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UTEP Announces 2023 Distinguished Alumni, Gold Nugget Awardees

Recipients embody excellence, leadership and service

EL PASO, Texas (July 26, 2023) – The University of Texas at El Paso has selected two Distinguished Alumni and seven Gold Nugget Award recipients for 2023 whose stories represent the profound impact that UTEP graduates have in the world. They will be recognized during UTEP’s Homecoming celebration Oct. 29 through Nov. 4, 2023.

Top left to bottom right: Edward Escudero, Hilda Galvan, Martha Rubi Gasca, Leila Melendez, Rudy Piña, Irazema Solis Rojas, Alfredo H. Arellano, J. Carlos Hernández, Jon Dorenbos
Top left to bottom right: Edward Escudero, Hilda Galvan, Martha Rubi Gasca, Leila Melendez, Rudy Piña, Irazema Solis Rojas, Alfredo H. Arellano, J. Carlos Hernández, Jon Dorenbos

Among the University’s proudest traditions is to celebrate and honor graduates who exemplify excellence, service to the community and Miner spirit. UTEP recognizes these alumni with its annual Distinguished Alumni and Gold Nugget awards.

“It’s amazing how far a UTEP education can take you,” said UTEP President Heather Wilson. “Our Distinguished Alumni and Gold Nugget recipients model what it means to go far and then come back and give to your community. We are particularly grateful for the time and talent they have given to support UTEP students.”

2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

The Distinguished Alumni Award was launched in 1950 and is the highest honor given to alumni of the University. This year, UTEP recognizes Hilda Galvan, attorney and mentor to pre-law students, and Ed Escudero, an El Paso businessman and philanthropist.

The 2023 Distinguished Alumni are:


Hilda Galvan, J.D.

B.S. in Electrical Engineering, 1985

Hilda Galvan is a Dallas attorney with expertise in intellectual property and the intersections between law and technology. After receiving her electrical engineering degree from UTEP, Galvan worked in the telecommunications industry before attending law school at The University of Texas at Austin. Throughout her 35-year legal career, she has provided strategic counsel to businesses about safeguarding their proprietary technology and advised her clients on the impact of emerging technologies on their operations. She is currently the partner-in-charge at the Dallas office of the law firm Jones Day, where she is responsible for strategic planning, operational oversight and profit and loss management.

Beyond her professional endeavors, Galvan strives to make a meaningful impact on her community. She frequently mentors students in UTEP’s Law School Preparation Institute and founded the Galvan-Contreras Engineering Endowed Scholarship for UTEP students along with her husband, Mike Galvan. Her contributions as a business leader and her commitment to the community have garnered significant recognition. In 2023, she was inducted into the Junior Achievement Dallas Business Hall of Fame.

“The education I received at UTEP profoundly altered the course of my life,” she said. “As a result, being chosen as a Distinguished Alumna holds immense significance and fills me with a deep sense of gratitude.”




Edward Escudero

BBA in Accounting, 1992

Edward Escudero is a successful business leader who currently serves as president and CEO of High Desert Capital, LLC, an El Paso finance company specializing in capital alternatives for small and midsize companies, and Vice Chairman of WestStar Bank Holding Company, Inc. and WestStar Bank. Prior to his current role, Escudero held executive positions at C&R Distributing and Petro Stopping Centers, LP, where he contributed to substantial revenue growth and workforce expansion.

In addition to his professional achievements, Escudero is actively involved in community service. He serves on the boards of several organizations, including El Paso Electric, the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation and the Hospitals of Providence Memorial/Sierra Campus. Escudero is a recipient of the El Paso Community Spirit Award, the Hispanos Triunfadores Award and the UTEP Gold Nugget Award in recognition of his generosity and community service. Escudero is a longtime supporter of UTEP and was a co-chair of the 2014 Centennial Commission formed to celebrate the University’s 100th anniversary.

“To be selected as a Distinguished Alumnus feels like coming full circle,” Escudero said. “The experience that got me to this moment was built upon the knowledge and skills I gained as a UTEP student. It is incredible to be recognized with this prestigious honor from where it all began.”;


2023 Gold Nugget Award Recipients

In addition to the Distinguished Alumni, each of UTEP’s colleges select outstanding alumni to receive Gold Nugget Awards. They have excelled in their professions, give back to their communities and alma mater, and serve as an inspiration for future generations of Miners.

