Every year, The University of Texas at El Paso and the UTEP Alumni Association honor a group of alumni who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields and serve as pillars of inspiration to future Miners for what can be accomplished through integrity, dedication and determination.
This group of outstanding graduates includes the UTEP Distinguished Alumni and the Gold Nuggets.
“We are proud to honor this year’s Distinguished Alumni and Gold Nugget Award recipients, whose inspiring personal journeys and professional achievements are truly exceptional,” said UTEP President Diana Natalicio. “These highly successful individuals embody our Miner spirit and serve as examples to our students of what can be accomplished through an excellent education, high aspirations and the drive and perseverance to achieve them.”
“UTEP alumni are living amazing lives, and they are doing a remarkable job of showcasing their alma mater,” said Maribel Villalva, UTEP assistant vice president for alumni relations. “This is evident in the group of alumni honorees who have been selected as the 2018 Distinguished Alumni and Gold Nuggets.”
The Distinguished Alumni award is the highest recognition bestowed upon alumni of the University.
The 2018 awardees will be officially recognized during UTEP’s 2018 Homecoming Week, Sept. 30 – Oct. 6, and will be showcased at the annual Distinguished Alumni Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5 at the Don Haskins Center.
UTEP’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni are:
Crystal Long is a first-generation college graduate who currently serves as president and CEO of GECU, the largest locally owned financial institution in El Paso.
Long was born in Lubbock, Texas and moved to El Paso with her family when she was eight years old. She began her career at GECU as an entry-level file clerk in 1979. Later, Long pursued higher education to advance her career and worked toward a college degree while maintaining a full-time job and raising a family. Her persistence paid off when she received her Bachelor of Science in Business Management and later an MBA from the University of Phoenix.
Long progressively moved up the ranks at GECU to a teller, supervisor, manager, and vice president. Already a top leader at her institution, her desire to keep learning and growing professionally wasn’t satiated. In 2011, she became a proud Miner when she joined The University of Texas at El Paso’s Executive MBA Program (EMBA).
Long says she is humbled and honored to be recognized as a Distinguished Alumna, a recognition she feels should be shared with her family, friends, colleagues and community members, who all have been part of her journey.
“Having become a UTEP graduate, I believe I’m better positioned to advocate for the value of a college education in the workplace and am proud that, through my example, others have chosen to attend college,” Long said. “You simply can’t help but be changed by exposure to new concepts, people and perspectives. I am very grateful for that.”
B.A. Electronic Media/Communication, 1998
Karla Martinez is the co-host of Univision’s highly rated national live morning show, “Despierta America.” While a student at The University of Texas at El Paso, the Chihuahua native got her start in broadcasting at KINT-FM (Channel 26), Univision’s affiliate station in El Paso. In 1995, the young reporter was scouted by the Univision Network, becoming a Texas correspondent for the national newsmagazine “Primer Impacto.” Later she served as a reporter for the network’s top entertainment news show, “El Gordo y la Flaca,” and host of Univision’s popular youth-oriented lifestyle program, “Control.”
In addition to her role with “Despierta America,” Martinez has co-hosted numerous Univision specials and in 2013 co-hosted ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The View” alongside one of her role models, Barbara Walters. She has been named one of People en Español’s 25 Most Beautiful People and 25 Most Powerful Women, and one of Vogue Mexico and Latin America magazine’s 2018 100 Most Influential People.
Recently, Martinez added Emmy award winner to her list of accomplishments when “Despierta America” won an Emmy for Outstanding Morning Program in Spanish. She also has authored “El Poder de Una Sonrisa” (The Power of a Smile), a book focused on ways to overcome life’s bad moments.
“I am an example of a dreamer and am happy to be able to represent UTEP students with my story,” Martinez said of her recognition as a Distinguished Alumna. “This is a recognition for all of them. Being an immigrant makes me feel so proud to be recognized for not only what I accomplished but the example I leave others; showing them that anything, no matter where you come from, your story or past, anything is possible.”
The Distinguished Alumni join another group of alumni who are being honored by their respective colleges – the 2018 Gold Nugget Award recipients.
The honorees are exceptional graduates from each of the University’s colleges and schools who have excelled in their professions, give back to their communities and alma mater, and serve as an inspiration for future generations of Miners.
UTEP’s 2018 Gold Nugget Award recipients are:
Sam Armijo, Ph.D.
College of Engineering
B.S. Metallurgical/Materials Engineering, 1959
Sam Armijo, Ph.D., is currently president of JSA Associates Inc., a nuclear systems and engineering consulting firm advising the Electric Power Research Institute and the Exelon Corporation. He is also chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s International Experts Group, which provides technical advice on the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear site.
College of Health Sciences
B.S. Occupational Therapy, 1998
Orlando Bejarano is the owner of Focus Therapy in the greater Houston area. His company employs about 40 therapists across physical therapy, speech language pathology and occupational therapy and provides services more than 600 times a week to a mostly geriatric population.
College of Engineering
B.S. Civil Engineering, 1989 / M.S. Civil Engineering, 1990
Peter Chan is the founder of Professional Concepts, a multi-faceted real estate company. In addition to his professional activities, Chan has served as a mentor in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Arizona, and as a volunteer for St. Vincent de Paul and Boy Scouts of America. He is currently serving on the Development Board of UTEP’s Asset Management and Development arm.
Annie L. Garcia
School of Nursing
MSN Nursing Systems Management, 2013
A year after completing her graduate degree in 2013, Annie Garcia was hired as the chief nursing officer at Methodist Texsan Hospital in San Antonio, where she was instrumental in the hospital’s efforts to improve nursing engagement, patient experience and quality outcomes. In 2017, she was named chief nursing officer at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso.
Ruth Ellen Jacobson
College of Education
B.S. Elementary Education, 1970
Ruth Ellen Jacobson is the executive director of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. She has developed youth-focused educational initiatives such as “Tocando,” an after-school program that supports children experiencing challenging social and economic conditions.
Christina I. Paz, DNP
School of Nursing
Christina Ilene Paz, DNP, is the chief operating officer at Centro San Vicente Family Health Center in El Paso. As a member of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, she has met with members of Congress to advocate on behalf of community health centers and the vulnerable populations they serve.
College of Liberal Arts
B.A. English Literature, 1983
Felipa Solis has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, public relations specialist and community advocate. She currently serves as executive director of El Paso Pro-Musica. Among her numerous honors are the LULAC Humanitarian of the Year Award, the YWCA Reach Award and the Ruben Salazar Journalism Award.
Brig. Gen. Michael Talley
College of Liberal Arts
B.A. History, 1991
Brig. Gen. Michael Talley is a Minnesota native who said his decision to leave active duty to pursue a bachelor’s degree at The University of Texas at El Paso put him on a path to become a brigadier general and command surgeon with the U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is the chief medical adviser to more than 800,000 soldiers and civilians.
Joe D. Wardy
College of Business Administration
BBA Finance, 1976
After graduating from UTEP, Joe D. Wardy had a 25-year career in transportation and logistics before he entered politics in 2003. He has held leadership roles with several companies and served as mayor of the City of El Paso from 2003-05. During his tenure as mayor, Wardy oversaw El Paso’s move to a city manager form of government and passage of a $110 million bond issue.
Richard Westbrook, M.D.
College of Science
B.S. Biological Sciences, 1970
Richard Westbrook, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon at Orthopaedic Surgeons Associates in El Paso. He received his medical degree from The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and completed his residencies in orthopedic surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle and at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Spokane, Washington. He is certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.