UTEP Announces 2016 Distinguished Alumni & Gold Nuggets

Every year, The University of Texas at El Paso and the UTEP Alumni Association honor a group of men and women whose achievements stand out as monuments to dedication, integrity and hard work – they are the UTEP Distinguished Alumni and Gold Nugget Award recipients.

“This year’s Distinguished Alumni have made an impact as a successful entrepreneur, a noted anesthesiologist and an award-winning historian,” said Maribel Villalva, UTEP assistant vice president for alumni relations. “Similarly, our Gold Nuggets range from K-12 and higher education leaders to nationally recognized performers, business leaders and health professionals.

“These former Miners are wonderful examples of the UTEP spirit and the drive to succeed. They were once proud students at UTEP and, upon graduation, went out and made their mark on the world. They continue to make a difference in the lives of others and they remain true Miners every step of the way. We are proud to honor these very deserving and inspiring individuals and look forward to welcoming them back home.”

The 2016 awardees will be officially recognized during UTEP’s 2016 Homecoming Week, Oct. 23-29.

The Distinguished Alumni award is the highest recognition bestowed upon alumni of the University. The 2016 Distinguished Alumni are:

Eric J.C. Chan | BBA Accounting, 1978

Eric J.C. Chan is the founder or co-founder of four companies in Hong Kong and China, including one that sells American rice in Hong Kong and another that deploys a citywide free wireless mesh network in Guangzhou City, China, by turning moving vehicles like taxis, buses and trams into hotspots.

Chan was born in Vientiane, Laos and grew up in Hong Kong. In 1973, he left Hong Kong to attend Riverside High School in El Paso through an international exchange program. After graduation, he decided to stay and attend UTEP.

Chan credits his UTEP education as the foundation for his success in business.

“I treasure my education from UTEP,” Chan said. “It taught me the basic fundamentals to be an entrepreneur and taught me to develop a sense of completeness. It has definitely broadened my mind and taught me new approaches to analytically think through problems and define predicaments.”

Catalina E. García, M.D. | B.S. Biological Sciences, 1961

Catalina E. García’s success story is a testament to the American dream. Her grandparents came to El Paso with only what they could carry from Chihuahua, Mexico, to escape the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. García’s parents – a mechanic and a seamstress – settled in a housing project in the segundo barrio neighborhood in south El Paso, where García grew up as the oldest of six siblings.

Today, García, M.D., is a highly regarded anesthesiologist with Dallas Anesthesiology Group, P.A., as well as a mentor and advocate for education and women’s issues, particularly those of Latina women.

The success García enjoys today did not always come easy. The newly married medical student faced adversity as a Mexican-American woman when discrimination was common in the United States, as well as the added challenges of adjusting to marriage and homesickness after leaving her hometown to attend medical school in Dallas.

“Failure is a very good teacher; a painful teacher, but a good one,” García said. “I didn’t do well in medical school the first time. I had a difficult time, but I grew up, got back on track and convinced the medical school administration to give me a second chance. From that point on, I just ignored the outside world and people who didn’t like me and worked like the dickens to get the job done.”

Mario T. García, Ph.D. | B.A. History, 1966; / M.A. History, 1968

Mario T. García is an El Paso native whose history professors at Texas Western College, now UTEP, inspired him on his path to become a distinguished university history professor, historian, researcher, author and trailblazer for Chicano studies.

“I particularly enjoyed courses with Professor Wayne Fuller on late 19th and early 20th century American history,” Garciá said. “My professors were all very dedicated to their work. Seeing how they were excited about history added to my own excitement.”

During García’s senior year at TWC, he thought, “I can do that!” while listening to one of Fuller’s enjoyable lectures. He started on the path to become a college professor, earning a master’s degree in history from UTEP and a doctoral degree in history from the University of California, San Diego where he assisted in the development of the Chicano studies program.

García has written numerous books and biographies on Chicano history, received awards and fellowships for his teaching and research including the distinguished Guggenheim Fellowship, and served as history and American studies professor and director of ethnic studies for Yale University from 1990-92.

He is currently a distinguished professor of history and Chicano studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, were he has remained a faculty member for 41 years.

The 2016 Gold Nugget Award recipients are:

Armando Aguirre, Ed.D. | College of Education

B.S. Education, 1985 / M.Ed. Educational Administration, 1989 / Ed.D. Educational Leadership and Administration, 2004

Since 2014, Armando Aguirre, Ed.D., has been executive director of Education Service Center-Region 19, an organization that assists area teachers and administrators to better serve students. Aguirre earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in education from UTEP, which helped prepare him for his 30-plus year career in education.

He has taught or administered at every level from elementary school to higher education. Aguirre’s goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of students and to involve families in academic decisions.

Mary E. Bell | College of Business Administration / BBA Finance, 1983

Shortly after graduating from UTEP with her bachelor’s degree in finance, Mary E. Bell received her first job as a management trainee for the State National Bank of El Paso. Today, she is Regional President and CEO for Indiana and Ohio at Wells Fargo Bank.

Bell has a strong commitment to service and leads several community outreach programs. She also serves as an active volunteer in her community of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Brian Cloteaux, Ph.D. | College of Engineering /B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1993 / M.S. Computer Science, 1997

Brian Cloteaux, Ph.D., is a native El Pasoan who began his academic career at UTEP, earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and his master’s in computer science. He went on to earn a doctoral degree in computer science from New Mexico State University.

Currently, Cloteaux is a researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he investigates characteristics of real-world networks such as the Internet and social media to help predict what will happen with them in the future. In addition to his research, he also mentors students in the NIST Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which aims to inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Barbara Divis | College of Liberal Arts / B.M. Music Performance, 1987

UTEP provided the foundation for a singing career that took Barbara Divis across the U.S. to perform lead roles in well-known operas such as Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” where she performed as the title character Cio-Cio-San in seven productions.

She has performed professionally in 35 productions, most of them lead roles, around the United States between 1984 and her retirement in 2011. Music from Divis’ CDs are featured in the book, “Operaville,” by Michael J. Vaughan, available online.

Karen Lyon, Ph.D. | School of Nursing / B.S. Nursing, 1974; M.S. Nursing, 1978

Karen Lyon, Ph.D., was one of El Paso’s first baccalaureate prepared nurses to graduate from The University of Texas System School of Nursing in 1974 and one of the first students in the new Master of Science in Nursing program at the UTEP College of Nursing.

She joined UTEP as a faculty member in 1979. In 2004, she was named assistant dean of graduate nursing. During her tenure with the University, Lyon developed the graduate degree in nursing systems management and UTEP’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Fast Track Program. She currently serves as executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Nursing.

Freda Mowad | College of Health Sciences / M.S. Speech-Language Pathology, 1995

Freda Mowad is president of Senior Rehab Solutions (SRS), a rehabilitation management company with facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, California and New York, where she is in charge of more than 2,000 therapy professionals.

In 2013 she led efforts to open the first SRS facility in El Paso, where UTEP students in the speech-language pathology, physical therapy and occupational therapy programs receive clinical training. As an avid UTEP supporter, Mowad also helped establish the Senior Rehab Solutions Excellence Endowment in the College of Health Sciences.

Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, Ph.D. | College of Science / B.S. Biological Sciences, 1975

Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, Ph.D., is a second-generation UTEP graduate who credits outstanding UTEP educators in biology, genetics and cytology for getting her where she is today: professor and head of Texas A&M University’s Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences.

Her undergraduate lab work at UTEP on lead contributed to what is now her main research focus: the neurotoxicity of lead. Tiffany-Castiglioni’s work in veterinary medicine contributes to greater advancements in environmental, animal and human health.

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