UTEP Celebrates Spring 2017 Commencement

Last Updated on May 08, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published May 08, 2017

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

A sea of caps adorned with glitter, jewels, flowers, lights and bright orange hard hats blanketed the floor of the Don Haskins Center atop the heads of more than 900 excited graduates of UTEP’s colleges of Engineering, Health Sciences and Science during the evening Commencement ceremony. They were among the more than 2,600 spring and expected summer graduates who were honored during The University of Texas at El Paso’s three Commencement ceremonies on May 13, 2017 in the Don Haskins Center.

UTEP Commencement
More than 23,000 family members and friends watched the day’s three ceremonies from the stands. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

More than 23,000 family members and friends watched the day’s three ceremonies from the stands.

Diana Ibarra was exuberant and emotional to be earning her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, not only because it was a tremendous accomplishment for her, but also because she was following in the footsteps of her father, who has a doctorate in engineering.

“My dad is really happy and has told me several times today how proud he is of me,” Ibarra said while beaming. “It has all paid off – all my hard work, the all-night study sessions. I realize today that it was all worth it.”

During her time at UTEP, Ibarra was able to see the world by taking advantage of study abroad opportunities as well as engage with the community through various volunteer efforts made possible through her involvement with engineering honors programs and societies. However, the part of her college experience that impacted her the most were the lifelong bonds and friendships she made at UTEP.

“UTEP provided me with priceless opportunities which I am grateful for, but I am even more grateful for the amazing people I have met that will be a part of me for a lifetime,” Ibarra shared.

Ibarra feels optimistic about starting a new chapter in her life as well as empowered by being a minority and a woman in the engineering field. She will start her career this summer at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, Texas.

UTEP alumnus Joel Isais’ parents came to El Paso from Juárez, Mexico with the goal of providing their children with a chance to lead a life they only imagined. They made a point to stress to their sons the importance of an education and that they had what it takes to accomplish great things.  

Isais was inspired by his parent’s faith in him and made education a priority in his life. The first-generation high school and college graduate earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UTEP in biological sciences and went on to become a science teacher. His thirst for education and desire to make his parents proud continued to fuel him to do more. On May 13, Isais received his Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree.

“My parents have worked very hard to get me where I am today,” Isais said. “The ties I have with my family and all the support they have given me throughout my educational journey pushed me to reach the maximum of my potential, and I am excited to move on with my new career.”

The next phase of Isais’ professional life will be a residency at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, a task for which he feels well prepared.

“UTEP has given me all the skills and tools required for me to be successful in my career in pharmacy,” he said. “I have been a student at The University of Texas at Austin and will be going to the University of Arizona, but I will always be a proud Miner. I owe a lot to this University.”


A rainbow of honors hung around the neck of Natalie Marin, who was among the hundreds of graduates and candidates who participated in The University of Texas at El Paso’s afternoon Commencement ceremony.

The El Paso native was among the approximately 870 honorees from the School of Nursing and the colleges of Education and Business Administration.

Marin, a first-generation college student, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. She said she was hired as a telemetry nurse at El Paso’s Del Sol Medical Center. Although proud of her academic achievements and campus involvement, her thoughts were with her fellow nursing students who had bonded from the rigors of school.

“Today is amazing because we’re like a family,” Marin said while waiting in nearby Memorial Gym for the ceremony to begin. “We’ve experienced weddings, divorces, births, hospitalizations. We’ve all grown so much during the past two years.”

University President Diana Natalicio lauded members of UTEP’s Class of 2017 for their hard work and accomplishments, and expressed her confidence in their abilities to compete for jobs anywhere in the world.

“I am moved and inspired by the fact that this University has played a major role in unlocking your potential and transforming your future,” President Natalicio said to the graduates and the thousands of people in the audience. “This is a great moment for you and for all of us who have been a part of your higher education journey.”

The afternoon ceremony included the awarding of 12 doctoral degrees and more than 190 graduate degrees.

Among those listening were Diedre R. Peterson and Randi Hutcheson.

Peterson earned her Master of Education with a concentration in reading. The Utah native, who has an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Utah, said her next goals are to earn her teaching certificate and apply for a position in a middle school.


