The University of Texas at El Paso and the UTEP Alumni Association are proud to present the 2016 Gold Nugget Award recipients. These outstanding alumni are recognized by each to the University’s colleges and schools for their achievements and dedication.
We recognize them because they inspire others — including the current students who will follow their paths, guided by their bold experiences.
Profiles written by Laura L. Acosta, Lisa Y. Garibay, Leonard Martinez, Daniel Perez, Chyanne Smith and Esmeralda Treviño
Armando Aguirre, Ed.D.
College of Education
B.S. Education, 1985
M.Ed. Educational Administration, 1989
Ed.D. Educational Leadership and Administration, 2004
Armando Aguirre, the youngest of six children, said he attended a dozen K-12 institutions before graduating from high school because the family needed to move around for economic reasons.
The El Paso native said the experience taught him to be adaptable and to make the best of every situation. Those lessons have helped him navigate a 30-plus year career in education where he has taught or administered at every level from elementary to higher education. His goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of students and to involve families in academic decisions.
“I see myself in the kids of this community and my parents in their parents,” he said.
Since 2014, he 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 (1985), master’s (1989) and doctoral degrees (2004) in education from The University of Texas at El Paso. He said UTEP equipped him with the skills and beliefs that, as an alumnus, he owed it to his community to pay it forward. He is grateful for UTEP’s impact on his life and welcomes every opportunity to give back to the community.
Mary E. Bell
College of Business Administration
BBA Finance, 1983
Regional President and CEO for Indiana and Ohio at Wells Fargo Bank, Mary E. Bell received her degree in finance from UTEP before landing her first job as a management trainee for the State National Bank of El Paso in 1983.
Bell recognizes UTEP’s role in her success; living in El Paso, studying at UTEP and working in the community allowed her to appreciate cultural, ethnic, gender and other diversity dimensions.
“Understanding the value of diversity at UTEP has helped me leverage diversity as a business imperative,” the 30-year veteran banker said. “Having the rich cultural foundation for valuing differences and multiple perspectives has allowed me to effectively lead myself, my teams and my business.”
Always passionate and committed to community involvement, Bell also leads several community outreach programs and 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, a researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), said one of the most rewarding aspects of his job is working with undergraduate students who come to the institute on summer fellowships.
At NIST, Cloteaux investigates characteristics of real-world networks such as the Internet and social media to help predict what will happen with them in the future.
Alongside his research, Cloteaux works with students in the NIST Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which aims to inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Many of the students Cloteaux has mentored have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in computer science.
The native El Pasoan began his academic career at UTEP as an undergraduate in electrical engineering and then gravitated toward computer science for his master’s. He later earned a Ph.D. in computer science from New Mexico State University.
“The professors in (UTEP's) computer science department really emphasized the real-world applications of what we were doing and how it switched across disciplines,” Cloteaux said. “They really changed my outlook on what it meant to be a computer scientist.”
College of Liberal Arts
B.M. Music Performance, 1987
The University of Texas at El Paso provided the foundation for a singing career that took Barbara Divis across the U.S. to perform lead roles in well-known operas.
Divis performed professionally in 35 productions, most of them lead roles, around the United States between 1984 and her retirement in 2011.
Born in Alabama, Divis attended Eastwood High School in El Paso. She chose UTEP for college because she wasn’t ready to leave home, she said.
“UTEP awarded me a music scholarship and academic scholarship,” she said. “… If it were not for UTEP, I am not certain I would have even achieved my bachelor’s degree at all.”
She said her experience at UTEP eventually led her to earn a master’s degree.
Of all the operas in which she performed, Divis loved the works of renowned composer Giacomo Puccini best. She performed the title character Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” in seven productions.
Music from her 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 C. Lyon, Ph.D., executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Nursing, shares a long and distinguished history with the UTEP School of Nursing.
Lyon was one of El Paso’s first baccalaureate prepared nurses to graduate from The University of Texas System School of Nursing in 1974.
After the nursing school system disbanded and the school became part of UTEP in 1976, Lyon was one of the first students in the new Master of Science in Nursing program at the UTEP College of Nursing. She earned her graduate degree in 1978.
Her mentor, College of Nursing Founding Dean Eileen Jacobi, Ed.D., encouraged Lyon to join the UTEP faculty a year later.
In 2004, Lyon was named assistant dean of graduate nursing. She subsequently developed the graduate degree in nursing systems management and UTEP’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Fast Track Program.
“It’s such an honor to be part of the School of Nursing’s 40th anniversary this year because I was there at the start,” Lyon said. “I’ve seen how much UTEP has changed. Just to feel that in some small way I contributed to that change through my roles at UTEP is incredible.”
College of Health Sciences
M.S. Speech-Language Pathology, 1995
Freda Mowad learned the value of teamwork as a student in UTEP’s Master of Speech-Language Pathology program.
Mowad’s classes fostered an environment of teambuilding and support. As president of Senior Rehab Solutions (SRS), a rehabilitation management company with facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, California and New York, Mowad has encouraged a similar culture of collaboration among the more than 2,000 therapy professionals under her leadership.
“The spirit of UTEP was not about competition or outdoing your classmates,” Mowad recalled. “It was about helping each other get to where you were going together.”
Mowad graduated from UTEP in 1995. In 2013, the El Paso native 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. The majority of therapists employed at SRS in El Paso are UTEP graduates.
An avid UTEP supporter, Mowad also helped establish the Senior Rehab Solutions Excellence Endowment in the College of Health Sciences.
“I am so proud to be affiliated with UTEP once again,” Mowad said, “and to be able to give back to the school that gave so much to me.”
College of Science
B.S. Biological Sciences, 1975
Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, Ph.D., 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.
“The most outstanding science teacher I’ve ever seen or had was [former UTEP Professor of Biological Sciences] Peter Chrapliwy,” she said. She has striven to follow Chrapliwy’s example for the numerous students she has guided through undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies.
Her undergraduate lab work at UTEP on lead contributed to what is now her main research focus: the neurotoxicity of lead. Her work in veterinary medicine contributes to greater advancements in environmental, animal and human health.
Tiffany-Castiglioni received her bachelor’s degree from UTEP in 1975 as a second-generation graduate of the University.
“At one point, my mother, father and two brothers and I were all taking classes at the same time,” she recalled.
Tiffany-Castiglioni was grateful that the University provided an opportunity to pursue her love of music alongside her scientific training. She was frequently in the Fox Fine Arts Center studying concert harp and played in the UTEP Symphony Orchestra.
Unforgettable for the alumna is the beauty and uniqueness of her alma mater’s campus, which she shares with anyone she knows who is traveling to El Paso.