Portraits of Philanthropy
The Peņa Brothers: A spirited journey from the fields of America to corporate America
“I’ll take you,” Gilberto’s father said. He drove his son to a college campus he knew nothing about; but he knew that great opportunities existed for his children beyond the farm fields. And so began an ambitious journey toward success and an opportunity to help others pursue higher education in South Texas.
Pictured Left is Jose Gilberto Peña, Pictured Right is Alfredo Peña
Gilberto Peña and his younger brother Alfredo Peña attribute their success to their father and grandmothers, who always supported their endeavors to “get ahead” in life. As a migrant family, they worked in the fields every summer. Whether picking cotton in South Texas, peaches in California, or pickles in West Texas, these boys never quite experienced the usual freedoms of summer; the boys and their five siblings always left home June 1 and returned August 25, their father always insisting that they finish the school year and be home to start the regular school year.
When Gilberto’s father dropped him off at Texas A&I in Kingsville, he never expected the success that would follow. Gilberto attended college for one semester before being drafted into the army. Two years later, Alfredo began attending The University of Texas-Pan American. When Gilberto returned from the army, he utilized the benefits of the GI Bill to join his brother. Alfredo later took a break from college and followed in his brother’s military footsteps noting, “At that time, you invested two years in the service and got four years of college benefits. So it was a heck of a deal.” Gilberto and Alfredo graduated with accounting degrees from the College of Business Administration in 1977 and 1978, respectively.
Gilberto joined Deere and Company in Moline, IL; he believed in seizing opportunities. “It is important for students to learn early on that there are opportunities out there. But you have to be prepared to go out there and face the world.” He worked with the company for 32 years, moving up the corporate ladder and relocating to New York, Georgia and North Carolina where he resides today. In 2000, Gilberto earned an MBA from Duke University.
After graduating from UT Pan American, Alfredo worked for Tenneco Oil Company in Houston for one year then pursued a law degree at The University of Texas School of Law in Austin. Upon obtaining his J.D., Alfredo went to work for Exxon Company, U.S.A. then with ExxonMobil, finding outstanding opportunities over a 30-year career - a successful career rooted in the education received at UT Pan American. Alfredo’s career included more than a dozen different assignments in Houston, Corpus Christi, Midland, Tokyo, Sakhalin Island, Russia and Lagos, Nigeria.
Because of their success, which they say began at UT Pan American, the Peña brothers are now giving back. Through a contribution to The University of Texas-Pan American, the brothers established the Dolores Galvan Canales y Nazaria Ochoa Peña Memorial Endowed Scholarship, named after their grandmothers who helped raise the two after their mother passed away while they were still young. Beyond direct donations, other contributions received through Matching Gift Programs and Gifts of Stock have also enhanced the endowment. The scholarship supports students in the College of Business Administration. “A lot of people have the desire [to give] but it doesn’t make the ‘to do’ list. It’s about instituting a sense of giving back and helping someone,” said Alfredo Peña.
UT Pan American’s College of Business Administration (CoBA) currently maintains accreditation by AACSB International; less than 5% of business schools worldwide have earned this accreditation. And the MBA program is ranked as one of “The Best 301 Business Schools” by the Princeton Review. There are numerous ways to give to The University of Texas-Pan American. To find out more about the College of Business Administration and UT Pan American’s various giving opportunities, please visit www.utpa.edu.
The Peña brothers are committed to spreading the spirit of giving and are encouraging their cousins and other supporters to expand the endowment, so together they can help as many deserving students as possible achieve their full potential, just as they were fortunate enough to do.