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UTEP Announces 2021 Top Ten Seniors

Last Updated on April 23, 2021 at 12:00 AM

Originally published April 23, 2021

By Darlene Barajas

UTEP Communications

The University of Texas at El Paso Alumni Association has selected the 2021 Top Ten Seniors – students whose academic achievements, involvement, leadership and service exemplify the most promising Miner alumni.

Seniors who are spring 2021 graduation candidates and winter 2020 graduates were evaluated in all areas of their academic careers at UTEP. Recipients of the Top Ten Seniors award display strong adherence to community engagement, steadfast perseverance, and a commitment to the advancement of not only themselves, but their peers. This award recognizes students who turn challenges into opportunities, embodying the spirit of a UTEP Miner.

“It goes without saying that our Top Ten Seniors have earned this designation as a result of their hard work, academic excellence and the leadership skills they have exemplified during their time as a student,” said Maribel Villalva, assistant vice president for alumni and donor engagement. “They will go on to be among our best and brightest ambassadors as doctors of ophthalmology, legislators, policymakers, lawyers, marketing and communication professionals, cancer researchers, and nonprofit leaders. We could not be prouder.”

A common theme connects the 2021 Top Ten Seniors: they all want to use their hard-earned education and experience to help underserved and vulnerable communities. Many of them are first-generation students; others came to UTEP from across the border in Mexico, or across the world from Iran. They overcame language barriers, financial barriers, sometimes working two jobs while still earning top grades.

The 2021 UTEP Top Ten Seniors Are:



Sabrina Bustillos

Major: Communication Studies, Liberal Arts

Future Plans: Work in politics as a field strategist, communication director, or campaign manager for progressive candidates and eventually direct a statewide nonprofit that emphasizes civic education, advocacy, and community organizing in low-income communities.

Despite working two jobs since graduating from high school, Sabrina Bustillos never shunned her obligations at work or school. On top of her responsibilities, Bustillos contributed to the UTEP campus community by serving as debate captain for UTEP Forensics (Speech and Debate), president of Pi Kappa Delta fraternity, chapter founder and president of Texas Rising, member of the College Democrats association, member of Frontera Folx, director of sisterhood for Zeta Tau Alpha fraternity and senator at large/majority leader, house representative and legislative assistant of the Student Government Association.

“It has been a privilege to represent UTEP as a national speech and debate champion, National Communication Association conference presenter, and policy reform advocate through the Texas Rising program. Above all, being competitively selected as one of 48 students in Texas to participate in the Bill Archer Fellowship in Washington D.C., has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” she said.




Sara Zareei Chaleshtori

Major: Biomedical Science

Future Plans: Practice ophthalmology. Run her own clinic and reduce health disparities among minority populations.

After moving to El Paso from Iran, Sara Zareei Chaleshtori had to adapt to a new culture and learn a new language at a young age. This experience has kept her grounded in everything that she does, making her a stronger individual and leader.

Chaleshtori attributes some of her success to being accepted to the BUILDing SCHOLARS program at UTEP, where she was introduced to the world of research. Another important moment for Chaleshtori was being selected to participate in the Early Medical School Selection Program (EMSSP) as a sophomore. This program allowed her to deepen her love for diversity in health care and be exposed to medical school courses as an undergraduate.

Chaleshtori served as HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) Chair for the Collegiate Double T Health Professions Honor Society, placing at both state and international levels in competition.

“After graduation, I plan to attend medical school and contribute to the efforts of reducing health disparities. I aspire to serve underserved communities like our own,” Chaleshtori said.



Luis Gustavo Hinojos

Major: Economics and Political Science

Future Plans: Work on Capitol Hill. Gain experience in policymaking in the areas of immigration and economic development while working in Congress.

Luis Gustavo Hinojos became passionate about his education at an early age when he moved from Juárez, Mexico, to Miami and had to deal with culture shock and learning a new language. In high school and away from his family, he realized he needed to take advantage of every opportunity to make a positive change in his life.

