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UTEP Announces 2019 Top Ten Seniors

Last Updated on May 13, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published May 13, 2019

By Christina Rodriguez

UTEP Communications

The Top Ten Seniors Awards are presented annually by The University of Texas at El Paso Alumni Association to UTEP's most promising future alumni.

The Top Ten Seniors Awards are presented annually by The University of Texas at El Paso Alumni Association to UTEP's most promising future alumni. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications
The Top Ten Seniors Awards are presented annually by The University of Texas at El Paso Alumni Association to UTEP's most promising future alumni. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

Seniors who are spring graduation candidates and winter graduates are evaluated on academic achievement, involvement, leadership, and service both in the community and on-campus, as well as the impression they have made on others during their time at UTEP. This award reflects the true spirit of what it means to be both an outstanding student and a proud Miner.

“The Top Ten Seniors Award celebrates those students who, through their talent, hard work and sacrifice, embody UTEP’s mission of excellence,” said Maribel Villalva, assistant vice president for UTEP’s Office of Alumni Relations. “This year’s award recipients have very diverse backgrounds and they all took very different roads to earn this honor. Nevertheless, they all share the same dedication to succeed. Their future plans include: practicing medicine, running for elected office or teaching at a university. Others are already working their dream jobs on Wall Street or have jobs waiting for them shortly after graduation. Others, still, are pursuing graduate studies. We’re excited for all of them as they enter the world as UTEP alumni, but with the special distinction of having been awarded the Top Ten Seniors Award.”

The 2019 UTEP Top Ten Seniors are:


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Kristen Aida Ahumada

MAJOR: Biological Sciences

FUTURE PLANS: Practice medicine, conduct competitive research and one day reshape health care legislation.

Ambition is at the heart of Kristen Aida Ahumada’s character. She spent her time as a UTEP student well as she seized every opportunity available to prepare for a career in medicine and become a formidable leader. As an undergraduate, Ahumada served in several leadership positions including president of UTEP’s Student Government Association, explored the depths of Europe and Africa through study abroad experiences, interned at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, and helped conduct important leukemia research. “With regard to lifelong success, UTEP has provided me the necessary tools in order to be a more effective and influential leader,” she said.


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Johnathan Andrew Cereceres

MAJORS: Political Science and Chicano Studies

FUTURE PLANS: To run his own policy firm or become chief of staff and/or an elected official in El Paso.

A few major bumps in the road during his first year of college almost made higher education an unattainable goal for Jonathan Andrew Cereceres, until he enrolled at UTEP. He credits the University with turning him into a community and campus leader. During his time at UTEP, Cereceres served in leadership, research, administrative and supportive roles in positions that range from local to state offices. In a competition against other Texas applicants, he was the first UTEP student in six years to become a student representative for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Financial Aid Advisory Committee. “UTEP fostered a beautiful environment for me to survive and thrive in building a stronger foundation every day for my future in public service,” he said.


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Jose Ignacio Echeverri Alegre

MAJORS: Biological Sciences and Psychology

FUTURE PLANS: Attend Baylor College of Medicine and pursue a career as a physician.

From the first day of class, Jose Ignacio Echeverri Alegre was in awe of the numerous research opportunities UTEP offered to freshmen. By the second week of school, he had immersed himself in learning research techniques. Throughout his undergraduate career, he has worked in labs studying HIV/AIDS with the Department of Biological Sciences, and drugs of abuse with the Department of Psychology. Echeverri Alegre served as treasurer for the American Society for Microbiology UTEP student chapter, which led to numerous opportunities to volunteer with community organizations. “It is because of UTEP that I have become a person who loves to teach and learn from others,” he said.


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Katherine Heidi Fehr

MAJOR: Graduated in December 2018 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering

FUTURE PLANS: Attend graduate school, work as an engineering professional for a while, then work in academia as a researcher and professor.

Katherine Heidi Fehr is passionate about supporting and advocating for women in engineering. As a UTEP Miner, she served as an engineering ambassador and later the vice president and president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where she helped coordinate the College of Engineering’s outreach efforts. Under her leadership, she doubled the number of officers within the organization in order to provide more UTEP students with leadership opportunities. Fehr worked on campus at the W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation and during the summers interned at three Fortune 500 companies: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Ford Motor Company and Cummins. “My time at UTEP has equipped me with a strong education, refined leadership skills and opportunities to learn about myself and my career aspirations,” she said.


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Hazael Hernandez

MAJORS: Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry

FUTURE PLANS: Attend medical school at The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and become a physician-scientist.

