By Daniel Perez
The University of Texas at El Paso encourages its students to dream big, and challenges its graduates to pursue those dreams. UTEP alumni around the world have used their talents to enhance society through a spectrum of professions.
The following are a few examples of young Miner graduates who have followed their passions with gusto and confidence and already achieved a level of success. They were selected from nominees who share a common trait promoted by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who said the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Picks up!
Jonathan “J.J.” Childress, 27
College of Business Administration | El Paso, TX
Jonathan “J.J.” Childress co-founded and co-owns Proper Printshop Productions, LLC. The El Paso native opened the shop, which prints apparel, posters, fine art and more, while a UTEP undergraduate. He manages daily operations and client acquisition, experience and solutions; and he plans, coordinates and executes special projects. He started the business with his roommate in the living room of their apartment. Today, the shop at 800 Montana St. in El Paso has become a venue for interesting and engaging art-focused events. After earning his bachelor’s in finance and accounting in 2010, Childress became a financial adviser for Morgan Keegan Associates/Raymond James. While working for Morgan Keegan, he earned his MBA from UTEP in 2012. He left Morgan Keegan to establish an independent Registered Investment Advisory firm in El Paso and served as a partner with a capital management company. He serves on several local business advisory boards where he promotes design, education and technology.
Rafael Gabilondo, 24
College of Business Administration | El Paso, TX
Rafael Gabilondo earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from UTEP in 2015, but even before that had a hand in the family cattle business based in Mexico. The companies deal in cattle trading, production and transportation. He holds a number of titles: manager and co-owner of R&R Gabilondo Cattle Co., cattle buyer and logistics manager at Border Livestock, deputy director and operations manager of Santa Teresa Livestock Crossing, and a partner at Silver Wings Transport. The El Paso native said his “hard headedness” helps him succeed. He made his first serious investment at 19 and it paid him back 300 percent, helping build his confidence in the business world. Gabilondo admits that not every deal has gone that well, but said hard work delivers its own reward. “Life keeps putting different opportunities on my table and I try to grab each and every one of them,” he said.
Adan Contreras, 26
College of Liberal Arts | Dallas, TX
Adan Contreras is an art director with Dallas-based Agency Entourage. His work on ad campaigns for such companies as Capitol Records and the CW television network has helped earn his company several advertising awards. The Juárez, Mexico native also co-founded Inkbyte Studios, a digital freelance firm that has produced animation and graphic art for the likes of UTEP and the El Paso Zoo. He has earned awards locally (top prize at the La Estrella Film Festival) and internationally (his poster was included at a British exhibition). Contreras graduated magna cum laude in 2013 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design with a minor in creative writing. His measurement of success goes beyond personal achievement. “I want to build a strong legacy through my own business by helping brands grow and reach their full potential through creativity,” he said. Contreras will move to Southern California this fall to become a Cartoon Network storyboard artist.
Adriana Gómez Licón, 28
College of Liberal Arts | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Adriana Gómez Licón is an Associated Press correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil who earned her bachelor’s in journalism from UTEP in 2009. She worked for the El Paso Times for about 18 months before joining the Associated Press as a Mexico City correspondent. She has reported from Brazil since 2014. She has covered topics of international interest that include health care, economics, politics and sports. Gómez Licón produced early stories about the surge in birth defects when little was known about a link between microcephaly and the Zika virus. The Overseas Press Club recognized her in 2014 for international reporting for her story about a Mexican beauty queen and her fateful involvement with drug cartels. The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors presented her with its 2011 Star Reporter of the Year Award for a series about drug cartel violence and its effect on Ciudad Juárez. She “is a compelling storyteller,” one judge shared.
Diana Villavicencio, 29
College of Business Administration | Chicago, IL
Diana Villavicencio earned her bachelor’s in economics and international business in 2010 and her master’s in economics in 2014. Soon after graduation, she was hired as an economist in the Economic Market Analysis Division (EMAD) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office in Chicago, Illinois. The El Paso native is one of EMAD’s 35 economists across the country that use local and national information about changes in the economic, demographic, and housing inventory characteristics to prepare comprehensive housing market analyses for specific housing markets and other reports that support and guide HUD operations. The reports present counts and estimates of employment, population, households, and housing inventory. That information also is useful to builders, mortgage lenders, and industry concerned with local housing conditions and trends. Villavicencio, who has volunteered with organizations that assist the homeless, praised her master’s program for making her professionally competitive and personally accountable in all aspects of her life.
