UHCL social work prof recognized as one of Houston's 'Influential Latinas of 2023'
“Celebrate the culture.” That’s what University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Assistant Professor of Social Work Roberta Leal encourages Mexicans and other Hispanics to do, extinguishing the cultural stigmas that once existed. Leal recently received the honor of being recognized as an “Influential Latina” by The Mariachi Festival, a non-profit Houston organization.
Since 2019, the Greater Houston area celebrates Hispanic culture at this three-day event. The organization aims to promote Hispanic culture through the arts and to establish mariachi and ballet folklórico programs in schools. In the spirit of celebration, it also gives the community the opportunity to nominate a Latina who has made noteworthy contributions at her job or school, or within the community.
This year, 23 other women were chosen among the pool of nominees as “Influential Latinas of 2023,” alongside Leal. The recipients received plaques and were publicly honored on stage at The Wortham Theater, where the festival was held last month.
Leal said she enjoys being engaged in the community with cultural and theater arts, so she saw the event as another cultural opportunity. “I was planning to attend as a patron, and that’s when I received a phone call, saying I was nominated,” she said.
As a professor in UH-Clear Lake's College of Human Sciences and Humanities, Leal focuses her time and expertise on teaching, social work field education, and researching topics such as immigration and health disparities. Leal also coordinates events with non-profits across Harris County that impact thousands of minority families every year.
The American Jewish Committee, in partnership with the Mexican Consulate in Houston recognized her as a Mexican-American Emerging Leader in 2009. University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work presented her with the Humanitarian of the Year award in 2013, 2015, and 2015, and with the Outstanding Faculty Award in 2015. In 2019, she was selected as the Social Worker of the Year by Latino Social Workers of Greater Houston Network. She was also nominated and invited to be a Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education Leadership Fellow at the 3rd annual Career and Leadership Development Institute in 2023.
Leal was chosen as an “Influential Latina” for her community engagement and activism in helping underserved individuals with access to healthcare and education as well. “I do a lot of mentoring in the community for high school students, and their parents, who are working their way to college in a community setting,” she said. “I also provide professional development meetings for recent graduates launching their careers and professors teaching or conducting research for the first time.”
She shares the recognition with Latinas from a range of professions, including other university professionals as well as CEOs, an attorney, a mental health therapist, company founders, and a neuroscientist, among other professions. She hopes The Mariachi Festival continues to recognize influential Latinas in the area next year and every year. “I also hope to be able to serve the board or advisory committee one year,” she added.
As a Mexican-American, Leal understands the challenges that other Mexican-Americans face regarding their culture. “We grew up with stigmas about our culture and lost some of it, so this festival is a way to revive that,” she said. "Celebrate the culture.”
For more information about UHCL’s Social Work program, visit www.uhcl.edu/human-sciences-humanities/departments/clinical-health-applied-sciences/social-work/