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Alumni Achieve Gold Standard: UTEP’s 2017 Gold Nuggets

Last Updated on October 05, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 05, 2017

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

For more than 30 years, The University of Texas at El Paso has recognized exceptional graduates from each of its colleges and schools who have excelled in their professions, given back to their communities and alma mater, and serve as an inspiration for future generations of Miners.

“The Gold Nugget Award is presented by each college to individuals who have excelled in their field and serve as proud ambassadors of UTEP, wherever they go,” said Maribel Villalva, UTEP assistant vice president for alumni relations. “These Miners symbolize the UTEP spirit and are shining examples of success for our current students.”


Manuel F. Aguilera

B.S. Civil Engineering, 1964
College of Engineering

Manuel F. Aguilera’s expertise in traffic engineering paved the way for a successful career, nearly four-decades long, with the Texas Department of Transportation. He helped develop and design the traffic signal central computer control system that today controls most traffic signals in El Paso and led to the standardization of traffic signals statewide.

Aguilera also helped design El Paso’s “Spaghetti Bowl” interchange at I-10 and U.S. 54, the Patriot Freeway and the new Tornillo Exchange, which carries his name: Aguilera International Highway.

The engineer graduated from Texas Western College, now UTEP, in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and served in the Army for a couple of years before returning to find the school with a new name and a new opportunity.

“I went back to UTEP and the College of Engineering because I was thinking about getting my masters with my G.I. Bill and ran into a former professor (Paul Hassler),” Aguilera recalled. “He asked if I had a job, he made a call, I interviewed, and that was the beginning of my career in the highway department. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Today the alumnus has his own company and is the father of three UTEP graduates.

Russell Broaddus, M.D., Ph.D.

B.S. Microbiology, 1987
College of Science

Russell Broaddus, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, credits his education at UTEP with setting the foundation for a successful career.

“I am honored about this recognition,” he said. “UTEP has played an important role in my family. Both of my parents graduated from UTEP (then Texas Western College) and were faculty at UTEP. My older brother, younger brother, and younger sister also graduated from UTEP.”

The alumnus went on to medical school at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Later, he earned a Ph.D., from UT Health Science Center – Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. His research is focused on the molecular pathogenesis of endometrial cancer, the most common gynecological cancer in women.

He appreciates UTEP’s evolution since his time on campus and values the opportunity he received to perform research.

“Undergraduate students at UTEP are fortunate because they can get hands-on research experience and careful mentoring by faculty,” he said. “This type of experience is not typical at many larger universities.”

Estela Casas

B.A. Electronic Media, 2005
College of Liberal Arts

It took Estela Casas 25 years to graduate from UTEP, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying a career as one of El Paso’s finest broadcast journalists.

After graduating from Burges High School, Casas attended an Arizona university on a voice performance scholarship. She left after one semester to pursue a singing career, then returned to El Paso to pursue television news instead.

Casas enrolled in UTEP in 1980. The first time she appeared on camera was during a news production class. A year later, she landed a job with the KTSM-TV news team. Since then, she has worked as a reporter and news anchor at KINT-TV, KDBC-TV and KVIA-TV.

Throughout her 36-year career, Casas has covered major news stories, including interviewing President Barack Obama at the White House. She also has become a strong advocate for women’s and children’s health issues.

Despite her professional success, Casas always intended to finish her degree and set a good example for her three children. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electronic media in 2005.

“Education is something that nobody can take away from you,” Casas said. “I always felt that if I'm going to leave something to my children, it is the value of an education and the strength to persevere,” said Casas, who has been a news anchor at KVIA since 1993.

Denise Castillo-Rhodes

BBA Accounting, 1982
College of Business Administration

Scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins as a teenager introduced Denise Castillo-Rhodes to the business world. The University of Texas at El Paso honed her interest.

Today, the El Paso native is the executive vice president and chief financial officer of the world’s largest medical complex, the Texas Medical Center (TMC) in Houston. The first-generation college student said her UTEP skills gave her the solid foundation from which to broaden her skills.

The IRS picked Castillo-Rhodes out of college for a year-long program after which she was hired by a top accounting firm. She left the firm to be a stay-at-home mom, but was lured back to work by Nabisco, where she advanced up the corporate ladder. At the same time, she earned her MBA from the University of St. Thomas. She then was wooed in 2000 by TMC, where she quickly rose to chief financial officer.

Castillo-Rhodes credits her success to her loving and supportive parents and husband, demanding mentors, perseverance and humility. Her suggestion to others is to be a critical thinker, a lifelong learner and to maintain a highly calibrated moral compass.

“Make time to serve others,” she said. “We all have gifts to share.”

Erik Cazares

B.S. Nursing, 2000
School of Nursing

Sierra Medical Center hired Erik Cazares out of UTEP in 2001. Fourteen years later, the center, now called The Hospitals of Providence Sierra Campus, named him its chief nursing officer.

The native of Chihuahua, Mexico, moved around the Southwest as a youth, but his family settled in El Paso during his teen years. A top graduate from El Paso’s Ysleta High School, he was awarded a UTEP Presidential Scholarship.

