It happened so quickly that the significance didn’t dawn on the Public Service Board (PSB) until the annual election of officers was over.
When the PSB elected its officers for 2020 in August, all three positions were filled by its female members.
“This is the result of an all-inclusive environment where we have been able to thrive,” said Dr. Ivonne Santiago, Vice Chair. “It was not planned, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s because of the culture of the PSB and El Paso Water, which promotes people to better themselves – no matter their gender or ethnicity.”
“A lot of this is due to the more progressive nature both within the leadership of the utility as well as the Public Service Board,” Secretary-Treasurer Terri Garcia said. “We’ve had some members on the board who see the value that having a diverse board brings to the utility, because it truly is representative of the community that we live in.”
Dr. Kristina Mena, regional dean of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health’s El Paso campus, was elected Chair of the board.
Santiago, a clinical professor at the College of Engineering at University of Texas at El Paso, was elected Vice Chair. Garcia, a retired senior vice president of commercial banking at Bank of America who served as bank president for the El Paso market, was elected Secretary-Treasurer.
Each one of the officers brings a unique set of qualifications to the PSB, which governs EPWater. The board consists of the El Paso mayor and six trustees appointed by the City Council. Board members serve four-year terms.
“It is rewarding to be part of a panel with such a diverse representation,” said Mena, an environmental scientist and water microbiologist. “Having known the work of El Paso Water that has advanced the water quality field long before moving to this community almost 20 years ago, I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as PSB Chair. I have already learned so much as a board member. I am eager to continue working with this remarkable organization.”
Garcia has seen the makeup of the board evolve over the years to what it is now.
“Not only has it been a privilege to be of service to the community at large, but it has been quite an education about El Paso Water that I have shared with so many people that I have come into contact with.”
The election of an all-female panel of officers is especially rewarding to Santiago because of her longtime advocacy in diversity and cultural inclusion in academia and promoting women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at all levels.
“This is very significant for me,” Santiago said. “It’s not a career move as much as a move toward diversity and culture of inclusion and equity. I hope other organizations follow the PSB’s lead.”
In the end, all of the officers agree they just want to do the best job possible in serving their community.
“I always have my eye out for my community,” said Garcia who successfully persuaded former employer Bank of America to get more involved in El Paso. “The utility has done a phenomenal job in supporting the local community. Year over year, the dollars that the utility put out into the community in work bids has increased for local and minority-owned businesses, and that brings me a lot of satisfaction.”
Mena is looking forward to continued involvement in the community and region. During the pandemic, Mena is serving on several advisory panels offering health expertise to devise guidance strategies for Gov. Greg Abbott and El Paso leaders. She was also recently appointed to the University Medical Center Board of Managers.
“In so many ways, these are unprecedented times, and as board members, it is imperative for us to hear from the community about what is important to them,” Mena said. “Whether it is water usage rates, water quality and public health, stormwater management, water accessibility, or a critical community need where we could contribute, our role is to listen, be informed and respond. I hope we find additional ways to contribute to our strong community.”