Maria Cristina “Cristy” Torres Colmenar


1999-2000 President, UPAA-SD

Being a “Paulinian” (St. Paul’s College, Manila) from kindergarten to high school (salutatorian), my grandparents were very aghast as to why I wanted to go from a Catholic school to secular and “subversive-minded” UP. I loved math but they wanted me to pursue nursing which just didn’t appeal to me. Deciding for myself, I was accepted to the University of the Philippines in Diliman batch 1975 under the Engineering/Math block with Statistics as my stated major because Mathematics was impacted. 

My sister, who is a year older, lamented how come I was accepted in Diliman when she was accepted only in Los Banos (second best UP destination)? Batch 1975 was the first group who stayed at Kalayaan (Freedom), UP’s first freshman coed residence hall. My initial circle of friends in Kalayaan were from the same subject block consisting of three girls (Nora Del Rosario, Zeny, and myself) and three guys (Nilo Farrofo, Art Ibrado and Ador Colmenar). Yes, this is the same Ador, who was destined to become my husband. Because of our block schedule, we did a lot of activities together like eat in the hall dining room, walk to our classes, study for exams/homework in the common living areas and hang out together after class. College friendships last so, after 32 years, we’ve all kept in touch.

Having gone to an exclusive all girls’ school all my life, I was not into boys. I had an ardent admirer from an all boys’ high school who suddenly visited me in Kalayaan. I was totally surprised but I had no interest in him. He followed me for days and out of exasperation I told him, “I’m not interested in you and I already have a boyfriend”. When pressed to give the name of my boyfriend, and not knowing any other guy, I mentioned Ador’s name. Lo and behold, Ador walked in and sat very close to me. I introduced them to each other with Ador unaware of his sudden “boyfriend status”. 

As to Ador, I recall during one of our block discussions on NCEE scores, my 99% score was higher than those of the other four. I felt proud until I found out that Ador had 99+% score. I was impressed. A few months later, Kalayaan sponsored a competition similar to Jeopardy where students sign up as pairs. Ador’s team won the final round. Some students who graduated from Ateneo, LaSalle, UP High, etc, challenged the results, so Kalayaan held a new but similar competition. I recall the questions were harder, there were more able competitors, and the mood was more intense. In the end, Ador’s team won again. This win occurred after months of doing things together with Ador. I can honestly say I finally “saw” Ador after watching him overwhelmingly win both competitions. On Valentine’s Day of 1976, we are officially dating. Every Valentine’s Day thereafter, Ador wishes me Happy Anniversary!

I graduated in 1979 and was offered a teaching job at UP Statistical Center. I declined the offer since I was hired as Statistical Research Assistant by the prestigious International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Laguna around December 1979. They filled two positions out of a pool of hundreds of applicants. Around April 1981, I moved to Makati, Metro Manila when I was hired as Systems Analyst at Atrium, investment arm of the Herdis Group of Corporations.

Ador, who left in October 1980 for his boot camp after enlisting in the US Navy, came back in August 1981. I married my one and only sweetheart and block mate from college. We recently celebrated our 25th anniversary at the Double Tree Hotel and Country Club in Rancho Penasquitos and renewed our vows in front of around 100 relatives and very close friends. It was a very touching ceremony presided by my brother in law, Father Manny. He had been a part of our singles and married life and had been aware of our mutual life challenges from the very start.

Ador’s first Navy station took him to Guam where I initially refused to go to. I was happy and comfortable in my current situation and saw no need to relocate. Ador can continue to send me his monthly allowance and with my job, I felt set for life. My grandmother’s wisdom, however, sent me packing to follow my husband. I can still recall her words, “What’s the use of all your money, if your family is separated?” On April 1982, I moved to Guam with my one year old daughter Cristina Rossetti. In January 1983, I gave birth to my son, Al Joby, at the Naval Hospital in Guam.

There was a very active UP alumni association in Guam where I met Teresita Marcos, UP alumna who introduced me around. She told me of an opening for a statistician in her office. Around February 1983, I was hired as Statistical Assistant by Family Health Plan, aka PacifiCare Health Systems, which was recently purchased by United HealthCare Systems. I was the first power user of Lotus 1,2,3 in the company and was immediately involved in systems and statistical/process redesign, automation of the budgeting process and staff training. I was promoted to Systems/Administrative Assistant around August 1983 and reported to the Director of Finance, Frank St. Gelais. With Guam only 3 hours away by plane, and military fare of $10, my whole family had regular visits to the Philippines. It was a good life.

The call of the military came around November 1986 when my husband had to change stations. We relocated to San Diego and lived in Imperial Beach. People I met had so many good things to say about employment at the County of San Diego that I took their test for Account Clerk. I was hired February 1987 by the San Diego Probation Office, with two positions filled out of a pool of hundreds of applicants. After my stint with systems, I found the clerical job not challenging enough. The Filipino Sr. Accountant gave me additional, higher level accounting work but I left after three months. 

