An Administrative Manager Focused on Leadership and Healthcare in the Non-profit World

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A Path Into Public Health Stemmed from Taking Chances and a Strong Desire to Help Others

From entering the United States as an undocumented immigrant, Maria De La Cruz is thriving in her current role. She is improving the lives of others through health care initiatives in Texas. The path to being the Human Service Administrative Manager for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services was one full of decisions. Maria recalls one of the biggest choices for her was to leave Bonner in pursuit of her purpose. By leaving Bonner, she grew into a role in Houston. She will continue to change the public health sector for the better.  

First Steps  

Maria's journey began at the age of seven when she immigrated to the United States from Spain. Determined to attend Ramapo College with most of her friends, Maria's collegiate start did not pan out as planned. After working full-time and realizing Ramapo would not be a good fit, she decided to attend Middlesex  County College. Here, she became a part of a program called Democracy House, where students were paid to participate in community service. She met a man named Patrick Donohue, who founded the program at Middlesex, and the rest was history. 

"Pat had a whole spiel, 'you are going to give your life to this.' I thought to myself, 'not going to happen.' I had a plan. Get into business as a business major, make money, live in a high rise in New York, and help my family. I thought, there’s no way I can do this program. I went to quit in the first week. But, instead I was persuaded to be the Congress Representative. That’s when I fell in love with Bonner, that first Congress." 

The Next Chapter

When Maria was close to completing an Associate’s degree at Middlesex, upon further discussions with Pat, she transferred to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). She became a Bonner Scholar there. After graduating from TCNJ, she returned to Middlesex to be its Bonner Coordinator. Eventually, Maria became its Director. But, the program lacked funding, and she would return to TCNJ once more, in charge of three issue areas (ex. Juvenile Justice), and program finances. Maria recalled, "It got to the point I asked 'what am I doing next?' I didn’t have a trajectory. I didn't think I could be the director of the Bonner Program because I didn't have a Master's or a doctorate degree. So, I decided to go back to school." Maria got into the National Urban Fellows program, a program for men and women of color in leadership positions, that would fund her Master’s studies. 

She was placed in Houston during the year the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was kicking off. In Maria's first week in Houston, she was able to sit at a table with her director, whose boss was the mayor of the city. There were many non-profits, government, and private agencies who wanted to promote and get people enrolled in the ACA. Given Maria's skillset, she quickly became an asset to the health department and would remain there until today. 

What's Up Next?

From deciding to not pursue business to leaving a Bonner program that was home for her, Maria is now in another part of her life where she hopes to make decisions that will help the people working in the non-profit, public health sector, as well as the communities they serve. She is currently pursuing a doctorate degree, and hopes to implement research-based practices on how to be good leaders and team managers – something she believes the sector is missing. With this next step, she will continue to be unstoppable in her pursuit of improving the lives of others.  


To learn more about Maria, check out the department she is a part of:


Written by Kai Mangino, Bonner Leader at The College of New Jersey ‘19

Read Maria's job profile here.

Click here for a downloadable version of this profile.