By Rebecca Esparza, BBA ’99 & MBA ‘03
Back in the mid-1990s, Donna Normandin, BBA ’96, had no idea how a friendly chat with UIW President Dr. Louis Agnese would forever change the course of her professional career.
“At the time I was working at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Dr. Agnese was on our Board of Directors as treasurer,” she recalled. “I was the staff liaison to the Finance Committee and one day I arrived early for one of the meetings. Dr. Agnese started asking me about myself and, of course, the topic of education came up.”
She explained to Agnese how she had finished two years at San Antonio College and yearned to go back to school, but wanted to attend class with working adults. Finances, as well as the possibility of limiting classes to just one per semester, were also of concern to Normandin.
His immediate response to her: “Do we have a new program for you!”
“It was the ADCaP program and as the old saying goes, the rest is history,” Normandin said proAudly.
ADCaP is the Adult Degree Completion Program, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in San Antonio, as well as a satellite location in Corpus Christi. Accelerated eight-week terms help working adults complete a degree with convenient evening or Saturday classes.
She started the ADCaP program in 1996 and graduated by June of 1997 with a Bachelor of Business Administration.
But she didn’t let her love of UIW end there. By 2006, a friend had contacted her about wanting to re-start the UIW Alumni Association. Normandin, who was now senior vice president of CRA and community development at Frost Bank, had a strong background with boards and foundations. It seemed like a perfect fit.
“Part of what I do in my job is serve and participate on boards, committees and commissions and I’ve been tapped on many occasions to ‘create or fix’ organizations, which is why I was encouraged to send in my resume,” she said. “At the first board meeting, I was voted in as the president (of the Alumni Association) and I currently serve as past president. It was a great experience and working with the office of alumni relations was great.”
Normandin’s service to the community is unparalleled, as she spends much of her time addressing issues that affect underserved populations, including those with limited resources.
“We want to help make people more financially self-sufficient,” she said. “One of the issues that is very prevalent across our nation is credit. Easy access to purchasing power (in terms of credit) has ruined many.”
In her research of the subject, one of the things she found missing in schools today was the instruction of financial/credit topics. The cycle must stop somewhere, Normandin decided, and she was determined to be part of the solution.
“My interest was in trying to find a way to be in the classroom providing financial education to high school seniors in the inner-city, about money and financial pitfalls before they graduate and enter the adult world,” she said.
Ideally, she wanted 17- and 18-year-olds to think hard before accepting their first credit card offer: “’Do I send it in or shred it,’” she wanted them to ask themselves. “We want them to make a long term decision, not a rash decision.”
The Frost Financial Youth Academy has graduated over 400 students since its inception in 2006 and funded eight scholarships to colleges across the state. The eight-month program starts in October and ends in May of the following year. Each month different bankers teach a module of financial education featuring topics like general banking, checking, savings, economics, investments, credit, careers and college.
“Students are provided incentives for participation and work towards having their name in a scholarship drawing held at the graduation,” said Normandin. “Currently we’re in two schools in San Antonio, as well as schools in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and McAllen.”
Frost Financial Youth Academy has also visited the UIW campus, completing sessions with the football team during camp in 2010.
“We did a one-and-a-half-hour financial education session with the players. We had fun, as did the team and many were shocked at some of the information provided. I think even the coaches learned something new. It was well received and we hope to do it again someday,” she said.
Normandin has continued her service to UIW as the president of the Quarterback Club, the official booster club program for UIW Cardinals Football.
The countless number of people she’s been able to assist, both through her volunteer work at UIW and her professional career at Frost Bank, owe a debt of gratitude to the ADCaP program and Dr. Agnese’s sage advice.
“Had I not gone back to school and finished my degree, I would not be in the position I am today at the bank,” Normandin reflected. “But, I think the biggest thing it did for me was give me a great sense of pride that I finished my degree and felt so good about myself. I’m proud to say I have my degree and have it from UIW. In December of this year, I will also be able to say I have my MBA from UIW.”
Normandin credits several people for their assistance during her time in the ADCaP program. She said the assistance and guidance from Chancellor Dr. Denise Doyle was invaluable. Normandin also remains good friends with many of the people she met in the program. Additionally, her mentor (and eventually her boss) at Frost Bank, Group Executive Vice President Bernard Gonzales encouraged her to finish school.
“He was tough, but I learned so much from him and he helped get me where I am today.”
But probably no one influenced her personally more than her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after she started the ADCaP program.
“She was so supportive and never let me quit. She lived long enough to see me walk the stage and that’s a memory that will be with me forever.”