international study opportunity. Knowing the value of that life-changing experience for himself, Castro even donated back to the university the travel scholarship funding he received. Learning to take risks and get out of his comfort zone is one of the lasting lessons from his education and study abroad experience.

Castro’s free investment advice: Invest in yourself and go to school. Doors open when you have a degree.

The mission of the Texas A&M University-San Antonio alumni network is to encourage alumni involvement in the support and promotion of the university. This year the university held virtual reunions celebrating the Class of 2015 and Class of 2010 for their 5- and 10-year reunions, respectively.

Benefits available to all alumni include participation in career- and industry-specific events, lifetime access to career services and the university’s alumni networking community, continued use of university email and on-campus library services, participation in a virtual book club and other enrichment and family-friendly activities on and off campus, as well as discounted tickets and services with various university vendors. Volunteer opportunities include helping recruit and mentor students, serving on university boards and committees, and assisting with service learning projects.

As TAMU-SA continues to build a robust alumni program, let the Alumni Office know what you’re up to by calling (210) 784-1121, or emailing alumni@tamusa.edu.

Established as a stand-alone university in 2009, Texas A&M University-San Antonio is a comprehensive four-year public university that reflects the culturally diverse, heritage-rich community it serves....