Skip to main content

UTEP Selects 2020 Distinguished Alumni

Last Updated on July 22, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Originally published July 22, 2020

By Christina Rodriguez

UTEP Communications

Every year, The University of Texas at El Paso and the UTEP Alumni Association honor a group of men and women whose achievements stand out as monuments to dedication, integrity and hard work – they are the UTEP Distinguished Alumni.

The University of Texas at El Paso has selected its 2020 Distinguished Alumni awardees. They include, clockwise from top left, J. Steve DeGroat, Joe M. Gomez, Buzz Graves and R. Noel Longuemare. Photos: Courtesy
The University of Texas at El Paso has selected its 2020 Distinguished Alumni awardees. They include, clockwise from top left, J. Steve DeGroat, Joe M. Gomez, Buzz Graves and R. Noel Longuemare. Photos: Courtesy

“Our Distinguished Alumni represent the University as a whole,” said Maribel Villalva, assistant vice president for alumni relations. “They have been longtime UTEP supporters by serving on college advisory boards, funding scholarship endowments and helping put UTEP on the map by earning presidential appointments; creating life-changing technology; and providing historical context for the big screen.”

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest recognition bestowed upon alumni of the University. In brief, here are the stories of UTEP’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni.


J. Steve DeGroat

BBA, 1972 | MBA, 1975

As a UTEP alumnus, J. Steve DeGroat has remained engaged with the University as a volunteer and a philanthropist. He has served as president of the Alumni Association and as a member of multiple boards to include Friends of the Library, Legacy Campaign Cabinet, and the College of Business Administration Advisory Council.

In line with his belief in access to higher education, DeGroat and his wife, Martini, have established and funded two UTEP scholarships — the J. Stephen DeGroat and Martini DeGroat Endowment Scholarship and the Robert C. Heasley Endowment Scholarship in Business. Additionally, DeGroat and some of his colleagues established the L. Marcus Fry Endowment Scholarship Fund.

DeGroat retired in 2019 as the longtime owner of Lincoln Financial Advisors’ El Paso branch, a financial planning firm. The leadership experience he has honed has yielded opportunities to serve the El Paso community as chairman of the board at University Medical Center and the YMCA, president of the Ronald McDonald House and the Sun Bowl Association, and currently as chairman of El Paso Health.

“Giving back is a way to pay back those who helped me in my growth, development and education,” DeGroat said. “Once I got involved in community activities, more and more opportunities came my way and I was enriched by my participation.”


Joe M. Gomez

B.A. History, 1970

Joe M. Gomez serves as the director of business development and community affairs at Jordan Foster Construction in El Paso. He has served the El Paso community tirelessly and has received numerous awards and accolades for his service, such as the City of El Paso’s Conquistador Award and the McDonald’s Hispanos Triunfadores Award, and was inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2017, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him to serve on the Pathways to Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) Advisory Council.

Gomez’s contributions to the University have been numerous. He served on UTEP boards, raised money for various departments and programs, and provided pro bono work for several campus projects. In 2006, the College of Liberal Arts selected him as one of its Gold Nugget Award recipients.

For decades, Gomez has been known for his steadfast dedication to promote and preserve the history of the 1966 Texas Western College (now UTEP) men’s basketball team that won the NCAA Championship. He has worked on three documentaries about the team’s accomplishment, assisted the Disney production team on the 2006 film “Glory Road” by providing historical artifacts and memorabilia used in the movie that told the team’s story, and was awarded the El Paso Historical Society Hall of Honor Award for his work to preserve the team’s history.

“I graduated but never really left because of my love for UTEP, and wanted to make things better through time or treasure,” Gomez said.


Buzz Graves

B.S. Physics, 1977 | M.S. Physics, 1979

The National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, immediately recruited Buzz Graves after he earned his graduate degree from UTEP to assemble its refractive solar coronagraph telescope. Two years later, he joined Kitt Peak Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, where he pioneered the use of digital sensors for ultraviolet, visible and infrared observations. In 1989, Graves traversed the Pacific Ocean to join the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, home to some of the world’s largest optical telescopes atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island.

While in Honolulu, Graves obtained funding for 11 years from the National Science Foundation to invent adaptive optics, a concept that revolutionized astronomical observations. Ground-based telescopes with larger apertures could now surpass the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope once the atmospheric blurring could be removed. This emerging technology brought notoriety for Graves through abundant publications, citations and a place in astronomy textbooks.

In 2000, Graves founded Laplacian Optics Inc., which later became AOptix Technologies, in Campbell, California. At AOptix, he applied his adaptive optics experience to obtain 20 patents in areas of free space laser communications and iris identification. In recent years, Graves has worked as a consultant with Koshla Ventures, KLA-Tencor and SA Photonics. Today, he is a full-time employee with Apple who works on current and future products.

“I owe a great debt to so many people I have been privileged to know and work with over my career, understanding that accomplishing major goals is not a solo adventure, it is the collective work of many who can reach for amazing things,” Graves said. “UTEP was critical in helping mold a work and relationship ethic that lives with me today.”


R. Noel Longuemare

B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1952

R. Noel Longuemare began his professional career with Westinghouse, where he played a lead role in the development of modern radar and avionics systems for airborne, land and surface applications, as well as advanced space systems. The Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group later named him corporate vice president and general manager of its systems development and technology divisions.

After 41 years at Westinghouse, Longuemare accepted a four-year appointment by President Bill Clinton to serve as the principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition and technology at the Pentagon, where he was responsible for the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) $100 billion acquisition budget. Within that assignment, he served as Acting Under Secretary of Defense, and represented the United States on the NATO Defense Ministers panel in Brussels, Belgium. Additionally, he hosted the 1997 Tri-Lateral Defense Conference in Vancouver, Canada. For his many contributions, he was awarded three DoD Distinguished Public Service awards and the prestigious David Packard acquisitions award.

Throughout his career, Longuemare has served in top-level management and technical positions for the DoD and the aerospace industry. Additionally, Longuemare holds eight patents and 17 patent disclosures.

Today, he oversees Longuemare Consultants Inc. and continues to participate in studies and advisory boards for the government and industry. He is a member of the executive advisory board for the U. S. Navy, the Strategic Red Team for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Lincoln Laboratories, and UTEP’s Engineering Advisory Board.

“Attending UTEP was a pivotal point in my life,” Longuemare said. “It opened up amazing new doors, and gave me the confidence to take advantage of the many resulting opportunities.”