At UTEP, Hinojos secured a Terry Foundation Scholarship, made the dean’s list every semester, served as a mentor and received a Leaders of Mines Award.

Recently, he secured an internship at the Archer Center in Washington, D.C. He plans to bring the knowledge that he will gain from working in policymaking at a federal level back to the borderland to address poverty, the lack of high-paying jobs, and the city’s status as a net-exporter of educated workers.

“My graduation from UTEP is the culmination of a robust public education and personal growth. Above all, I see my path to the achievement of this goal as one defined by opportunity, and for that, I am incredibly grateful,” Hinojos said.



Jessica Marie Martinez

Major: Political Science

Future Plans: Practice law, reshape policies, work on legislation in the health and public interest sectors, advocate for children's rights and health care improvements for low-income families with children who are ill, and one day run for public office.

Advocating for people’s rights has been a passion for Jessica Marie Martinez since she graduated from high school as a licensed vocational nurse and worked as a pediatric home health nurse. A special interest for health care reform developed as she worked as a nurse while balancing her studies in political science at UTEP.

Despite everything going on in her life, Martinez made time to have an active life on campus, serving as the Student Government Association president for two years. Martinez’s grades were a strong reflection of her ambition and hard work as she became a recipient of the Diana Natalicio Endowed Scholarship.

“I have a true passion for helping others, putting others before me, and working to provide the best experience possible for them. I am frequently asked how I am able to manage everything that I do. My answer is always, when you have love and passion for what you are doing, nothing else matters,” Martinez said.



Andrea Daniella Mata

Major: Sociology

Future Plans: Earn a doctoral degree in special education. Build a nonprofit learning center focused on improving the needs of El Paso students who demonstrate learning disabilities.

Coming from a family of four children and a humble background, Andrea Daniella Mata embraced every opportunity available to her as she pursued her goals. At UTEP, she worked hard and received a number of prestigious awards, including becoming a recipient of the Archer Fellow Alumni Association, BUILDing SCHOLARS scholarship, Virginia G. Banos Endowed Scholarship fund, The Houston Endowment Foundation – Honors College and more.

As an incoming doctoral student on a full-ride scholarship to Michigan State University in special education, Mata’s goal is to expand and contribute to the body of research that will improve the lives of disenfranchised populations. Mata prides herself on being an advocate for people with disabilities.

“The inequalities students with special needs face have compelled me to dig deep and help find real-world solutions that address the needs of highly at-risk populations,” Mata said. “My goal is to stay connected and engaged as a UTEP alum by building a nonprofit learning center focused on improving the needs of El Paso students who demonstrate learning disabilities.”



Diana Laura Moreno

Major: Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry

Future Plans: Attend medical school and serve as an advocate for chronic disease prevention.

For as long as she can remember, Diana Laura Moreno has wanted to practice medicine in her beloved borderland community. To accomplish this dream, she applied herself and worked hard, participating in the Honors Program and making the Dean’s list every semester. Moreno excelled in school and was able to secure two scholarships, including the Terry Scholarship and the BUILDing SCHOLARS scholarship.

As a result of all her efforts, Moreno was accepted into her first-choice medical school. After becoming a physician, she plans to advocate for chronic disease prevention and be remembered for being a physician who treats every patient as her loved one – meticulously, with integrity and with respect.

Moreno says she has grown within UTEP’s supportive environment, studied abroad, and delved into research on campus and around the country.

“UTEP gave me the edge that has resulted in my acceptance to medical school, invaluable personal growth, and an enjoyable undergraduate experience that I will carry for the rest of my life,” Moreno said.



Danielle S. Narimissaei

Major: Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry

Future Plans: Become a successful physician practicing reconstructive medicine. Continue conducting cancer research.

Danielle S. Narimissaei was ecstatic the moment she found out she would be a UTEP Miner. The news came as she was informed she would be a recipient of the Terry Foundation Scholarship and a BUILDing Scholars Research Fellow.