“I want to be the cool teacher who can impact the life of a little kid through reading,” said Peterson, who added that her UTEP experience was awesome because of its amazing faculty members.

Hutcheson, an Army veteran, earned her BBA in accounting with a 4.0 GPA and will transfer soon to the NASA facility in Huntsville, Alabama. She was a member of several honor societies, was named among her department’s top graduates, and was nicknamed “Supermember” by her Beta Alpha Psi honor society members because of her extensive volunteer work.

“Today has been crazy busy,” said Hutcheson, a native of California. “I’m a little anxious, but (Commencement) is fun.”


More than 850 candidates from the College of Liberal Arts were eligible to walk the stage during the 9 a.m. Commencement ceremony – the first of three ceremonies to be held throughout the day at the Don Haskins Center. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the colleges of liberal arts, education, business and science.

Amid the cheers and applause from family and friends, President Natalicio welcomed graduates to the joyful celebration and congratulated them on their accomplishments and transforming their futures.

“In attaining your educational goals at UTEP, you’ve learned to know yourself well, build on your strengths and define your aspirations, setting ever higher expectations for yourself and for those around you, without displaying a sense of entitlement or arrogance,” President Natalicio said.

Many graduates like Sara Gomez decorated their mortarboards with paper and cloth petunias, roses and other perennials.   

Gomez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art, adorned the edges of her cap with white, pink and fuchsia fabric daises. In the center of the cap were the words, “The Adventure Begins. Thank you Mom.”

“I’m just really excited for what’s to come,” said Gomez, an aspiring art teacher. “It’s really important to be able to express yourself in any way you want. I think that the disciplines that you learn in art, you can apply anywhere in life.”

Gomez’ mom, Mirna Ajo, was in the stands proudly cheering her daughter as she walked into the Don Haskins Center. Gomez earned her second master’s degree from UTEP in 2016.

“My mom is a single parent and she really supported me,” Gomez said. “We didn’t have a lot of money, so she really had to push herself through school. She’s a go-getter. I want to be like her.”

The morning ceremony included the celebration of nearly 170 master’s degrees and 12 doctoral degrees.

Earning a Master of Arts in Leadership Studies was Paydirt Pete’s alter-ego Luis Beltran, who proudly wielded Pete’s pickaxe as he crossed the stage. 

“It feels pretty great (to play Paydirt Pete) and still be involved with the school and be getting a master’s at the same time,” said Beltran, who played UTEP’s beloved mascot for four years, starting as an undergraduate in 2013. “I feel very accomplished.”

Beltran earned a bachelor’s in kinesiology in 2015. His goal is to apply to UTEP’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, but first he plans to return to the University to fulfill a couple of the program’s prerequisites.

“It’s pretty amazing the influence I have on the crowd (as Pete) and the people I meet at games and just being part of the UTEP experience,” Beltran said. “I think I’ll be back (as Pete) for one more football season.”   

Married couple Elsa Bonilla-Martin and Levi Martin both received their Ph.D.s in rhetoric and composition during the morning ceremony.

They met while working on their undergraduate degrees at UTEP and married in 2009, the same year Elsa earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Levi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication in 2008.

The couple didn’t plan to go through the Ph.D. program together. Levi started the program in 2010 after he graduated with a master’s degree in English-rhetoric and writing studies from UTEP. Elsa earned a master’s in clinical psychology from the University in 2011 and was accepted into the Ph.D. program a year later.

“Graduating together was not planned nor realized until probably the last year or so,” said Levi, who is a lecturer in UTEP’s Department of English. “After thinking about it a bit, we decided that it would be beneficial to graduate and enter the job market at the same time as we are looking for two positions within the same department.”

Elsa walked on stage to be hooded first. She was followed by Levi.

“Graduating together feels pretty great,” Elsa said. “It is incredibly rewarding to finally get to this point, to accomplish what we have been working on for so many years. To get there at the same time is not something we planned, but I am very happy it worked out this way. At the end of the day, we ended up crossing the finish line together. That’s pretty lucky.”