Moved by the socioeconomic and health disparities many face in the Paso del Norte region, Hazael Hernandez’s mission has been to serve disadvantaged populations through medical research and care. He joined the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program at UTEP, where he has been actively involved with research and projects that focus on the El Paso and Juárez communities’ health. After the devastating hurricanes that impacted Houston and Puerto Rico, Hernandez authored a paper published in the journal Microbiology that took a public health angle and detailed how environmental disasters impact fungal infection outbreaks. “I consider the rigor and breadth of my research background from UTEP as being a defining asset for my clinical training and career in the future,” he said.


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Mariana Madero Guerrero

MAJOR: Finance

FUTURE PLANS: Pursue a professional career in finance. Will work at Helen of Troy’s corporate headquarters in El Paso and pursue a graduate degree in accounting.

As an international student, Mariana Madero Guerrero is grateful to study in the United States and to have taken advantage of every opportunity to set herself up for professional success. As a sophomore, she joined UTEP’s Financial Management Association and the Association of Latino Professionals for America. She later served as the vice president of both organizations. Madero Guerrero worked as an undergraduate research assistant for the UTEP Center for Interdisciplinary Health Research and Evaluation and participated in local and national case study competitions, the Helen of Troy mentorship program and an internship with the Helen of Troy finance department. “Within the Miner community, I have found a key source of motivation as I see myself surrounded by people with whom I share the same ambitions and who encourage me to strive for greatness,” she said.


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Adriana Camila Mares Villalobos

MAJOR: Graduated in December 2018 with a B.S. in Biological Sciences

FUTURE PLANS: Become a cardiologist.

During her junior year in high school, Adriana Camila Mares Villalobos had such a zest for college and medicine that she joined UTEP’s Medical Professions Organization (MPO) as the only member who was not a UTEP student. A fellow member of MPO helped the eager 17-year-old create a cardiology interest group on campus called the Institute of Cardiology in El Paso (ICEP). The group has since branched out to include students from the region’s other universities. Mares Villalobos was part of a research team and co-authored a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC). “When I was just looking for an opportunity, UTEP granted me many. Therefore, I will always be grateful to UTEP and will always be a proud Miner,” she said.


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Maria Elena Martinez

MAJOR: Accounting

FUTURE PLANS: A career as an accountant. Has a job offer with PwC in Dallas upon graduation.

Maria Elena Martinez has embraced every opportunity available to prepare for her career as an accountant. Martinez took advantage of student employment and worked as an undergraduate research assistant for UTEP’s Work with a Scientist program and Entering Student program. She also took part in summer internships at accounting firm PwC and a local internship at the certified public accounting firm Gibson, Ruddock, Patterson. The accounting major also served as the professional development director for UTEP’s Women in Business Association and as president of Beta Alpha Psi, UTEP’s honor society for accounting, finance and information system majors. “My experience at UTEP has been abundant with incredible experiences that have shaped me into the individual I am today, prepared me to take on the real world and foster success in my career path,” she said.


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Karina Nicole Monticone

MAJOR: Biological Sciences

FUTURE PLANS: Pursue a career as a physician assistant.

Karina Nicole Monticone credits UTEP with connecting her to the campus and the community. As a UTEP Miner, she has been actively involved in 12 student organizations and served as an officer in seven of them. Through these experiences, she made connections to serve the greater community by starting a Halloween candy drive that supplied over 350 children at local hospitals and homeless shelters with candy and toys. She also played card games with senior citizens during the holidays, spent time with terminally ill children at the Ronald McDonald House, started up leadership and community involvement chapters at area high schools, and established her own organization aimed at mentoring young girls in the El Paso area. “I am a byproduct of UTEP’s mission to commit to excellence in professions, communities and the world,” she said.


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Gustavo Enrique Velez-Arce

MAJOR: Graduated in December 2018 with a BBA in Finance

FUTURE PLANS: Already landed dream job working as a financial analyst at JP Morgan Chase and Co. in New York City.

Gustavo Velez-Arce went straight from UTEP to Wall Street upon graduating in December 2018. During his time as a student, he was awarded several opportunities, such as a summer internship with JP Morgan Chase and Co. and the Harvard Business School Summer Venture in Management program. Velez-Arce also served as the president of UTEP’s Financial Management Association (FMA) and the FMA Investor’s Club. As president, he helped establish the Finance Scholars Program, the first student-led investment fund at UTEP that provides students the opportunity of practical application of theoretical financial concepts and coursework. “Being at UTEP helped me focus and provided an environment with multiple opportunities … All these different experiences helped me develop strong leadership skills, a passion for mentorship and financial services, and a solid quantitative background in finance,” he said.