Carlos Rodrigo Alvarez, 29
College of Science/College of Health Sciences | Austin, TX
Carlos Rodrigo Alvarez is a public health and prevention specialist III with the Texas Department of State Health Services stationed in Austin. The El Paso native started his professional journey after he earned his bachelor’s in microbiology at UTEP with a minor in chemistry in 2010. The City of El Paso Department of Public Health hired Alvarez as a microbiologist. He enrolled in UTEP’s Master of Public Health program and received his degree in 2015. He moved up the ranks during his three-and-a-half years working on LGBT health-related projects for the city. As a disease intervention specialist/surveillance specialist for the El Paso health department, he worked with HIV/STD patients in the investigation and prevention of disease. The state hired him in January 2016. He is working on a project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect information about access to care and social behaviors of people with HIV in Texas.
Carla Espinoza, 29
College of Liberal Arts | Chicago, IL
Carla I. Espinoza is the managing attorney for Chicago Immigration Advocates. She does legal work for underrepresented communities such as refugees and those who try to rehabilitate themselves while in the criminal justice system. The UTEP Miner serves as an advocate for migrant rights and has set new precedent relating to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Her passion for that kind of law started as a student in UTEP’s Law School Preparation Institute. “I realized then that I had to help people facing those problems,” Espinoza said. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and legal reasoning in 2009 and her J.D. from the DePaul University College of Law in May 2012. She volunteered at the law school’s immigration clinic and other community grassroots organizations that focused on human rights. While a law student, Espinoza represented an indigenous community and helped create legal precedent within the Inter-American Human Rights System relating to land rights.
Erin Coulehan, 27
College of Liberal Arts | El Paso, TX
Erin Coulehan is a freelance journalist who focuses on culture and the music industry for the likes of Elle, Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan and Salon.com, and is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Walden University. The El Paso native earned her B.A. in English and American literature with a minor in humanities in 2011. After graduation she helped start El Paso-based lifestyle publication The City Magazine before leaving for Georgetown University to work on her master’s in journalism. After spending 18 months profiling a punk rock band whose lead singer was bipolar, she decided her thesis would be about what linked bipolar disorder, creativity and musicians. “I completely fell in love with the intersection between art and psychology and wanted to extend the topic,” said Coulehan, who volunteers as a genetic and brain mapping researcher at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Neurosciences.
Ambar J. Calvillo-Rivera, 27
College of Liberal Arts | Washington, D.C.
Ambar J. Calvillo-Rivera is national director of partner engagement and outreach for Enroll America, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works with a diverse, nationwide network including labor unions, consumer groups and the White House to promote access and enrollment to health coverage in communities across America. She previously worked as Enroll America’s deputy director of women’s engagement. The El Paso native earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational and corporate communication from UTEP in 2011 and her master’s in educational leadership from the University of New Mexico two years later. Calvillo served as a political engagement fellow during the 2012 presidential campaign and on the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee. She has worked in Washington ever since. The UTEP alumna is described as a compassionate intellectual who is proud of her U.S.-Mexico border roots, and is recognized as an influential Latina in Washington.
Jorge Alejandro 'Alex' Muñoz Mendieta, 28
College of Business Administration | New York, NY
J. Alejandro “Alex” Muñoz Mendieta graduated from UTEP in 2011 with a BBA with concentrations in finance and accounting. The former Top 10 Senior and Student Government Association president (2009-10) is a senior strategy associate at Bloomberg L.P., where he collaborates with internal business leaders to develop and articulate product strategies and to assess and execute acquisitions. In addition, the native of Juárez, Mexico makes recommendations to Michael Bloomberg, the company's CEO, and other members of Bloomberg’s management committee regarding courses of action for different projects. He started his career within JP Morgan’s Investment Bank, where he participated in approximately $100 billion in debt financings in the technology, media and telecom industries, to include Facebook’s financing for its initial public offering. His goal is to become a financial technology executive and serve developing communities. He stays connected to the border through Project Paz, a nonprofit that supports at-risk children, and as an active UTEP alumni member.
