Last original COM faculty member retires after 47 years
Dr. Manuel Urbina, College of the Mainland’s last original faculty member hired when the college opened its doors in 1967, will retire this year from the institution he helped shape.
Urbina, a private museum curator, historian and author, also earned the distinction of the college’s first Teacher of the Year.
“Manuel is a rock star faculty member,’” said Dr. Steve Sewell, chair of social and behavioral sciences at COM. “A few years ago I attend a student event and when Manuel walked into the room students started chanting, ‘Urbina, Urbina, Urbina.’ Manuel is dedicated to his students. My office used to be next to his and I heard him tutoring students one-on-one too many times to count.”
Students enjoyed his lectures, peppered with stories.
“It’s fun to listen to him. He’ll say, ‘Let me tell you a little tidbit,’ said student Jasmine Cruz. “He’s the best teacher ever. I am sad he’s leaving.”
The professor of 47 years plans to become a full-time researcher.
COM’s first Hispanic faculty member, Urbina in 1974 spearheaded the college’s Cinco de Mayo Festival, the first commemoration of the day in the area.
“I had been working with the Mexican-American community and I wanted to bring it together with the college,” said Urbina.
Still going strong, the Cinco de Mayo festival in 2014 marks its 40th anniversary.
“History is my profession, hobby and recreation,” said Urbina.
A storyteller, he drew many insights shared in his Latin American History, Texas History and Western Civilization classes from his first-hand interviews. Urbina compiled extensive video interviews with those who fought for and against Pancho Villa, the prominent general during the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
He began his research spanning two nations and 12 veterans with a single meeting: an interview with the late Teodoro Garcia, of Texas City, who fought for the federal government.
“All the veterans remembered (Pancho Villa) as being very magnanimous. He was a soldier. There’s another side of that,” recalled Urbina. “He’d line up all the poor when he entered a village and give them a silver peso (taken from the rich).”
In a Mexican airport on one of his trips, Urbina found a paper piece of currency dating to the days of Pancho Villa. That paper, which he still keeps in his wallet, became the first artifact in his private museum.
“It mushroomed,” said Urbina.
His collection grew to include Aztec money from 1325, Mayan currency and presidential documents of Mexico and Texas. The museum is open by appointment to COM groups and other university students from as far as San Antonio.
Urbina’s education spans three nations. He earned a doctorate of law from University of Houston in 1983 and studied international law in Mexico City and in London at Cambridge. He earned a bachelor of arts from Howard Payne College in 1962 and Master of Arts and doctorate from University of Texas.
Urbina published his first book “The Impact of the Texas Revolution on the Government, Politics and Society of Mexico, 1836” and plans three others examining Pancho Villa, the Mexican-American War, and the Texas Revolution.
Among his numerous recognitions, he is listed in “Who’s Who Among Hispanics in America,” “Who’s Who in America” and “Who’s Who in the World.”