Every morning for one hour Robert S. Nelsen, president of The University of Texas-Pan American, prepares for his day by meeting with Carol Rausch to discuss his daily agenda.
For Nelsen, that is the most important hour of his day.
"During that hour, we talk about what needs to be done at the University and in the Valley and who can do it. Because of that hour, we hit the streets racing instead of just spinning our wheels," he said.
Since becoming president in January, Nelsen said he has counted on Rausch, assistant to the president, when in need of some words of wisdom and institutional information. He has dubbed her "the University's institutional memory."
"Carol Rausch has been a phenomenal asset for UT-Pan American," Nelsen said. "From the very first day on the job, she has taught me what Pan Am is and how it got there. Her love for the University - for its students, faculty, and staff - is contagious."
But all good things come to an end. Nelsen has to bid adieu to a trusted confidante in the infancy of his presidency as Rausch prepares to retire after 25 years of serving the University.
"I am grateful to Carol, of course, but more honestly, I am indebted to her. I don't think that I have made any decision yet during my tenure here that I have not run by her for her advice and wisdom. It's going to be very strange not having her next door, ready and willing to help," he said.
In her 25 years at UTPA, Rausch has worked for four presidents, served as interim athletic director for several weeks, and has seen UTPA grow into the institution it is today.
Rausch, who will officially retire from her post Aug. 31, said she is ready to start the next phase of her life that will allow her to travel and volunteer more, and live a cozy life in Port Isabel.
"It is going to be very exciting for me. I am going to do the things I really wanted to do but never had time to do," she said. "I want to do things while I am still able to do them."
FOUR DIFFERENT PRESIDENTS, FOUR DIFFERENT STYLES
Born and raised a "Jersey girl," Rausch began her career as a teacher in New Jersey where she taught for seven years. She then came to the Rio Grande Valley where she was an educator for three years before working at UTPA. She also had a 3-year stint in the San Antonio school district. Altogether, Rausch said she has more than 40 years experience in education, which she credits in helping manage her day-to-day duties as the assistant to the president.
"As an elementary school teacher you have to be very multitask-oriented and very flexible. I think those qualities served me well because I learned to adjust to each of the presidents," she said.
Rausch served under the following UTPA presidents: Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez (1981-2004), Dr. Blandina Cárdenas (2004-2009), Dr. Charles A. Sorber (2009-2010), and Nelsen.
Rausch said the four presidents with whom she had the privilege of working had four very different styles to which she had to assimilate.
"I learned something new from every single one of them. I guess I learned regardless of the management style that excellent leaders can have very different management styles. Each one of them was very successful in what they did," she said.
"My blessing is that each of those presidents had integrity, they were honest, they cared about this institution and South Texas and they had a passion for our students. If you have all that then I don't have anything to complain about," Rausch added.
With each president came a new vision for the campus, she said.
"Each one of the presidents had a specific role and sense of history they wanted to carry the institution to the next level. I believed in the role they were playing at that particular time in the history of this institution," she said.
Adapting and believing in the new leadership, Rausch said is what made her a mainstay in the Office of the President. At one point in her career, Rausch figured when Nevárez retired in 2004 she would be replaced, but that was not the case.
"In this position you serve at the pleasure of the president. If there is a new president you are the first to go because that relationship with the president has to be mutual. I anticipated when Dr. Nevárez stepped down a new president would come in and I would be gone," she said.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Before he became president, Nevárez said he had previously worked with Rausch when he was the vice president of student affairs and she was the financial aid assistant director. Nevárez said when he hired Rausch as his administrative assistant in 1981 he knew she was the right person for the job.
"She had the personality for the job and great insight on issues and people," Nevárez said. "The thing about Carol is that she can see a situation and really understand it and then provide you with some good guidance," Nevárez said.
Rausch said Nevárez allowed her to create her dream job, which was later changed to assistant to the president when Pan American University merged with the University of Texas System in 1989.
"We were a good team. I had strengths where he had weaknesses and he had strengths where I had weaknesses. It was a really good fit and it worked really well," Rausch said.
Starting next fall, the title of the position will be changed again to chief of staff said Rausch.
Nevárez believes Rausch's knowledge about UTPA and its inner workings is what has allowed her to work with each of his successors.
"She has a historical background and that is the reason I hired her and the reason the others have hired her too," Nevárez said. "She has the perspective of the whole university."
During her early years at UTPA, Rausch said her job consisted of many tasks including presenting sexual harassment trainings to new employees, planning campus events, and at one time serving as interim athletic director for several weeks in the 1990s.
"That was one of the fun times when I was the interim director of athletics. I thought it would be fun and I wanted to do it," she said.
In 1980, when Rausch began her career at UTPA, the student population was almost 8,000. Today, the numbers have ballooned to more than 18,000 students, which is one of the many significant changes on campus she has witnessed, in addition to the move into technology, campus growth and the merging with the UT System.
Another change Rausch had the opportunity to be a part of was when she co-chaired a committee with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) to make recommendations to support the creation of South Texas Community College.
"That change allowed us to start working on admissions standards that led us to becoming a full-fledged university. It also began the increase in program offerings for bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees," she said.
As to what she is going to miss about UTPA, Rausch said the family unit of hardworking and dedicated students, faculty and staff, who she considers stars that will always shine brightly in her life and memories.
"I got everything from Pan Am," she said. "I felt like I was part of a very important cause and I was privileged and honored to be a part of this wonderful community, both in South Texas and Pan Am."