Linda Garza Battles is the Regional VP and Chancellor of WGU Texas. She leads university operations across a five-state region and guides the strategic direction of the online, nonprofit university’s Texas-based affiliate. With more than 27 years of experience in higher education strategic planning, policy development, and stakeholder engagement to the role, Linda joined WGU in 2020 as Regional Director to expand university partnerships and develop strategies to deliver high-quality education and graduates that meet workforce needs.
Before WGU, Battles served as Deputy Commissioner for Agency Operations and Communications and Chief Operating Officer for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). She worked on statewide policy to expand access to higher education and improve student success. Linda also served as Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for the now-late State Representative Irma Rangel, who served as the House Higher Education Committee Chair from 1995-2002. She worked on legislation to expand access to higher education, such as the Top 10% Law, which provides students who graduate in the top 10% of their HS class with automatic admission to the state’s public universities.
Linda earned her bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in public affairs from UT. She’s currently working on her Ph.D. from UT Austin. In 2017, she was selected as a Woman of Distinction by the TX Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce. Linda is a proud graduate of Ysleta HS and has been a donor and sponsor of the El Paso in Austin Network since its founding. She’s a Latina Leader making waves in education across the state.
Throughout his 16-year culinary career, André Natera has developed a food philosophy that points to his fresh approach to cooking: If it grows together, it goes together. This ideology made Natera a natural fit at The Fairmont Dallas, where he oversaw all kitchen operations for Pyramid Restaurant & Bar and hotel catering.
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland in 1995, Natera has pursued his culinary education through the years with various food certification programs, including a Techniques of Healthy Cooking program in St. Helena, California. During that time, the fresh market concept began to shape his current philosophy. “I draw inspiration from Mother Nature, the true workhorse in the kitchen. Fresh, simple and approachable resonates with people and their palates.”
Natera’s leadership style has evolved and depends on the level of the person in the kitchen. In his view, discipline is critical in the kitchen, which he defines as delivering results by doing things correctly, not punishment as often comes to mind. He cites creativity, leadership and mentorship as the significant aspects of being a Chef, all qualities he takes very seriously.
Natera’s interests include studying Eastern philosophy and Taoism, which influence his culinary philosophy. “Taoism is all about respecting nature, keeping things simple and not overcomplicating things in life. In general, that’s my approach to food.”
In the five years that Danza has been in the Northwest Austin community, Ada has transformed the ballet school into a special place that has welcomed many diverse families with open arms. Her vision for providing the students with a professional and supportive ballet education has made the school a thriving small business. Ada is an American Ballet Theater-certified teacher, and to date, Danza is the only ballet studio in Austin that incorporates this renowned curriculum. The studio space was designed in 2015, and to this day, she has given direction to bring her vision to life. Danza opened its doors in late January 2016 and is the most racially diverse ballet school in Austin. Ada often receives emails from international families stating they are moving to the U.S. soon and would like to enroll their child at Danza as quickly as possible.
Students range from ages 3 to 70, and she teaches all levels, from beginners to advanced teens and adults. Pre-pandemic, she continuously made it a point to offer performance opportunities throughout the year to promote the students’ self-confidence and encourage independence. From mid-March 2020 to July 2021, Ada continued teaching virtually to all levels. Through those 16 months, she continued bringing the same energy to her students online as in the studio to help children maintain a sense of normalcy. As expected, many students continued improving. She even prepared about ten students for auditions for pre-professional programs throughout the country during this time. These were multiple one-on-one sessions with each student that included a choreography, as many re-dos as necessary to ensure each student submitted their very best, and patiently walking new dance parents through the process. All students were accepted to the summer programs.
In these first five years, Ada has dedicated her life to Danza by providing a professional ballet education to each student. The Northwest Austin community has been highly supportive, and the studio has naturally gained a well-respected reputation over time. She truly has created a hidden gem in Central Texas.
After a distinguished career in the Army, where he served as a Captain, Rudy Mejia joined Estrada Hinojosa & Company Inc. in March 2012. He leads the Firm’s investment banking efforts in Central and West Texas. Rudy currently serves some of the largest issuers in the state as a financial advisor and bond underwriter. He performs detailed quantitative analysis and generates financing plans to assist clients in achieving short- and long-term capital objectives. Rudy has worked as a lead banker on over 50 transactions in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He graduated from The United States Military Academy at West Point in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and from UT Austin with his MBA in 2015. Rudy is a proud graduate of Mountain View High School. Rudy served on the Board of Directors for Con Mi Madre and is a Hispanic Impact Fund Investor and believes in advancing the health, education, and economic well-being of Hispanics in Central Texas. Most recently, Rudy was a 2022 Austin Under 40 nominee.
Nichole Perez, MD
Maria Nichole Perez serves as the medical director for primary care for the Ascension Seton Family of Doctors and the Ascension Seton University Physicians Group. She is a primary care physician through Ascension Seton and is an attending hospitalist at Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas.
Nichole graduated with her undergraduate degree from UTEP and completed her internal medicine residency at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), where she also served as chief resident. She was an associate program director in internal medicine, as well as the combined preventive and aerospace medicine programs at UTMB.
Gaining experience in graduate medical education curriculum development, Dr. Perez then worked abroad in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as program director of internal medicine in an institution advancing training programs accredited by the International Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. After completing her time in the Middle East, she returned to El Paso, Texas. Nichole joined the El Paso Hospitalist Services as Vice President of Clinical Services for El Paso Hospitalist Services. In addition to serving as a hospitalist in a bustling medical center in this underserved, low-income population along the United States-Mexico border, she was also the lead physician of the outpatient mobile doc service, which provided home clinical visits to patients who were older and homebound.
Nichole is passionate about improving systems and teaching, which led her back to an academic environment in 2016, resulting in her current role with Ascension Seton and Dell Medical School in Austin. Her passion for systems improvement includes physician wellness: She is currently involved in resident and faculty wellness initiatives, quality improvement initiatives and developing tools for physician wellness. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Perez worked tirelessly as a Medical Director overseeing the Primary Care Clinics in Austin, TX. She has been a source of ideas on protecting staff from Covid and a source of inspiration to the team that she oversees. On top of leading the clinics, she still manages to see and care for patients.