Around May 1987, I was hired as Financial Analyst in Power Development Company, a multi-million dollar management, design, construction and consulting company primarily in hydroelectric power generation. It was great working with professional engineers, designers and staff. After a few months, I noticed that this company has higher than normal turnover rate. Since continued employment depended so much on funding sources, some employees leave and some are let go depending on projects’ status. I was their “favorite” employee so there was no problem but, after over a year, I decided to move on. 

In October 1987, Ador and I purchased our first home in South San Diego. We later bought our first investment property, a duplex in City Heights San Diego in the latter part of 1989. We sold our original house and purchased a larger house in Poway in May 1991.

In August 1988, I was hired as Financial Analyst at San Diego Foundation for Medical Care, a Preferred Provider Organization serving over 300,000 patients in San Diego County. I reported to the Controller of the company, Bernard Minton. It was a very challenging job and I implemented process improvements after months of studying processes and financial results. After a year, I was promoted to Accounting Manager. It’s about that time that the Foundation took over management of the Los Angeles FMC, serving over 400,000 lives in Los Angeles, and UltraCare Corp, a seven county PPO/EPO. I recall attending multiple meetings in multiple counties and multiple times representing the SDFMC Finance office. After seven contented years, the company merged with Health Plan of the Redwoods in Santa Rosa California. I was offered my job in Santa Rosa but I refused to move to what I feel was a retirement community at my young age. The San Diego office was downsized and the Finance operations were moved to Santa Rosa on February 1996. 

During my spare time (I didn’t know I had some), and after passing a series of tests, I became a State Certified Instructor for the State of California Regional Occupational Program or ROP. Starting around January 1989, I taught the Computerized Accounting classes at Chula Vista High School twice a week from 6:30-9:30 pm. The hands-on training consisted of performing the whole accounting cycle including analysis of business transactions, opening chart of accounts, journalizing, posting, preparing financial statements, closing entries and reconciliation of accounts. I used Houghton Mifflin’s Automated Accounting software with General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable and Payroll modules. I found that after a very stressful day at the office, the night classes helped me unwind. The students were adults who are there because they want to learn. I had a former student, Riza Velasco, who has now worked with me for longer than 10 years. 

In February 1995, after some encouragement from James McKenna, SDFMC controller, and the pending changes in the company, I decided to pursue my Master in Business Administration at National University. Since the MBA classes were held at night, it took me a while to make this decision to give up my “stress release” teaching. In May 1997, I attended my MBA graduation ceremony at the San Diego Convention Center with Sally Ride as speaker. After two years, I was the only female left in the group of about 10 with specialization in Finance management. It was a very stressful two years but had been very rewarding indeed.

In January 1996, while I was taking my MBA classes, and after I turned down the Santa Rosa job, I was hired as a Controller at San Ysidro Health Center. This is a multi-specialty outpatient facility licensed as a community clinic serving over 53,000 Medi-Cal beneficiaries enrolled in the Community Health Group’s Prepaid Health Plan covering fourteen strategic sites throughout San Diego County. The company provided medical care and preventive health services in coordination with numerous County, State and Federal Department of Health Sciences funded programs and grants. I reported to the Chief Financial Officer, Michael Calhau, who during my interview told me that I reminded him of a college classmate whom he had a crush on. I wondered if this resemblance helped me secure the job. My stint in this company was challenging but uneventful. However, I am very grateful to my CFO who allowed me to continue to attend my MBA evening classes and take hours off to do some of my school work.

A few months after my graduation ceremony, I applied at the University of California San Diego. After grueling interviews with multiple business officers, senior management staff, clinicians, administrators, etc, enough to fill two sheets of paper, I was ready to back out. I was taking too much time off and I heard that UCSD promotes from within and that I may not have a chance. Out of a nationwide search, I was one of the top three and the only female finalist. One was from the east coast and the other was an internal candidate. In September 1997, thankfully, I was hired as the Finance Director for the UCSD Medical Group. 

I was in charge of all finance functions related to running around 10 UCSD clinics all over San Diego. Last February 2007, I was asked to apply for a newly created position of Controller at the UCSD School of Medicine Dean’s Office for all missions of the Health Sciences: Clinical, Teaching and Research. After a nationwide search and the usual multiple interviews, I was offered the job and I gladly accepted in July 2007. I am now currently developing a transition plan to merge most of my functions into the new position at the Dean’s Office. Overall, it’s a great job with great opportunities for learning and networking with other senior leaderships in UC campuses as well as academic schools across the country. I am looking forward to more years of productive service in this university system.