Narimissaei made the dean’s list every semester, was part of the University Honors Program, won first place at the International HOSA Health Career Photography conference, and had her work published in two academic journals.

One of her first life-changing experiences at UTEP was participating in prostate cancer research. She also had the opportunity to attend a summer research internship at Baylor College of Medicine, where she worked on ovarian cancer.

Narimissaei says she is grateful that UTEP provided her with opportunities that helped her acquire experience in various fields that she intends to pursue and develop relationships with researchers from other disciplines.

“Without the foundations, mentors and counselors UTEP’s atmosphere provided, I would not have been able to purse my physician-scientist future and continue my research to provide treatment to those suffering from the disease,” Narimissaei said.



Alejandra Isabel Nevarez

Major: Media Advertising

Future Plans: Career in marketing with world-renowned media companies. Attend business school in three years.

Higher education has always been a priority for Alejandra Isabel Nevarez. The first-generation graduate said her biggest challenge has been the English language barrier she encountered when she moved from Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso at age 13. She realized that if she could navigate this challenge, she could work hard and set her goals high.

Becoming a recipient of The Terry Foundation scholarship helped relieve the financial commitment of attending UTEP. As a result of her ambition and hard work, Nevarez made the dean’s list every semester, received the Archer Excellence Scholarship, Dodson Funds Awards and UTEP 21st Century Scholar Recognition.

Nevarez said the unconditional support of inspirational mentors at UTEP is a true testament to the potential they recognized in her before she was able to see it in herself.

“I hope my experience in the beautiful binational community of UTEP will guide my purpose as a mentor to others who look to pursue their dreams, no matter how big they are,” Nevarez said.



Carla M. Rodriguez

Major: Organizational and Corporate Communication

Future Plans: Attend law school after graduate studies in international law and legal studies, and later work on Capitol Hill as a communications director and policy advisor for a legislator or for political nonprofits.

Carla Rodriguez has always set high goals for herself. Some of her proudest moments include reaching the semifinals at the Pi Kappa Delta National Speech and Debate tournament, qualifying for finals at the International Forensics Association tournaments, and being the first woman in her family to attain an undergraduate degree.

Things did not come easy for the first-generation graduate who was a transfer student from El Paso Community College. She had to work while attending school full-time and traveling for speech and debate competitions. Rodriguez looked for outside resources and applied for scholarships and aid every semester. She secured the Houston Endowment Fund Scholarship, El Paso Women’s Fund Scholarship and the Public Leadership Education Network (P.L.E.N.) Scholarship.

Rodriguez worked hard and made the dean’s list every semester. She led an active academic and campus life, participating in the Campus Vote Project, Creative Writing Society, Student Government Association, Film Club, Texas Rising Camus Chapter, University Honors Program, Forensics Team, Pi Kappa Delta fraternity, National Forensics Association, Department of Communication and teaching assistant at the Teacher Education Department.



Flor Alejandra Urbina Araiza

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Future Plans: Become a recruiter at a company and provide current students with internships and full-time jobs. Establish a merit-based scholarship in partnership with UTEP to finance brilliant international students’ education, especially women engineers.

Flor Alejandra Urbina Araiza faced daunting odds coming from humble roots in Juárez, Mexico. Despite the challenges, she pushed forward to overcome language and financial barriers.

Her academic performance afforded her four scholarships, educational opportunities abroad and national recognition. Some of those included the UTEP Study Abroad Scholarship in Prague, an invitation to the Google Hispanic Student Leadership Summit, Society of Women Engineers Leadership Development Program, and an invitation to the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and Engineers for a Sustainable World National Conference 2019 Policy Change, where she was a first-place winner. Additionally, she had the chance to intern at two Fortune 500 companies, Cummins and Microsoft.

“Thanks to the countless opportunities that UTEP has offered me, I undoubtedly know I can break the glass ceiling as a Latina engineer. Through the EDGE experiences and fantastic faculty and staff, UTEP changed my perspective of myself and demonstrated the impact I have on others since there are no limits to my growth,” Araiza said.