While a nursing student, Cazares earned his U.S. citizenship and worked as a nurse extern at Sierra. His sense of service and leadership abilities were among the reasons hospital officials selected him as one of the founding directors tasked to open The Hospitals at Providence East Campus in 2008. Since then he has overseen different inpatient hospital departments and implemented new strategies to enhance services and patient care.

Cazares, who earned his Master of Science in Nursing Administration from Texas Tech University in 2013, is active in several national nursing and healthcare organizations.

“UTEP launched me into a career where I have the privilege of caring for individuals and families in their most vulnerable moments,” Cazares said. “I am honored to lead teams of passionate professionals who share the same devotion to advance healthcare in our community.”

Jim Forbes

B.S. Secondary Education, 1979
College of Education

Jim Forbes didn’t hesitate when legendary Coach Don Haskins recruited him to play basketball for the UTEP Miners in 1970.

The 6-foot-7 forward from Bel Air High School dreamed of playing in the NBA. But a knee injury Forbes sustained when he returned to UTEP after playing in the 1972 Olympics sidelined his career as a professional basketball player.

Instead, Forbes would go on to become one of the most successful high school basketball coaches in Texas. In February 2017, Forbes, the head basketball coach at Andress High School, won his 600th game in his 33-year career.

“Make sure you have a 10-year plan and try to adhere to that,” Forbes advised student-athletes. “And make the best of your college education. Take advantage of it because you never know what might happen, but you’ll always be able to fall back on your education.”

Before coaching high school basketball, Forbes served as a UTEP assistant coach under Haskins from 1981-84. As a high school coach, Forbes led the Riverside High School Rangers to the Texas 5A Final Four in 1995 and the Andress Eagles to the Final Four in 2015.

Forbes was inducted into the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.

Miguel A. Gamiño, Jr.

BBA Accounting and Computer Information Systems, 1999
College of Business Administration

Missing early morning UTEP accounting classes put Miguel A. Gamiño, Jr. on the path to become the chief technology officer for the City of New York, whose job includes delivering free, high-speed internet to all New Yorkers by 2025 and creating one of the most connected cities in the world.

Gamiño, who did well on his accounting exams despite missing classes, said his instructor gave him a motivating ultimatum: switch majors to accounting or be dropped from the course. He did, and asked to add computer information systems as a double major. His adviser said his plan was too challenging.

“I’m motivated extra when people say it can’t be done,” said Gamiño, a confessed adrenaline junkie who raced dirt bikes and cars as a young adult.

He worked his way through UTEP in an information technology job, and was hired by a local insurance company after graduation as its chief information officer and controller. During that time, Gamiño also helped found his first technology company, Varay Systems LLC. Those jobs led to bigger opportunities in the public and private sectors in Texas, New Mexico and California. He continues to be driven by a desire to be of service.

“That gives me a sense that I’m doing something that matters,” Gamiño said.

Sylvia Hopp

B.S. Elementary Education, 1975; M.Ed. Educational Administration, 1982
College of Education

As the superintendent of the San Elizario Independent School District for five years, Sylvia Hopp was responsible for the education of 3,900 students in one of the poorest districts in Texas.

Hopp and her team worked hard to overcome many of the challenges that campuses faced in educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2014, she oversaw the approval of a $28 million bond to fund district projects, including the construction and renovation of school buildings. Among these projects is a new field house and the San Elizario High School STEM building.

In 2015, Hopp was recognized with the Region 19 Superintendent of the Year award and was a finalist for Texas Superintendent of the Year.

Since graduating from UTEP in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Hopp worked in education and administration for 42 years until she retired in June 2017. She received a master’s degree in educational administration from the University in 1982.

Hopp’s successful career was made possible thanks to hard work, dedication and her UTEP education.

Hopp and her father were the first in their family to attend college. They carpooled to the University every morning their freshman year.

“UTEP provided me with the professors that mentored me as well as provided guidance I needed as I navigated my career path,” Hopp said.

Sandra G. Terrazas

M.S. Kinesiology, 2005
College of Health Sciences

Sandra Terrazas always has been a team player. From her days as an elite point guard on El Paso High School’s girls’ basketball team to today as owner of Spectrum Therapy Consultants, she believes her purpose is to bring out the best in others.

The licensed physical therapist and personal trainer opened her El Paso-based company in 2006 and has overseen its growth while at the same time serving as an adjunct professor at UTEP and other area institutions of higher education.

Terrazas said she pursued her Master of Science in kinesiology from UTEP so she could continue to serve as an instructor. The first-generation college student has a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy and an MBA from other institutions.

“I want to help today’s students become good colleagues who combine technical skill with a personal touch,” said the businesswoman, who was instrumental in introducing the Spanish competency requirement to the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree plan. “I want them to understand the culture of the community.”

Terrazas balances her work with humanitarian missions in Guatemala and academic presentations in Mexico, where she advises others how to assist individuals who use prosthetics.