Embracing the Hustle


There’s a vision and a mission focus at Valley Grande Institute for Academic Studies that can be traced to the work started by CEO Anabell Cardona at the turn of the 21st century.

For more than 20 years, Cardona and her team at VGI have been passionately motivated to serve the families of Weslaco and the Rio Grande Valley and strive to make their community a better place for future generations.

Cardona, born and raised in Weslaco, has always understood that hard work and a burning desire to succeed were the keys to a better life.

“I grew up on the other side of the tracks and growing up at that time, there was still that division,” she said. “But I never noticed it. We were all just one and we all just worked.”

She had a strict upbringing and role models that included teachers who wanted to make a difference and invest in their student’s success–who encouraged her to “think outside the box” because, as she said, “not everyone fits inside the box.”

According to Cardona, these were the ingredients of what she called the “hustle,” that innate desire that fueled our drive to achieve and fueled hers to help those in her community achieve great things.

“It is amazing when we can see the strength of other individuals around us,” she said.

Cardona’s journey into health care began when she was still attending classes at the University of Pan-American, and it was merely by chance that she discovered her niche.

She was working at a clinic part-time in Weslaco. Within a few months of starting her position, she was asked to become the clinic’s manager full-time. She accepted the job and began managing a very large medical practice.

The hours were long, but the position was rewarding and opened doors to other healthcare administration and education opportunities in Weslaco.

“It all takes a hustle,” she said. “It all depends on how badly you want to achieve your goals. Achieving these goals is high. Accomplishing these goals is amazing because we get to help others.”

In 2001, Cardona was named President and CEO at VGI. As a result, she began to serve on local boards that included the Weslaco Chamber of Commerce, Knapp Medical Center, Weslaco Crime Stoppers, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, and more.

These connections fueled the hustle and created relationships with other community leaders, enabling her to facilitate ways to help families achieve their goals.

“Nursing is not for everyone. Nursing provides a great income, but is there a shortage? Yes, there is,” she said. “We have to make sure these students are ready to be exposed to patient care.”

In December 2022, VGI and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine signed a memorandum of understanding to “strengthen the pipeline between the two institutions in training allied health professionals.”

“The mission of UTRGV is to serve the region,” Dr. Guy Bailey, president of UTRGV, said in a press release. “With the School of Medicine’s support, VGI allied health students can continue their medical training to best contribute to that mission.”

Former Texas Workforce Commissioner Julian Alvarez III, who attended the signing and addressed the dignitaries and students, said attracting students to the healthcare profession is a statewide need.

“We want students to graduate and be employed,” Alvarez said. “Our goal is to make sure every Texan has opportunities to succeed.”

In March, VGI received the Catalyst Award from Teach for America Rio Grande Valley for the continuous education VGI provided to nursing students during the COVID-19 outbreak.

During the pandemic, VGI continued training nurses, enabling them to meet their clinical requirements while serving the community, including running multiple vaccine clinics.

“The pandemic pushed us to be innovative,” Cardona said.

Of course, enhancing the quality of nursing candidates available to healthcare providers in the Rio Grande Valley is only part of the mission focus that Cardona and VGI have for its students and the Rio Grande Valley.

The other motivating factor is to ensure the students relying on VGI for the quality of their training and their ability to contribute and build their legacy are meeting their needs and the needs of their families sometimes, which involves helping students overcome financial challenges to achieve their dream of becoming a nurse.

“There are those students who are licensed and have their career path, and that’s fantastic,” she said. “But we have those students who don’t have all the resources that are needed to get there. Many times, they don’t know where to go. They have the desire, but they don’t know who to reach out to. They then believe the opportunity is for someone else, or that they can’t succeed in college.”

Some of those challenges include child care, transportation, or work difficulties if they care for their families.

Cardona said VGI can sit down and help students–especially those still in high school– devise a flexible plan to help them realize their dream of becoming a nurse.

Healthcare apprenticeships are also available at VGI and UTRGV, which allow nursing students to receive training at area hospitals.

“I know that what we are doing works,” she said.

To learn more about program opportunities, visit vgi.edu.


Bryan Kirk