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UTEP Announces 2020 Top 10 Seniors

Last Updated on May 04, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Originally published May 04, 2020

By Julian Herrera

UTEP Communications

The Top 10 Seniors Awards are presented annually by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Alumni Association to the most zealous and distinguished future alumni.

The Top Ten Seniors Awards are presented annually by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Alumni Association to the most zealous and distinguished future alumni. Photos: University Communications
The Top 10 Seniors Awards are presented annually by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Alumni Association to the most zealous and distinguished future alumni. Photos: University Communications

Seniors who are spring graduation candidates and winter graduates are evaluated in all areas of their academic careers at UTEP. Recipients of this honor display strong adherence to community engagement, steadfast perseverance, and a commitment to the advancement of not only themselves, but their peers as well. This award recognizes students that approach opposition with hope and passion to turn challenges into opportunities, embodying the spirit of a UTEP Miner.

“One of the most rewarding projects for the UTEP Alumni Association each year is the selection of UTEP's Top 10 Seniors,” said Maribel Villalva, assistant vice president for UTEP s Office of Alumni Relations. “These dedicated and hardworking individuals have already done so much in their young lives and their time at UTEP only strengthened their innate talent. We look forward to their work as UTEP alumni. They are future lawyers, educators, doctors, entrepreneurs, financiers and physical therapists. We can't wait to see all of the great things they will do. 

“Sadly, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we were not able to celebrate these seniors in person with the traditional Top 10 Seniors Banquet, but we have been so impressed by the strength and resolve of these seniors, all of whom stressed the importance of family during this time. We are so proud of them.”

The 2020 UTEP Top Ten Seniors Are:



Ruben Aguirre

Major: Political Science
Future Plans: To open his own law firm in El Paso and provide UTEP students with internships.

Ruben Aguirre converted hardship into driven potential as he resolved to become an attorney. A co-founder of the UTEP Civil Rights Timeline Project and a campaign ambassador for a Texas congressman, Aguirre’s position as a legislative assistant in the UTEP Student Government Association and employment as an undergraduate assistant at UTEP’s President’s Office introduced him to the Law School Preparation Institute (LSPI) in the Patti and Paul Yetter Center for Law. This opportunity culminated in an internship at the U.S. Courthouse and a full tuition scholarship from Notre Dame Law School.  

 “This University has given me all of the tools to succeed in a demanding and difficult field of law. It allowed me to overcome numerous obstacles throughout my life and has placed my family and I in a much better position,” he said.




Bryn Ireland Birdwell

Major: Applied Learning and Development
Future Plans: Remain actively promoting UTEP academic and scholarship opportunities, and become a professor in UTEP’s College of Education.

From childhood, it was clear to Bryn Ireland Birdwell that a career in education was not a contingency plan, but her true calling. A recipient of more than 10 awards and scholarships, including the UTEP Terry Foundation Scholarship, Birdwell was accepted into the Miner Student Teaching Residency, where she further accumulated experience that has contributed to her graduate research in the UTEP College of Education. She is also a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education.

“Thanks to the amazing faculty and staff in the UTEP College of Education, when my two roads diverged, I took the road less traveled by – and that truly has made all the difference,” she said.



Isaac Noel Gándara

Major: Biological Sciences
Future Plans: To continue medicinal and surgical practices in El Paso.

Intent on becoming a surgeon, Isaac Noel Gándara acquired a wealth of experience and built an extensive resume throughout his undergraduate career. After being accepted into UTEP’S BUILDing SCHOLARS Program, Gándara flourished in his research, studying at Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas at Austin, and UConn Health. His subsequent research capabilities and abstracts enabled him to present at conferences and symposiums throughout the country. His studies at UTEP have created the foundation of his scientific endeavors and facilitated professional engagement that will drive his career and success.

“By choosing to study at UTEP, I was granted the opportunity to gain extremely valuable experiences that have prepared me for [the] future,” he said.



Yeshey Lham

Major: Economics
Future Plans: Institute a study abroad program for UTEP in Bhutan, work for the Bhutanese Ministry of Economics, and mentor international students.

Choosing to study at UTEP was a fruitful decision in the personal and professional development of Yeshey Lham. An international student from a rural area of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Lham found solace in the celebration of cultural diversity that UTEP offered. She worked as a tutor and an undergraduate student assistant, discovering the importance of interpersonal engagement with the community. She was a member of the Omicron Delta Epsilon International Economics Honor Society UTEP chapter as well as the Regional Economic Development Association. She is committed to utilizing her research and analytical capabilities to promote humanitarian efforts that combat poverty and advocate for representation and environmental awareness. 

“Even though UTEP is the first international campus that I have studied, it has always been a home away from home. It never failed to open my eyes to new opportunities and experiences,” Lham said.