The 2023 Gold Nugget Award recipients are:


Alfredo H. Arellano

College of Nursing, BSN, 1986; MSN, 1990

Alfredo H. Arellano is a community mental health advocate who has made significant contributions to improving mental health services in the El Paso Region. Mr. Arellano is a psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist in private practice, treating adults, military personnel and dependents, Veterans and the elderly with the most up-to-date treatments in psychiatry.

Mr. Arellano has served as a clinical instructor and mentor for undergraduate UTEP students and is currently a preceptor for graduate students. He is also a longtime supporter of UTEP Athletics and a UTEP football and basketball season ticket-holder.




Jon Dorenbos

College of Liberal Arts, Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies, 2009

Jon Dorenbos is a former NFL long snapper who played for the Buffalo Bills, the Tennessee Titans and the Philadelphia Eagles. He is now a professional magician and motivational speaker who has appeared on “America’s Got Talent” and “Ellen.” His book “Life is Magic” is being developed into a feature film. In 2022, Dorenbos was the keynote speaker at Orange Fever Fiesta, UTEP Athletics’ annual fundraising event.



Martha Rubi Gasca

College of Health Sciences, B.S. in Clinical Laboratory Science, 2011

When COVID-19 threatened El Pasoans’ health, Martha Rubi Gasca and the lab team at the El Paso Department of Public Health rose to the occasion. Gasca is a medical laboratory scientist who specializes in biological and chemical threats. During the pandemic, she led the charge in setting up COVID testing and was instrumental in designating UTEP as a testing site. She also helped develop COVID-19 safety measures that were sent to hospitals both locally and beyond El Paso County as guidelines for implementation at their facilities.




J. Carlos Hernández, Ed.D.

College of Education; BBA in Accounting, 1988; M.Ed. in Education Administration, 2005; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Administration, 2009

Through a career in higher education spanning over 30 years, Jose Carlos Hernandez, Ed.D., has shaped financial and operational policies at several universities, including UTEP, the University of North Texas (UNT), UNT Dallas and Sam Houston State. His depth of knowledge and willingness to mentor earned him leadership positions in organizations such as the Texas Association of State Senior College and University Business Officers. In his current role as president of Sul Ross State University, he works to advance the university’s goal of providing an accessible and life-changing education.




Leila Melendez

Woody L. Hunt College of Business; MBA, 2008

Leila Melendez’ career has been about serving the people of El Paso and the surrounding region. As CEO of Workforce Solutions Borderplex, she drives the organization’s mission of developing the borderland economy by connecting employers with skilled employees. She has maintained close ties with UTEP and applies her talent to help students in the Woody L. Hunt College of Business. She was a key driver and designer of a mentorship program that paired alumni and local business leaders with undergraduate and MBA students. She currently serves as a board member for the Executive Forum and the El Paso Fireman and Policeman’s Pension Fund.




Rudy Piña

College of Science; B.S. in Biological Sciences-Microbiology, 1978

Rudy Piña is the president of Dynatec Scientific Labs, a Latino-owned medical device testing lab. Piña established the Rudy Piña Endowed Fund for Microbiology at UTEP and has been an advisory board member for the UTEP College of Science. He has worked with the Food and Drug Administration, the Texas Department of Health and other entities to ensure high safety standards for medical devices and hospital settings.




Irazema S. Rojas

College of Engineering; B.S. in Civil Engineering, 1995, M.S. in Civil Engineering, 2010

Irazema S. Rojas is the Chief Technical Officer for Water, Wastewater and Reclaimed Water at El Paso Water. In the position, she oversees a $500 million budget and six departments that ensure the safe and reliable delivery of clean water and advance critical infrastructure projects throughout the El Paso region. She has more than 25 years of experience in water management and has also worked on important infrastructure priorities that address environmental stewardship, community growth and rehabilitation of aging infrastructure. Solis Rojas frequently recruits students from UTEP to participate in internships and apply for jobs with El Paso Water. She has worked tirelessly to advance inclusion in the workplace and retain talented engineers.

Last Updated on July 26, 2023 at 12:00 AM | Originally published July 26, 2023

By MC Staff UTEP Marketing and Communications