David Castro, 29
School of Nursing/College of Business Administration | Houston, TX
David Castro is a senior healthcare consultant for Ernst & Young, one of the world’s biggest advisory firms. The El Paso native earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2010 and a Master of Business Administration in supply chain management four years later. He got a job with Providence Memorial Hospital after his BSN and soon was appointed co-director of the DaVinci Robotics program, which got him interested in financial analysis and supply-chain workflows. After his MBA, he was recruited to Memorial Hermann hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Within four months he was appointed trauma clinical manager, leader of the nation’s second busiest and third largest surgical trauma center. His efforts generated millions of dollars of revenue, saved thousands of additional dollars and decreased mortality rates. In January 2016, Castro was recruited by Ernst & Young. He travels around the country trying to figure out how hospitals can cut healthcare costs.
Paul Deffenbaugh, 28
College of Engineering | Orlando, Florida
Paul Deffenbaugh is a senior scientist at Sciperio, Inc. He leads a research team that promotes 3-D printing and 3-D-printed electronics. His team completes government and customer supplied projects that develop and implement novel 3-D printing methods. The native of Palm Bay, Florida, earned his master’s in electrical engineering in 2012 and his Ph.D. in electrical engineering two years later. Since then, he and his Sciperio team have worked on 21 projects for customers whose needs required never-before-created structures. His team delivered and in several cases earned awards for the company. He considers one of his team’s greatest accomplishments was creating a 3-D printed phased array antenna. Additionally, Deffenbaugh's team has successfully 3-D printed an antenna in microgravity, a project that could prove useful for future manned space flight. He also is studying how 3-D printing may be used to create human organs in space, which has life-saving implications.
Ivan Gris Sepulveda, 28
College of Engineering | El Paso, TX
Ivan Gris Sepulveda co-founded Inmerssion in 2013. The tech startup focuses on innovative ways virtual agents (computer-generated characters with artificial intelligence) and virtual/augmented reality can help educate and entertain. The company researches and produces interactive software that has been demonstrated in Sweden, Iceland and the Czech Republic as well as throughout the United States. Inmerssion has integrated IBM’s artificial intelligence systems with its virtual agents. Known professionally as Ivan Gris, the entrepreneur earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from UTEP in 2010, 2011 and 2015, respectively. The Juárez, Mexico native continues to be involved at UTEP through its Interactive Systems Group, which studies virtual agents. Gris is a published author of at least 17 research papers focused on gaming, virtual reality and human-computer interaction. He also has started two successful commercial companies that combine art and handcrafted jewelry with technology and pop culture.
Juan Carlos Lopez, 26
College of Engineering | Houston, TX
Juan Carlos Lopez is an aerospace engineer for NASA’s Load and Dynamics branch at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. His technical responsibilities involve analyzing how the spacecraft reacts to environments during all stages of flight. His work is crucial in the design and safety of flight-certified space vehicles. He has developed techniques that better determine the safety and durability of the craft. He recently led studies on the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, the first human-rated inflatable habitat to attach to the International Space Station. Outside the lab, he chaired NASA’s Hispanic Employee Resource Group (HERG), where he led initiatives to get more minorities in the workforce. He also launched an effort to explore international collaborations with Latin America as part of the NASA mission to Mars. Lopez represented the group at a White House reception, where he met President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UTEP in 2012.
Vanessa De La Rosa, 29
College of Science | Newton, MA
Vanessa De La Rosa, Ph.D, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Silent Spring Institute and Northeastern University, where she conducts community-based participatory research focused on women’s health and environmental justice projects that emphasize collaboration between social scientists and life scientists. She earned her bachelor’s in chemistry from UTEP in 2008. Since then she has earned her doctorate in molecular toxicology from UC Berkeley, where she received awards and grants for her work on improving our understanding of how exposures in the environment can impact health, which led to collaborations with leading scientists in the field of toxicology. De La Rosa earned a teaching and research postdoctoral fellowship at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, where she studied health disparities in Navajo communities and developed an undergraduate biology curriculum. She has worked with colleagues to develop programs meant to increase the number of minority students who pursue advanced degrees and careers in science.
