Meet the Alumni Transforming UTEP’s Campus
Big things are happening on campus. Surely, you’ve noticed them while strolling down Hawthorne Street. Sundt Construction is making headway on the new Advanced Manufacturing and Aerospace Center (AMAC). And if you’re looking to attend an advising session at the Academic Advising Center, you won’t find much there – it was razed last fall to make room for the new Texas Western Hall, a classroom and learning center set to open in Spring 2026 (though you can still receive advising services at their new location in the library).
Once completed at the end of 2024, the AMAC building will be home to the Aerospace Center and the W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation, where UTEP students and faculty will have the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research in technologically advanced laboratories.
Meanwhile, just up the road, Texas Western Hall will soon be under development. This new building is named after the University’s previous moniker from 1948-66, as it transitioned from a college of mines to one offering humanities and science programs. Texas Western Hall will adopt UTEP’s signature Bhutanese style, complete with a five-story west wing and a four-story east wing connected by a three-story atrium.
But one thing you might not know is that the team behind some of these significant changes on campus is comprised of many UTEP alumni. Donning their hardhats, goggles, gloves and safety vests, they contribute to different areas of construction, from overseeing the metal sheet laying process to the financial aspects of the projects. UTEP’s future is being built by students of UTEP’s past.
“We’re proud Miners here,” said Joe Riccillo, a UTEP alumnus, construction management instructor, and the vice president and regional manager of Sundt Construction. “Every day, we show up passionate about the opportunity to construct these buildings and to help build a brighter future for UTEP students.”
From Intern to Engineering Dreams into Reality
As a student in the construction management master’s program, Diamond Mata had secured an internship at Sundt Construction, working with Riccillo, who also taught one of her classes. As an intern, she gained hands-on experience in the industry, working to support the AMAC project and proving herself as a budding engineer. She made such an impression that when she finished her degree in summer 2023, she was hired full-time with the company. Mata now serves as a project engineer, helping to construct the AMAC and soon, Texas Western Hall.
Mata’s career is unique – she didn’t immediately get her start in engineering or construction. She began as an academic advisor at UTEP, guiding students to success in their own educational and career journeys. It was through UTEP that she was introduced to the field of construction. Being drawn to the idea of construction management, she took the leap and applied to UTEP’s program.
“[Riccillo] was teaching a building operations class, and he really kicked off all of the information in regard to the pre-construction of the AMAC building,” Mata said. “I started that class just as the project was starting, and being able to go through the process of seeing challenges and areas of improvement and the progress that they made during this phase as a student was really awesome.”
Building a Career at Home
After Guillermo “Memo” Mendez graduated with his degree in mechanical engineering from UTEP in December 2016, he made his way to Dallas, supporting construction projects in the DFW area. But in his opinion, there is nothing like working on big projects in the city one calls home. As a Miner and field engineer, he notes it brings him pride to be able to support the transformation projects taking place on campus.
“To me, it was a full circle thing – I went to college here, I graduated here,” he said. “It’s because of the education that UTEP gave me that I’m who I am today. I’m working at a university that I love.”
In their roles as project engineers, no two days are the same for Mata and Mendez, with early morning and late evening working hours the norm in the midst of huge projects. Through their work on the AMAC building, they have been responsible for acquiring the correct paint and air conditioning units the size of 18-wheelers, ensuring work in the field is completed in a timely matter, that purchases are the right color, that space is ready for installation and even knowing what train is going to deliver supplies to the site.
“We have to make sure that the product is approved by everybody from our team to the building owner and the architect team,” Mata said. “That way, when it’s installed a year, even 18 months, from now, it’s what they need.”
Staying on Schedule
UTEP alumnus Jose Lopez, who graduated with his bachelor’s in civil engineering in 2017 and his master’s in construction management in 2021, serves as a field engineer with Sundt Construction, primarily spending his time in the field with the superintendent of the project to ensure the crew stays on schedule and meets certain milestones. For example, the crew may need to move dirt, lay metal or install equipment by a certain date in order to complete the building on time. Through his role, Lopez is on the front lines to meet these important deadlines. He also supports project engineers like Mata and Mendez to make sure purchased equipment is installed completely.
This isn’t the first role Lopez has had with the company. He began as an estimator, a role that is critical to the construction of any building.
“Estimators pretty much look at the components that it takes to build the building,” Lopez said. “You have your setup, you decide who’s going to do what and in what scope, and you track everything that has to happen to build that building. It’s like the construction part but on paper.”
Financing the Project
An important aspect of this process is budgeting for the project. As the senior estimator with Sundt Construction, Yazmin Trueba, who graduated with her master’s in construction management from UTEP in 2012, was directly involved with ensuring the funding was available for both the AMAC and Texas Western Hall. Working with a targeted budget, Trueba helped determine things like light fixture quality square footage and more.
“For this to happen from the very beginning and to get that figure, there are a lot of phases and a lot of discussions, a lot of meetings, and everything needs to fall into place,” Trueba said. “Imagine the owner wants 100 classrooms, but we only have the budget for 50. So, we explore doing a different type of flooring that costs less, and that takes us to [a budget for] 70 classrooms, and so on. We offer options to accomplish the best value for the project.”
These are just a handful of the alumni supporting the construction of both the AMAC and Texas Western Hall from start to finish. As you walk to your next class or head to Starbucks in the Chemistry and Computer Science Building, just remember that Miners are more than likely driving that truck or operating that crane you see, to help UTEP continue to serve as an excellent University for all.
“Building a structure for UTEP is a symbol of pride because it becomes a testimony of the transformative power of education,” Lopez said.
Last Updated on February 09, 2024 at 12:00 AM | Originally published February 09, 2024
By Julia Hettiger UTEP Marketing and Communications