Dr. Nolan Perez: Advocate for Higher Education

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By Krystal Krenek

Dr. Nolan Perez has a passion for promoting higher education.  Admittedly, he finds it hard to say no to things that will benefit kids, especially when it involves educational endeavors.  He is paying forward the impact of the mentorship relationship he was blessed with years ago and is carving out a path to help lead young Valley students toward higher education to help them realize their illuminated futures.

Earlier this year, he founded RGV Mentors, an organization which will match successful community professionals with aspiring high school students to ensure all participants graduate high school with a college and career-ready mindset.  The mentors will follow an established curriculum to help students identify career goals and convey the behavioral keys to success so students obtain the tools required to succeed in post-secondary education and, ultimately, build the lives they desire to have.

The impetus to create RGV Mentors began over lunch with rgVision Publisher, Gabe Puente, about a year ago.  Their enthusiasm for education and community service is evidenced in their involvement and drive to help students succeed.  Utilizing the “life coach” style of mentoring that will be the hallmark of RGV Mentors, Perez hopes to inspire and motivate students and see knowledge, opportunities, and skill-sets emerge, enabling students to find direction for their education and career while enhancing their chances of success.

Dr. Mario Ramirez is credited with being the driving force behind Dr. Perez’s pursuits of mentoring.  A Family Physician from Roma, he formerly served on the Board of Regents for the University of Texas System and made it a hobby in life to reach out to young people to motivate them and lift them up.  He got to know students, empowered them, and was willing to keep in touch through the years to learn of their advancements.  His insights were validating when Perez hit road blocks or had doubts.

“Dr. Ramirez is the most successful and prolific mentor that I know of in the region, and perhaps the state or country,” Perez asserts.

Just looking at Dr. Ramirez’s extended family – a slew of physicians, judges, lawyers, and educators – makes one realize the effectiveness of his mentoring.  But Perez states that there are scores, perhaps hundreds, of people not related to him that have been uplifted by this humble man with a good heart and willingness to inspire and motivate others.  And this model is something that Perez wants to emulate with RGV Mentors.

Students have positive influences in their lives like parents and teachers.  But cultivating relationships with successful community professionals allows for a chance to open up and share with someone outside the students’ circles, thus building real connections with mentors.  They have someone to believe in them, to inspire them, and to help them find direction and ambition by “getting a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.”  Thus, they are open to hearing about higher education and career options, and in the process, they learn about the value of diligence, hard work, and delayed gratification.  “Slow and steady wins the race,” as Dr. Perez says, is a life lesson to learn, as lofty goals are not obtained overnight.  He hopes for these mentoring relationships to inspire the youth of the Valley and show them that the quick and easy path can lead to detrimental mistakes.

RGV Mentors is connected to Tech Prep of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc., which is a partnership between education and business that prepares young people for today’s skilled workforce.  This partnership involves well-established relationships with high schools, colleges, universities, businesses, and governmental agencies throughout the Valley.  Their method of needs’ assessment and promotion of post-secondary education and career readiness is a solid fit with the goals of RGV Mentors.

Another facet of Perez’s promotion of higher education is his founding Trustee position in the South Texas Medical Foundation, which is a non-profit entity created to promote and assist in the transition of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) into a four year medical school here in the Valley.  Perez emphasizes adding a medical school will be far more than an economic boon for the entire Valley.  He cites other more important benefits, including access to advanced higher education degrees, improved quality of health care through an influx of research, and increased physician to patient ratio.

According to Perez, if we realize the dream of a medical school here in the Rio Grande Valley, which will also promote robust growth in our local post-secondary colleges and universities, we will change lives in the Valley for generations to come.  The challenge of educating a growing, dynamic, and diverse population can be addressed by exposing a disadvantaged populace to educational opportunities.

“We have to show that higher education is within reach, both culturally and geographically, in order to transform lives and create new paths so that we can have a plethora of first generation doctors, lawyers, educators, and entrepreneurs,” Perez envisions.

Dr. Nolan Perez was raised in the Rio Grande Valley, graduating from Port Isabel High School in 1989.  He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1993 and his doctorate from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio in 1998.  He served as a Medical Corps Officer in the US Navy and received the Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement Medals.  He completed his Internal Medicine residency at the RAHC in 2004 and Gastroenterology fellowship at Wayne State University in Detroit in 2007.  He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

The scope of Dr. Perez’s community involvement is broad.  He was appointed to the Harlingen CISD Board of Trustees in July, and he is very grateful for this vehicle that will be instrumental in promoting his passion for higher education.  He also serves as a Trustee for the South Texas Medical Foundation, Chancellor’s Council for the University of Texas System, Senate Advisory Committee for the Creation of UTHSC South Texas, Development Board Member for the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Brownsville-TSC, Board Member for Tech Prep of the Rio Grande Valley, Expert Panelist for the Texas Medical Board, and Board of Directors for Lone Star National Bank.  For his service, he was awarded the Regional Academic Health Center Community Service Leadership Award earlier this year.

Dr. Perez currently operates his own medical practice, Gastroenterology Consultants of South Texas, PA, here in Harlingen.  He and his wife, Sandy, have two children, Nolan, 10, and Natalie, 8 If you would like more information about RGV Mentors, which is slated to be in full operation in 2011, contact Dr. Perez at Nolan@PerezGastro.com.

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