The Online Magazine of The University of Texas System
Every Year, the UT System Graduates More Than 40,000 Students from All Walks of Life
Each spring you can count on a few things. The Hill Country comes alive with wildflowers. The warming weather portends the summer, and we know that sun tea, barbecue and swimming are just around the corner. And at University of Texas System institutions around the state esteemed guests will give rousing addresses, and mortar boards will fill the air as thousands of newly minted architects, bio-engineers, artists, performers, teachers, business professionals and doctors put their talent and degrees to work in Texas and around the world.
Each year, UT institutions confer more than 40,000 degrees to Texas students, nearly a third of which are graduate or professional degrees. UT System schools also graduate more than one-third of the state's undergraduate degrees and award nearly three-fourths of all health-related degrees from public health institutions in Texas. Moreover, UT graduates students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) at a much higher rate than the national public university average.
What does this mean to Texas? It means a highly skilled workforce that is well prepared to thrive in a 21st-century economy. It means fresh new ideas and start-up companies that create jobs and new business. It means technological advancements that can improve our health and quality of life. But it also means many stories of remarkable success.
Around the System, the success stories of UT graduates and programs are as numerous as the mortar boards flying at a graduation ceremony. Some grads have been downright heroic in their efforts to overcome adversity, often following surprising and nontraditional paths to graduation.
At UT Health Science Center San Antonio, Beth Terpolilli Teegarden’s path to graduation was a lesson in extremes; shortly after happily marrying her Air Force Captain husband, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Responding well to chemotherapy, Teegarden received an education “on the other side of the white coat,” and will do a year of preliminary internal medicine at East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine.
UT San Antonio graduate Zoya Farzampour’s story is a moving account of success through community college experience and volunteering. When her father had to take care of his own dying father, Farzampour was faced with living on her own right out of high school. Knowing that education was the best chance she would have to improve her life, Farzampour began to take community college classes at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. Eager to get a better sense of the health care profession, she volunteered at a local hospital, a decision that proved pivotal. Astonished by negative side effects of drug treatments, Farzampour was inspired to hone in on biomedical research. That decision led her to special undergraduate programs, a stint as an assistant in a neurobiology lab, and a UT San Antonio degree in biology with honors. Accepted into the most competitive graduate programs in neuroscience, a new career path awaits Farzampour.
Encouragingly, Farzampour’s story is becoming less and less the exception. Data from the last several years shows a steady increase in community college students transferring to UT System institutions, to the tune of nearly 10,000 students. UT System initiatives, such as the Transfer 101 program and the All-Texas Academic Team that honors community college achievement, are raising the profile of the UT System among community college students. The result? Young women like Zoya Farzampour are able to use community college as a bridge to new opportunities.
It’s not uncommon for mechanical engineering graduates to pursue careers designing and building engines and other mechanical systems. Far more unique is the engineering student who instead is pushing state-of-the-art engines from the driver’s seat. Meet Julia Dawson. While studying at UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, she competed as a professional race car driver in the United Auto Racing Association Stars Series and now has her sights set on becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Julia isn’t the only one tested on and off the track. For every graduate there is a story – an obstacle to overcome, a life-changing event – that reveals an amazing array of life experiences and passions. Learn more about Julia and other inspiring UT Austin graduates. From the cancer survivor to the Iraq veteran to the world traveler, these UT graduates stand out for the way their unique biographies inspired them to chase difficult dreams.
At UT Dallas, the inaugural class of Terry Scholar graduates will go on to careers or further degrees, but with a keen appreciation of giving back. One of only seven institutions whose students are eligible for the scholarships, this year’s crop of UT Dallas Terry Scholars included biology, physics, engineering, business and psychology majors, all of whom were chosen for their dedication to the Terry Foundation’s commitment to public service and community.
After his mother was placed in intensive care, recent UT Brownsville graduate, Herminio Guajardo’s interest in science led him to pursue the kinds of research that saves lives. With the encouragement and support of the Minority Biomedical Research Support, Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement Program (MBRS RISE), Guajardo earned a unique internship at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. Accepted from an applicant pool of 200 people, Guajardo and fellow UT Brownsville student Ivan Valdez spent the summer in New York doing biological and neurobiological research. Originally taking college courses to improve his English, Guajardo is now poised to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical research.
Helen Small also took an interesting route to her degree: after a 67 year hiatus, Small received a master’s in Psychological Sciences from the UT Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. The 90-year-old Small — the second oldest graduate in school history — plans to use her degree volunteering at hospitals, shelters and senior living centers.
Whereas Small was moved to pursue a degree for personal edification and public service, the vast majority of nontraditional students are driven to pursue a college degree for the simple reason of improving their employment opportunities. And no graduate took advantage of all that the UT System had to offer more than 35-year-old, UT Pan American graduate Roberto Hinojosa. Inspired to provide a better life for his family, Hinojosa didn’t just pass his mechanical engineering classes; he took advantage of the considerable assistance of UTPA’s Office of Career Services. Landing internships through that office allowed him to cultivate the background that would secure him a position with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
A prime example of student service can be found with the group of more than 200 seniors from UT Health Science Center - Houston (UTHealth-Houston) who found out on “Match Day” where they will begin postgraduate residencies; more than 50 percent will remain in Texas for at least one year, with 21 percent remaining at UTHealth-Houston to train in internal and family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology.
UT Brownsville graduate Nereyda Villarreal was able to celebrate a “double graduation” for her family, when her son Junior Alejandro was able to graduate from UT Brownsville’s first prekindergarten class. The Brownsville program allowed Junior to learn about nature, manners, planting seeds, recycling and the environment, while his mother pursued her degree in criminal justice. The opportunity for mother and son to both attend classes was due to UT Brownsville’s Center for Early Childhood Studies, which recently tripled the number of students that the school could serve.
Some students stand out because they, well, stand out. Wendy Okolo of UT Arlington not only graduated
with honors in Aerospace Engineering, but mentored female freshmen, organized a
fashion show for breast cancer awareness at her residence hall and served as president of the Society of Women Engineers.
At UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business, graduate O.J. Neely demonstrated that three majors and a pre-med concentration is possible — at least for the incredibly gifted. Spending five years as a business honors, corporate finance, Plan II and pre-med student, Neely also studied Spanish extensively as well as travelling abroad and holding internships and campus leadership positions.
Every year, the UT System graduates a staggering number of amazing students who go on to reward the state and nation with the skills and abilities they honed at UT institutions. The degrees conferred in May reflect the achievement of scores of hard-working and deserving students who have improved their lives immeasurably through their efforts and achievements.
As the UT System grows and provides quality education to more students in more places across the state of Texas, there will be one clear and undisputed outcome: they will not be the only beneficiaries of the education and experience they gained on University of Texas campuses. With a well-educated public, we all will share in their success.
— Smith Henderson
From Brownsville to El Paso to Dallas, a UT System education is within reach for nearly every Texan, and by all accounts, the number of UT graduates is poised to grow. Here’s a look inside the numbers:
UT El Paso’s 124th commencement saw a record-setting graduation, issuing 2,569 diplomas. Joining the almost 95,000 students of previous graduating classes, this year’s class was able to share their ceremony live on the Internet.
The numbers at UT San Antonio provided ample evidence of UT System’s commitment to access: once again ranked as a top school for Hispanic college graduates, the most recent figures show that nearly half of UTSA diplomas were awarded to Hispanic students.
Dr. Robert S. Nelsen led his first commencement as president of UT Pan American by conferring 1,244 undergraduate and 368 graduate degrees.
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