The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

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2017 Speakers & Special Guests

Educator Day


Vicente Gonzales

Congressman of the U.S. House of Representatives (TX-15)

Vicente Gonzalez

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez serves in the U.S. House of Representatives as the elected representative of the 15th District of Texas, which encompasses the growing suburban counties of Brooks, Duval, Jim Hogg, Karnes, and Live Oak as well as portions of Guadalupe, Hidalgo, and Wilson counties. Congressman Gonzalez came to Washington to continue fighting for South Texans and ensure that Rio Grande Valley communities have the resources and opportunities needed to succeed.

Congressman Gonzalez earned his GED in 1985 before attending Del Mar College where he received an Associate’s Degree in Banking and Finance in 1990. He worked his way through college at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Business Administration in 1992. The congressman later earned a Juris Doctorate Degree from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (now Texas A&M School of Law) in 1996.

While attending law school, Congressman Gonzalez worked as an intern in the office of former Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz. In 1997, Congressman Gonzalez opened his law practice, V. Gonzalez & Associates and is a member of the bar associations in Texas and New York.

Congressman Gonzalez was influenced by his father, a Korean War veteran who served in the Merchant Marines, to help individuals fight for their rights over his 20 year career. As an attorney, Gonzalez recovered millions of dollars for businesses, homeowners and public schools throughout the country. Prior to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Gonzalez was a successful plaintiff’s attorney in Texas and New York.

In Congress, he is fighting to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He is dedicated to ensuring that veterans, military members, and their families have the care and compensation they earned through their service. He is committed to improving health care for those who need it most: children with special needs, seniors, and the disabled.

As a small business owner, Congressman Gonzalez understands the challenges facing American businesses and has secured a position on the Financial Services Committee. In Congress, he is working across party lines and with local, state, and federal government to expand economic opportunity for all Americans.

On September 6, 2017, Congressman Gonzalez introduced H.R. 3429, the Repatriate Our Patriots Act, to the House Committees on Judiciary, Armed Services, and Veterans’ Affairs. A bill that would work to bring our deported veterans home and expedite their citizenship process, given that these heroes held clean records before military service.

Congressman Gonzalez is a proven champion of immigration reform by co-sponsoring H.R. 3440 the Dream Act of 2017, H.R. 3591 the American Hope Act of 2017, and H.R. 1034 the Agriculture Worker Program Act, that would all work to assure safety to immigrants from threats of deportation and provide higher education opportunities.

A lifetime resident of South Texas, Congressman Gonzalez is married to Lorena Saenz Gonzalez, a former teacher and school administrator in Edinburg and McAllen. They reside in McAllen.

Congressman Henry Cuellar

Congressman of the U.S. House of Representatives (Texas 28)

Congressman Henry Cuellar

As the son of two migrant parents, Dr. Henry Cuellar has served his constituents as Laredo’s State Representative, Texas Secretary of State, and now as U.S. Congressman. Dr. Cuellar is a true champion of higher education. He believes one of the most important goals of government is to help more Texans realize their dream of attaining a college degree. Dr. Cuellar holds five advanced degrees, including an Associate of Arts in Political Science from Laredo Community College, a Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University, a Master of Business Administration in International Trade from Texas A&M International University, as well as a Doctorate of Jurisprudence and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Government from the University of Texas at Austin, earning him the title of "most degreed member of Congress."

Dr. Cuellar strongly believes in providing more financial aid for students, which is why created the largest college financial aid program in Texas’ history called the TEXAS Grant. Now in Congress, Dr. Cuellar has supported increasing Federal Pell Grants for students and making them available year round. Dr. Cuellar also passed a provision to establish a one-stop center for student financial aid information to make it easier for students, parents and educators to get assistance.

Throughout his career, Dr. Cuellar has repeatedly been honored by both public and private institutions of higher education for his work on behalf of college students, including being given a “Grade A” by the National Education Association for his pro-education voting record. He also received the Hubert H. Humphrey Award for Notable Public Service from the American Political Science Association and the Outstanding Alumni Award from the American Association of Community Colleges.

Congressman Cuellar serves as a member of the influential House Appropriations Committee. Dr. Cuellar’s focus is to make the federal government more efficient, effective, and accountable by focusing on results and always looking for cost-saving measures. He was named as "Most Bipartisan Democrat" in the 113th Congress by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy's "Bipartisan Index."

Jeffrey Reynolds

Commanding Officer, NRD San Antonio

Jeffrey Reynolds

A native of Raleigh, N.C., CDR Reynolds holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Appalachian State University in North Carolina and a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. CDR Reynolds was commissioned through Officer’s Candidate School at NAS Pensacola, Fla in April of 1999 and earned his wings of gold as a Naval Aviator in June 2001.

After completion of initial training as an E-2C Hawkeye Aviator with the “Greyhawks” of VAW-120 CDR Reynolds reported to the “Seahawks” of VAW-126 home ported at NS Norfolk, VA for his first operational flying tour served as the Line Division, Pilot Training and Personnel Officers completing two deployments with Carrier Air Wing THREE (CVW-3) on board USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN-75) in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

In October 2005, CDR Reynolds returned to VAW-120 as a Fleet Replacement Squadron Carrier Qualification Instructor. In addition to his flight instructor duties he fulfilled the roles of Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) Officer, Commander Naval Air Forces NATOPS Fleet Evaluator and the NATOPS Model Manager responsible for training students, other instructors and enforcing fleet-wide procedural standardization.

