In 1976, Gerald Ford was president, the Apple Company was formed, and Carmen Z. Lara (BBA ’75) was working her first job out of college as an accountant in a Rio Grande Valley firm.
What a year that was for Lara, who began her career at a male-dominated accounting firm, where one of her bosses once told her that it was likely most clients would not want to deal with her because she was Hispanic and a woman.
“Yes, it was a man’s world then,” she said. “I remember the office was all men and very few women and Hispanics. I even recall when they would bring CPAs from other parts of the country because there were none in the Valley at that time.”
Lara said she can still remember that comment and how it motivated her to take the exam to earn her CPA license in 1985.
“When I graduated I never sat for the CPA exam. I didn’t think I could pass it because I was Hispanic,” Lara said. “When I passed all the parts of the exam and passed it before several of my peers did, I realized I had it in me to do it.”
Since May 1976, Lara has remained with the same accounting firm in McAllen, Texas, which has gone through several name changes and personnel, but she has stayed and is now a partner in Ewing, Lara & Company P.C. Her business partner Jack Ewing (BS ’76), also a UTPA alum and former Bronc baseball player from Nederland, Texas, has been with the firm since 1977.
“He’s the visionary and I’m the numbers person,” she said.
Not bad for a girl from San Juan, Texas, who grew up on the poor side of town. One of five siblings, Lara said her father passed away when she was five years old leaving her mother a widow at the age of 35. Lara said she knew she was poor growing up, but never realized how impoverished they were until she attended elementary school on the other side of the tracks and saw how others lived – nice homes, vehicles, toys, etc.
“I thought to myself ‘holy smokes I don’t have anything,’” she said.
Lara was also no stranger to working in the fields and picking cotton, which was the norm for a lot of Rio Grande Vallley families back then and for many today. Her experiences in the fields and seeing how her family struggled to stay afloat made Lara realize she needed to get a higher education to get herself and family out of the hole they were in.
“I was the first of my family to go through school and get a college degree. I feel like I have done a lot,” she said. “I’m thankful to UTPA. If it hadn’t been for UTPA I would not have gotten an education. We were very fortunate to have the school in our backyard.”
Today, Lara’s own children have followed in their mother’s footsteps and earned their degrees from UTPA. Her three children – Yvonne (BBA ’00), Belinda (BIS ’01), and Mario (BS ’10), who will be deploying to Afghanistan in January – all became Broncs and made their mother proud.
To show her gratitude to the University for all she and her family have accomplished, Lara joined the UTPA Alumni Association to help her alma mater with its future endeavors. Since joining, Lara has taken on a leadership role in the group as its new president.
“It wasn’t until I got involved with the Alumni Association that I realized how important it really is to give back to the University,” Lara said.
Lara said she tries to instill her love of UTPA in her own children and the 19 UTPA graduates and students who work in her firm too. As the Alumni Association’s new leader, Lara said her plans include increasing membership and awareness for the group, hosting more fundraising events for scholarships, and conducting community service projects as an organization.
“It is a very small step, but hopefully I’m going to lay a foundation that future alums will follow,” Lara said.
In addition, Lara hopes to recruit younger and more diverse members to the group.
“We’ve got a great board, but we need to continue to diversify the group,” she said. “I think younger alumni can bring fresh and innovative ideas to the table to make this a well-rounded board.”
So why join the UTPA Alumni Association? Lara said because alums are the backbone of the University and without them there would be no UTPA. Alumni are key to helping UTPA succeed in the future she said and “we need your help.”
“When asking alumni to join I always hear ‘what’s in it for me.’ It’s not about what’s in it for me, but about what we can do to improve the University together,” she said.
To learn more about the UTPA Alumni Association, call (956) 665-2500 or to become a member, visit www.utpaalumni.com.