Mary Ranjel, director of admissions, has served Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio since 1976. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on Christian higher education. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you served, and what were your positions there?
After I graduated from high school, I went to work for Head Start, which was just starting in San Antonio in 1968. I began as a teacher’s aide. After taking child development courses, I was promoted to teacher. I taught 3- and 4-year-olds. I absolutely loved working with children.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the north side of San Antonio in a barrio called Kenwood near a wealthy neighborhood called Olmos Park. My friends were African American, Mexican, Anglo and Hispanic.
I did not understand why my African American friends could not go to the movies with me. We did not know the difference between races or cultures. We all played together outside in our neighborhood. We did not attend the same schools or the same churches, but we got along, living together in the barrio.
I went to an all-Anglo school where only a handful of Mexican children attended. We were not allowed to speak Spanish. If we did, we were sent to the principal.
My mother used to tell us if we were going to speak Spanish, we needed to speak it correctly and not use slang. This has stayed with me. I took Spanish in high school and now use it every day at BUA. I am blessed to be bilingual and to have grown up with many cultures.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
My mother’s cousin, Juanita, used to come to the house to witness to my mother. She invited us to the church in the neighborhood, and we loved it. My brother, sister, mother and I accepted the Lord almost immediately after attending that small Baptist mission back in 1961.
I always yearned, even as a child, for something spiritual. I had a longing that needed to be filled. Christ filled it.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I graduated from Thomas A. Edison High School in San Antonio, and later took some courses at Texas State University in San Marcos.
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I graduated from Wayland Baptist University in San Antonio with a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational education. Later, I earned a Master of Science degree in training and development from Texas A&M-Commerce.
Why do you feel called into education?
I always have felt, as Christians, we represent Christ and have to be well-prepared. This is where education comes in. An education opens one’s eyes to so many things we probably could not have learned outside the classroom.
As a child and later as a young person, I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be “educated,” but coming from a very close, protective Hispanic family, I could not go away to college. A young Christian lady could not go away from home until she left home on her wedding day, which is what happened in my case.
I wish I could have started my education earlier and gone to college straight out of high school and continued until I had my Ph.D. I would have gone all the way, but I obeyed my parents.
Even though my dream of an education the way I had hoped for didn’t come true, I am blessed to have accomplished what I have up until now. God knows the plans he has for us.
How does being a Christian influence your work in education?
Being a Christian influences my work daily. I am here because God has chosen me at this time to do this job. I try to honor him in all I do. I see his children every day, and I want to represent Christ to them in the way I deal with them and how I speak to them.
I want to encourage others. Even as obstacles come our way, there still is a way to get an education if we want it. I could not go away to college when I wanted to, but I found every opportunity to get an education wherever I could. I love to be able to encourage others to go to school. It’s never too late.
What one aspect of education gives you the greatest joy?
I usually refer to my job in admissions as the front door. This is where students ask questions about enrolling, classes, etc. To see students go from the front door to the exit door at graduation, completing what they set out to do, seeking new and bright experiences and adventures—that is my greatest joy.
What do you wish more people knew about education?
An education is an investment. Yes, it can be expensive, but it is worth the money. It will pay off.
Why are you Baptist?
When I was growing up, I always heard Baptists stick close to the Bible. I believe God’s word—the Bible—and I believe Baptists preach God’s word.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
My pastor and his wife did not have children. So, I became like their daughter. I always knew I had a calling, and they always fed that calling. I stayed close to them until both died. I have wonderful memories of them taking me to youth rallies, revivals, training sessions, camps. They invested much in me, and I always will be grateful.
Mrs. Williams would take me aside before Sunday school and teach me piano. I played the piano at our church since I was 11 years old because of Mrs. Williams. She also made it possible for me to have a piano at home.
My daddy always told me I could do anything I wanted to do. He believed in me, encouraged me and was proud of me. Most of all, he gave me love and security. He did not know much about college, but he always wanted me to graduate from college. He was able to see me graduate with my first degree. His wish was granted. My diploma reads Mary Salazar Ranjel in honor of my dad, Pedro Salazar.
What is the impact of education on your family?
My mother only went to the 6th grade, and my dad received his GED in the military. I am the only person in my immediate family to have a college degree, and my daughter is the only one of her cousins to have a degree. Now, I want my grandchildren to see that an education is important. My grandchildren, as young as they are, talk about going to college.
I would say education brought honor to my dad and to my family.
How many grandchildren do you have?
I have nine grandchildren. I love them all—from 1 to 24 years old, mostly boys. I have two great-grandchildren. My oldest grandson is in the U.S. Army. I am a proud Army grandma and a very proud Nana.