Nohemi Lopez Valdez

Major: Biological Sciences
Future Plans: Open a clinic and perform research while mentoring students and advocating for UTEP’s scholar programs.

A combination of innovative academic opportunities and cultural exploration drew Nohemi Lopez Valdez to UTEP. She became President of the Terry Foundation Organization and initiated an effort that donated hundreds of blessing bags for homeless individuals and provided aid to those impacted by natural disaster. Lopez Valdez also became a Senator-at-large in the Student Government Association, studied abroad in Rome and bolsters her research through her involvement in the Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP). As a swimming instructor for children of various age groups and with disabilities, she gains experience as a leader that actively engages the academic growth of others. 

“UTEP has not only helped me catalyze my academic advancement but has also helped me strengthen and build upon the axioms of effective leadership that I value: collaboration, encouragement and accountability,” she said.



Tania Pamela Mariscal Quintana

Major: Finance and Economics
Future Plans: Working with Microsoft as a program manager in the Business Operations and Development division, as well as recruit students to work at Microsoft.

Tania Pamela Mariscal Quintana was confident that an education at UTEP would qualify her for every goal she would pursue. Mariscal Quintana, an international student, learned English and sought financial support for an opportunity to attend college in the United States. She was the recipient of several scholarships, including the UTEP Presidential Award. She persevered through struggles with employers, which spurred her to embrace her bilingualism and heritage. She represented UTEP in nine Fortune 500 firms and was subsequently accepted into programs with Harvard University and Forbes, and attained an internship with BlackRock on Wall Street. 

“I developed personally and professionally through my academic and extracurricular experiences, and I want more students to be out there representing UTEP and living unique experiences,” she said.



Sandra Navarrete

Major: Accounting
Future Plans: Work in New York in finance and continue mentoring students in the UTEP College of Business Administration.

As an institution that supports historically underrepresented individuals, Sandra Navarette revered the progressive academic and cultural dynamic at UTEP. She attended UTEP as an international student who took advantage of El Programa de Asistencia Estudiantil (PASE) and began developing fluency in English through the Speech and Debate Team. Her analytical research on insurance investments secured her an internship with PricewaterhouseCoopers, a multinational consulting service. Navarette was selected as a Forbes Under 30 Scholar representative and led Vision Mexico, exercising her bicultural heritage while establishing professional relationships in the industry of finance.

“It is the sum of my experiences at UTEP that exposed me to new ideas, different career opportunities, and greatly shaped me as a professional,” she said.



Marlon Andre Picado

Major: Economics
Future Plans: Construct a nonprofit on the Southwest border for immigrant and low-income population health clinics.

Marlon Andre Picado is driven by ambition and chose UTEP for its organizations, opportunity and engagement. He participated in a multitude of community programs, including the Immigration Initiative, Southwest Healthcare Executives Association, and worked with physicians at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. Picado was involved with the Omicron Delta Epsilon UTEP chapter, studied abroad in Cuba, and acted as a principal investigator on a community outreach project regarding the cost of care for migrants. Each of his academic endeavors facilitated professional engagements that contributed to his vision of a collaborative effort to provide health care resources to immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.

“Each UTEP experience prepared me to vigorously work toward a path of becoming a physician and improve the lives of those who yearn for a symbol of hope,” he said.



Aiyana Minee Ponce

Major: Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry
Future Plans: Open an inclusive clinic supporting underrepresented groups and become involved in public policy.

Aiyana Minee Ponce thrived in the innovative scientific community of UTEP. Ponce hopes to counter the prominent matter of underrepresentation in the field of science. She participated in three 10-week long research programs at institutions such as Baylor College of Medicine and presented at a multitude of national conferences, thereafter co-authoring an artistic research project. She also presented at the annual BUILD Symposium for three years. She broadened her academic scope through two travel abroad programs, one in which she served in a hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She ultimately became the president of the Medical Professions Organization and was named the 2019 College of Science Woman of Mines.

“Individuals do not become successful on their own, and I attribute my involvement on and off campus to the UTEP community composed of inspirational students and caring faculty/staff who pushed me to have a high standard of excellence,” she said.



Jozelyn A. Rascon

Major: Rehabilitation Sciences
Future Plans: Become a licensed neurological physical therapist and open a clinic.

Jozelyn A. Rascon credits UTEP for the confidence it evoked in her through the support and representation offered through the College of Science. A participant in the BUILDing SCHOLARS program, she began working as a research assistant her first semester. Rascon represented UTEP in multiple conferences throughout the nation, including the 2019 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), and interned for both Prieto and NeuroRestorative Physical Therapy. She revered the support and inclusivity of UTEP and was accepted into the Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

“My experience at UTEP has provided me with confidence in my abilities, leadership skills, and a passion for serving my El Paso and Ciudad Juárez communities,” she said.