Celebrating alumni, 35 years of mining gold nuggets

Anahy Diaz, Contributor

For the past 35 years, UTEP’s colleges have recognized a select group of alumni as the recipients of the prestigious Gold Nugget Award, which honors their work, community service and overall success.  

“They are great role models,” said Maribel Villalva, UTEP’s assistant vice president for alumni relations. “They have gone on to do good and better things.”  

More than 200 UTEP graduates have received the award since the university began granting it to its alumni in 1984. The university created the award to recognize graduates from each college, unlike the Distinguished Alumni Award, first established in 1950, which tends to only recognize a limited amount of graduates.   

This year, the university will be honoring 10 recipients. Among them are Lisa Lavigne Saucedo, who earned her master’s degree in executive business administration in 2015 and serves as executive director for Court Appointed Special Advocates Inc. (CASA), an association that trains volunteers to represent abused and neglected children in family court. Also, Claudio Ordaz earned a bachelor’s in performance in 2001 and is a professor of music at the Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences in Finland.  

During his time at UTEP, Ordaz had the opportunity to study the violin under Abraham Chavez’ direction, a legendary music professor and conductor of the El Paso symphony who was part of UTEP’s class of 1959 and went on to become a 1993 Gold Nugget Award recipient.   

“I feel proud that a musician is receiving this,” said Ramon Acosta, a music education major, who also took violin lessons with maestro Chavez at the age of four. “Not many musicians here in El Paso get the recognition they deserve.”    

Past recipients also include Mike Loya, the president of Vitol, one of the country’s largest oil companies, and KVIA news anchor and cancer awareness advocate, Estela Casas.   

Individuals can either nominate themselves or be nominated by someone for the Gold Nugget Award. The only restriction is that they cannot be current UTEP employees, affiliated with a public office position, a part of the selection committee or be a past recipient of the award.  

If none of these apply, one can proceed with the application by submitting a complete nomination packet that includes a thorough nomination form, résumé, short narrative and photo.    

The graduates are evaluated by the selection committee on a combination of their professional accomplishments, contributions to their community or the world, loyalty and monetary generosity to UTEP and ability to inspire others and recognize the importance of their education.   

Once selected, the recipients are honored throughout Homecoming week, a time where the different colleges hold receptions to recognize their own award recipients.  

Also, they attend the annual Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner at the Don Haskins Center, where they are presented the award alongside the Distinguished Alumni Award recipients.   

“We make it a point to celebrate these honorees and make them feel like royalty,” Villalva said. “It’s a time to make them feel special and to thank them for all that they’ve done for their community.” 

Anahy Diaz may be reached at [email protected]