“What I found wasn’t resistance. I found innovation.”

  Wednesday, April 13, 2022
  Awards and Recognitions

By Amanda Alaniz

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The mission of UTRGV’s Enactus chapter is to help make lasting, positive impacts in the community – a mission that has been heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The student organization each year focuses on putting community projects into action. During the pandemic, students in UTRGV’s Enactus knew they would have to step up how they connect with community members.   

According to its website, the national Enactus is “the world’s largest experiential learning platform dedicated to creating a better world while developing the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders and social innovators. The Enactus network of global business, academic and student leaders are unified by our vision – to create a better, more sustainable world.”  

Enactus faculty advisor Maria Leonard, a UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship assistant professor of practice, said the students were the ones who helped facilitate ways to reach the community, presenting innovative ideas.   

Some of the projects the organization completed included:   

All of the projects were guided by the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.   


Maria Leonard
Enactus faculty advisor Maria Leonard, a UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship assistant professor of practice, speaking at the Southern Business Administration Association in November 2021. (Courtesy Photo)

UTRGV’s Enactus chapter has received recognition locally and nationally for its accomplishments.   

Last year, it ranked in the Top 16 at the Enactus U.S. National Expo.  

In addition, Leonard recently was awarded the first Southern Business Administration Association’s 2021 Societal Impact Award for her notable community-focused work with Enactus. UTRGV nominations came from Dr. Lance Nail, dean of the UTRGV RCVCoBE.  

The SBAA is a regional association of collegiate business programs offered by colleges and universities in the southern United States. Its mission is to improve management education by providing networking opportunities, showcasing best practices, promoting innovation in teaching and scholarship, and encouraging leadership in the management educational programs.   

The Societal Impact Award recognizes outstanding approaches or achievements in business education that positively impact the community and society.   

Leonard said she was surprised by the award. She knew the competition was fierce, especially facing 14 schools across the country, but the students in Enactus worked extremely hard.    

“It was an honor to be recognized by our leadership. The fact that Dean Nail saw that our projects could be submitted – it was an honor,” she said. “At the end of the day, we all want to help students develop, use their talents and understand the needs of the community. They can become better leaders and it gives them a sense of pride. I’m so proud to see the students succeed, and earning recognitions is a wonderful outcome.”  


When the pandemic arrived in the Rio Grande Valley, many schools and organizations were pushed to find ways to adjust to the rapid changes. Face-to-face meetings quickly turned into Zoom calls. Many companies utilized different media to continue to reach their audience.    

It was no different for the UTRGV Enactus students, who readjusted their strategies to continue help the community, Leonard said. They remained dedicated to completing all ongoing projects.   

“During the pandemic, we recognized that the skills we had in the way we harness technology to complete tasks, to show performance and outcomes, were valuable. That could be transferred to the students’ lives, and to their business and professional development. We did what every company did – we used the technology at our fingertips,” Leonard said.  

For the SOAR Project, all meetings, presentations, speakers and curriculums were made available over Zoom and online. Through the program, they were able to graduate 13 young adults who are part of the autistic community.   

With the help from the Workforce Solutions, each person was able to receive a summer internship. The goal was to achieve the planned outcomes – even during, and despite, the pandemic.

Enactus' Sustainable Opportunities for Advancement and Recruiting (SOAR) project worked in partnership with Team Mario, the UTRGV Office for Sustainability, and Texas Workforce Solutions to offer professional, work-related training aimed at helping autistic young adults
Enactus' Sustainable Opportunities for Advancement and Recruiting (SOAR) project worked in partnership with Team Mario, the UTRGV Office for Sustainability, and Texas Workforce Solutions to offer professional, work-related training aimed at helping autistic young adults. Members celebrated the SOAR participants. (Photo Credit: Enactus RGV Instagram)


Leonard said the Enactus food drive was a bit trickier. But the need for resources was high, so the urgency to continue the project during the pandemic was important.   

The organization usually fundraised through schools for the food drive, but they shifted tactics, collaborating with partners, sought grant money, and were able to feed more than 400 families during the pandemic.  

“We were able to repeat what we had done previously and scale-up the project,” Leonard said. “We also utilized buildings that were empty to store the food and make the deliverable bags through the pandemic.   

“And this year, with the help from our networking, we were able to feed about 1,600 families.”   

The project continues to grow, focused by the goal of helping the community members.   

The world crisis pushed many into thinking of ways to fulfill commitments, and students in Enactus recognized how important and valuable their projects were to the community, Leonard said.   

“The students brought answers, they brought ideas. Things that I don’t even think about sometimes,” she said.   

“Our students saw the challenges, but they were not discouraged. They know the value of networking. And I was able to help them. What I found wasn’t resistance, but innovation.”   

Students interested in learning about the organization can contact Leonard at maria.leonard@utrgv.edu or visit Enactus RGV on Instagram.  


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.