Isaac Gordon, 27
College of Business Administration | Los Angeles, CA
Isaac Gordon is a former UTEP basketball player (2007-11) who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance in 2011. The Los Angeles native juggled being a professional ballplayer overseas while at the same time studying to become a certified public accountant during his first off season. He passed his CPA exams, earning a “perfect” 99 on the audit section of the test. Today, Los Angeles-based Gordon & Associates caters to high profile, high net worth entertainers, athletes and business executives. The corporation’s comprehensive financial services include wealth management, business development, strategic financial planning and tax preparation. He said part of his success is due to the “blue collar work ethic” he honed at UTEP. He played professional basketball in Europe through May 2016. Gordon said basketball keeps him mentally and physically sharp. He plans to pursue his MBA in the next few years, possibly through UTEP.
Danira Yvette Gonzalez, 28
College of Business Administration | El Paso, TX
Danira Yvette Gonzalez wanted to be a business executive, but started at UTEP as a biology major to follow in the footsteps of her father, a Borderland dentist. The first-generation American eventually decided to pursue her own dream and majored in finance. She worked her way through college and was hired by a local bank as a business loan analyst after graduating in 2011. Wells Fargo Regional Business Banking Group hired her two years later, and she has taken on different jobs with more responsibility. The El Paso native recently was promoted to assistant vice president, credit analyst III, where she analyzes and underwrites credit relationships in commercial banking. Regional loan relationships include real estate, commercial and industrial projects in excess of $45 million. Gonzalez also serves on several community boards, and is a member of the Junior League of El Paso and the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class 38.
Rebeca Anna Nuñez, 28
College of Liberal Arts | Houston, TX
Rebeca Anna Nuñez is the newest senior associate in the Business Tax Services practice with Ernst & Young in Houston, Texas. Prior to that, the El Paso native worked at a specialty accounting firm in Houston, and rose to senior associate in 15 months. Her duties at these firms include working with the IRS to identify and substantiate state and federal tax credits, deductions, and tax strategies for companies across the country. Over the years, her efforts have saved taxpayers $13 million and counting. Nuñez earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and English and American Literature from UTEP in 2011, and earned her J.D. from Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2014. While at Indiana, she worked in-house for a Brazilian conglomerate and at law firms in El Paso and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and clerked for the former chief justice of the Court of Appeals of Indiana.
Hannah Muegge, 25
College of Business Administration | El Paso, TX
Hannah Muegge started the Facebook page for UTEP’s rifle team as a student. In 2015, she became the face of the team as its head coach. Muegge, a four-year letter winner, earned her BBA in accounting in 2013 and stayed with the team as a graduate assistant – the first in team history – and assistant coach as she worked toward her MBA in 2015. When the head coach position opened up, UTEP picked the native of Boling, Texas because of her outstanding history with the program and the work ethic, leadership, vision and passion she demonstrated. At age 25, she was the youngest coach at UTEP and among the youngest in her sport. Muegge already has implemented some of her ideas. The 2013 team MVP has overseen the renovations of the team practice facility, locker room and viewing lounge. That work has had a positive impact on recruiting and team morale – and she’s only just begun.
Raul Chavira Jr., 28
College of Liberal Arts | El Paso, TX
Raul Chavira Jr. earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education in 2010 and 2015, respectively. He started as a music educator at Indian Ridge Middle School in the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso. His school bands were consistently successful at competitions and were invited to perform at national and international music conferences. He was selected the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2015 and was runner up for the YISD Teacher of the Year. He recently moved to the new Pebble Hills High School in the Socorro Independent School District. His goal is to make Pebble Hills the first fine arts magnet program in the Southwest. On top of his academic work, Chavira (aka RC Manor) is a singer-songwriter who has released a pop album and recently was approved membership into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States, the organization that puts on the Grammy awards.