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UTEP Top Ten Seniors recognized by UTEP Alumni Association

Priscilla Gomez
UTEP’s 2019 Top Ten Seniors — back row: (from left to right) Jose Echeverri, Hazael Hernandez, Maria Elena Martinez, Gustavo Velez-Arce, Johnathan Cereceres front row: Heidi Fehr, Mariana Madero Guerrero, Adriana Mares, Kristen Ahumada, Karine Monticone

Ten of UTEP’s brightest and soon-to-be newest alumni were honored by the UTEP Alumni Association with UTEP’s 2019 Top Ten Seniors Award.

The group of seniors, their families, faculty and staff gathered April 30 at the Tomas Rivera Conference Center in the Union Building East for the annual banquet.

UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio, UTEP Alumni Association President-elect Laura Biggs and current Alumni Association President Bonny Schulenburg spoke to the seniors and officially awarded them with the recognition.

The seniors were selected through an application process.

Each spring the Alumni Association selects ten undergraduate graduating seniors who exemplified the UTEP EDGE experience.  This year 77 applied for a chance to be named one of UTEP’s top ten seniors.

“The award reflects the true spirit of what it means to be a Miner,” said Sandra Covarrubias, director of communications and alumni partnerships.

“(This award) is so important because it recognizes the trajectory and success of students who take advantage of the opportunities offered at UTEP,” Covarrubias said.

Here are the Top Ten Seniors in alphabetical order:

Kristen Ahumada — Biological Sciences

Kristen Ahumada has spent her time at UTEP shaping herself into a leader and preparing for a career in medicine. “I think it’s still kind of hitting me that I got this award,” Ahumada said. Ahumada has served in several leadership roles at UTEP as an undergraduate. During her junior year, Ahumada served as UTEP’s Student Government Association president. She became the youngest SGA president in UTEP at the age of 18. During her time at UTEP, she has also explored parts of Europe and Africa through study abroad and helped conduct important leukemia research. She has also interned at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. “I’ve been told ever since I was a freshman, it’s a very prestigious award and probably the highest award to achieve as a student…I’m just very blessed to have this award.” Ahumada has research plans in the works and plans on applying for medical school after graduation.

Johnathan Cereceres — Political Science/Chicano Studies

Johnathan Cereceres started out at Texas Tech University his freshman year but transferred to UTEP after hitting a few bumps in the road. “Coming to UTEP was not my first decision, but it was the best decision I could have ever made,” Cereces said. Since his move to UTEP, Cereceres has participated in leadership, research, administrative and supportive roles in local and state offices. Cereceres became the first UTEP student in six years to become a student representative for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Financial Aid Advisory Committee. He competed against many different applicants from across the state of Texas.  “I think my biggest achievement is being able to evolve myself into someone that I can be proud of,” Cereceres said. “Considering how I started off college, I came a long way but I know that every experience will help me become an even better public servant in the political realm within the near future.”

Jose Echeverri — Biology/Psychology

“(Top Ten Senior) is an enormous honor and it in a way feels surreal,” said recipient Jose Echeverri. “It’s amazing to be chosen as a representative of UTEP and its students.” During his time at UTEP, Echeverri has taken advantage of many research opportunities at UTEP. He has researched HIV/AIDS with the Department of Biological Sciences and drugs of abuse with the Department of Psychology. Echeverri also served as treasurer for the American Society for Microbiology UTEP student chapter. His involvement in that organization helped him serve the community. “The biggest achievement I made in the past four years is my transition from being lazy and coasting through high school, to a perseverant leader that can bring people together to accomplish amazing things,” Echeverri said. After graduation, Echeverri plans on attending Baylor College of Medicine and pursue a career as a physician.

Katherine Heidi Fehr — Mechanical Engineering

Katherine Heidi Fehr graduated from UTEP in December 2018. She told the Prospector that she was excited when she received the news that she would become one of UTEP’s Top Ten Seniors. “I had heard of (the award) a long time ago and I was always like ‘wow that would be so cool,’” Fehr said. “It feels really good. I got excited when got the letter from Dr. Natalicio that I was chosen because I was hoping for it.”  Fehr started her career at UTEP as an engineering ambassador. Fehr said it gave her a lot of experience participating in outreach events. She also became vice president and later president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at UTEP. “I was really proud of the work that we did in SWE. “When I started, there was five of us and I was a freshman,” Fehr said. “(When) I was president, we were able to grow to like 30 or 40 girls, which I thought was very exciting, because there’s not that many women in engineering.” Fehr also worked on campus at the W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation. She was also an intern at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Ford Motor Company and Cummins Inc. Fehr plans on attending graduate school then hopefully work as an engineer and work in academia as a researcher or professor. 

Hazael Hernandez — Biochemistry

“It’s a huge privilege because there’s a lot of talented people here at UTEP,” said Hazael Hernandez. “I’m surprised that I even got picked.” Hernandez made it his mission to serve his community, especially those who face socioeconomic and health disparities, through medical research. Hernandez became actively involved in with research project that focuses on the El Paso and Juarez communities’ health through the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program at UTEP. During his time at UTEP, he also authored a paper published in a journal detailing how environmental disasters impact fungal infection outbreaks after he the hurricanes that impacted Puerto Rico and Houston, Texas several years ago. Hernandez told The Prospector that his favorite memories at UTEP were the times he spent working at the labs. “I think just generally, the whole lab experience is really amazing, because you get to be part of the family and being part of that family taught me a lot, not only about myself but about my professional aspects as well.”

Mariana Madero Guerrero — Finance

I was very surprised when I got my letter,” said Mariana Guerrero. “I just feel very honored. I feel like all the hard work is paying off and it’s great to feel recognized.”

Guerrero, an international student, tried to take advantage of her time at UTEP and all of the opportunities that came with it. She joined UTEP’s Financial Management Association (FMA) and the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) when she was a sophomore. She eventually became vice president of both organizations. Guerrero also worked as an undergraduate research assistant for the UTEP Center for Interdisciplinary Health Research and Evaluation (CIHRE) where she participated in local and national case study competitions. She also participated in the Helen of Troy mentorship program and was and intern with the Helen of Troy finance department.“Getting this recognition is amazing,” Guerrero said. “It has become a personal commitment to keep representing the Miner community with pride.”

Adriana Mares — Biological Sciences

Mares described this recognition as “an honor and a privilege.” Mares, who graduated in December of 2018, has been involved with the UTEP community since the young age of 17. She created a group on campus called the Institute of Cardiology in El Paso (ICEP). It’s now internationally known and includes students from other universities in the region. The same evening as the Top Ten Senior banquet, ICEP was hosting its third annual cardiology panel.  “I was welcomed with open UTEP and that is what I’m most grateful for…and being able to create this organization,” Mares said. During her time as a UTEP student, Mares was part of a research team and co-authored a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).

Maria Elena Martinez — Accounting

Martinez told The Prospector how grateful she was to receive this recognition. “It feels like every all-nighter was worth it,” said Maria Elena Martinez jokingly. As a UTEP student, Martinez worked on campus and worked as an undergraduate research assistant for UTEP’s Work with a Scientist program and with UTEP’s Entering Student program.

She also spent her time preparing to be an accountant at one of the Big 4 accounting firms, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). She was also an intern at the certified public accounting firm Gibson, Ruddock, Patterson. Martinez also served as the professional development director for UTEP’s Women in Business Association (WBA) and as president of Beta Alpha Psi, UTEP’s honor society for accounting, finance and information system majors. “I think it’s so worth it. Seeing the look on my family’s face when I told them… when I received a letter in the mail it (was) just so gratifying. Being selected as one of the 10 to represent UTEP is just awesome,” Martinez said.  

Karina Monticone — Biological Sciences

Karina Monticone said she was surprised and did not expect to be named a Top Ten Senior. “I was at home and I received the letter in my mailbox. The first (people) I called were my parents just to thank them for helping me get there. But it was really exciting just because it felt like high school over again, just because I was a top 10 senior in high school,” Monticone said. Monticone was extremely involved during her time at UTEP. She was actively involved in 12 student organizations and served as an officer in seven of them and still maintained a 3.97 GPA. She also started her own organization on campus that’s tailored to mentoring young girls and help them pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). “ A lot of girls actually don’t know that whenever they come and prepare themselves for college, they can major in science,” Monticone said. “I guess at a younger age, (young girls) think that they cant, that it’s a boys thing to do, but we wanted to go ahead and make that awareness.” Monticone now plans on pursuing a career as a physicians assistant.

Gustavo Velez-Arce — Finance

Gustavo Velez Arce graduated in December 2018. As a UTEP student, Velez-Arce served as the president of UTEP’s Financial Management Association (FMA) and the FMA Investor’s Club. As president of the FMA, he helped establish the Finance Scholars Program. Velez-Arce said the founding of the program was one of his biggest accomplishments as a Miner. The student-run investment fund gives students the opportunity to apply financial concepts and coursework into actual investment, according to Velez-Arce. Velez-Arce, a transfer student, said coming to UTEP opened his eyes in many ways and surrounded him with mentors that inspired him to grow academically and professionally. During his time at UTEP, he was also awarded several internships and program opportunities with JP Morgan Chase and Co. and the Harvard Business School Summer Venture in Management program. “I’ve always been very involved on campus. I had great mentors that had gone through the process as well. They told me towards my senior year I’d be a good candidate and suggested that I apply,” Velez-Arce said. “It was a stressful process for anyone that applied but I’m glad I did it, and I’m honored to be receiving the award today.” Velez-Arce currently works as a financial analyst at JP Morgan Chase and Co. in New York City.


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UTEP Top Ten Seniors recognized by UTEP Alumni Association