In April, 2008 CDR Reynolds reported to Carrier Air Wing NINE (CVW-9) as the Air Wing Staff Officer detached to the “Golden Hawks” of VAW-112 in Point Mugu, CA serving as the Air Warfare Officer and Air Wing N-6, completing a WESTPAC deployment on board USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN-73). At the conclusion of his Staff tour in February of 2010 he was assigned permanently to the “Golden Hawks” of VAW-112 as a squadron department head. During his tour with VAW-112 he served as the Safety, Administrative, Operations and Maintenance Officers and completed two deployments with CVW-9 in support of Operations NEW DAWN and ENDURING FREEDOM.

In November of 2012 CDR Reynolds reported to the US Naval WAR College, Newport Rhode Island where he completed his Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) requirements and earned his Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies with a concentration in Asia/Pacific Studies.

Reporting to the Joint Staff in December of 2013, CDR Reynolds served as the Special Technical Operations Chief, Deputy Director for Global Operations, Operations Directorate, Joint Staff where he was directly responsible to the Director for Operations (J-3) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for oversight and coordination of worldwide Special Technical Operations. He assumed the position of Executive Officer of Navy Recruiting District San Antonio in March 2016 and assumed command on August 4, 2017.

CDR Reynolds has accumulated more than 2,500 flight hours and 500 carrier arrested landings. His personal awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Strike Flight Air Medal (Sixth Award), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (Third Award), Joint Service Achievement Medal (Second Award), the Naval Achievement Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and numerous campaign and unit awards.

Captain Thomas C. Herzig

PhD, PMP CAPT, MSC, USN Commanding Officer

Captain Thomas C. Herzig

Before entering the Navy, Captain Herzig completed three postdoctoral fellowships from 1992-1996. In 2004, Captain Herzig graduated with a Master of Science Degree in Project Management from George Washington University School of Business, and received his Project Management Professional certification in 2005. He completed Joint Professional Military Education I with the Naval War College seminar program in 2008.

Captain Herzig was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1996, and reported as a research physiologist to the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, MD. Other medical support assignments include Assistant Professor in the Department of Military and Emergency Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, where he remains an adjunct faculty member; Executive Officer at the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory; while at the Naval Health Research Center, he served as the Department Head of the Warfighter Performance and the Behavioral Sciences & Epidemiology Departments, the Director of Operational Readiness, and finally as the Director of Research and Development.

Captain Herzig's staff tours include the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, helping establish Future Plans and Strategies (M5), and as the Deputy Force Surgeon and Chief Medical Planner for the Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. His operational assignments include deployment for one year to Baghdad, Iraq, as the Chief Medical Planner for Multi-National Force-Iraq, coordinating health service support for coalition forces. In addition, he worked with the Health Attaché at the US Embassy, aiding the Iraqi Ministry of Health in building healthcare capacity. Captain Herzig was a by name request to support OPERATION TOMODACHI aboard USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).

Captain Herzig has recently served as the Executive Officer of the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory.

Captain Herzig assumed command of Naval Medical Research Unit San Antonio (NAMRU-SA) as the commanding officer on 24 Aug, 2017.

Captain Herzig’s personal decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Medal with 3 Gold Stars, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and Joint Service Achievement Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, in addition to various campaign medals, unit and service awards.

Master Chief Navy Counselor Juan P. Rodriguez, Ret.

NRD San Antonio Education Services Specialist
Navy Recruiting District San Antonio

Master Chief Navy Counselor Juan P. Rodriguez, Ret.

Master Chief Rodriguez is a graduate of Hanna High School, in Brownsville, Texas. Wayland Baptist University, BS in Business Administration and Webster University (MBA) He enlisted in the United States Navy on September 22, 1985.

He completed Recruit Training at RTC Great Lakes, Ill, after completing the Apprentice training, he reported to his first assignment, which was deck department onboard the USS Juneau LPD 10 from January 1986 to August 1989. During this tour, he qualified as Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist, and was advanced to Petty Officer Second Class.

In September of 1989, NCCM Rodriguez reported to Navy Recruiting Orientation Unit in transition to NRD San Antonio, where he served as Recruiter, Recruiter in Charge and Zone Supervisor from 1989 to 1994. He was advanced to First Class petty Officer and selected for the Career Recruiting Force.

In March 1994, he reported to NRD Seattle WA where he served as Zone Supervisor for the largest geographical Zone in the United States (Northern Washington and Alaska) and earned recognition as Region West Zone Supervisor of the year and advanced to Chief Petty Officer.

In October 1997 to 2000, Master Chief Rodriguez was selected for instructor duty at Navy Recruiting Orientation Unit Pensacola Florida, where he became the first Navy Counselor (Recruiting) to earn the Master Training Specialist designation (curriculum writing) and was chosen to be part of the National Inspection Team where he served as a field inspector.

In July 2000 to 2003, Master Chief Rodriguez returned to NRD San Antonio where he served as Zone Supervisor for Zone 1, Command Trainer and Assistant Chief Recruiter, during this tour he received recognition as Region West Zone Supervisor of the year and advanced to Senior Chief Petty Officer.

In July of 2003 to 2005, Master Chief was selected to lead Navy Recruiting Command’s National Inspection Team in Millington Tenn. He served as Senior Inspector and Chief Recruiter.

In October 2005 to 2009 Master Chief returned to NRD San Antonio as the Command’s Chief Recruiter where he retired in May 31, 2009.

After Retirement Mr. Rodriguez was hired as NRD San Antonio’s Education Services Specialist where he was recognized as Fiscal Year 2010 Civilian of the Year, and continues to serve.

In addition to various unit awards, Master Chief (Ret) Rodriguez personal awards include the following: (1) Meritorious Service Medal, (6) Navy Commendation Medal, (5) Navy Achievement Medal, (2) National Defense Medal.

Stephen Ritz

Educator. Innovator. Social Entrepreneur. Urban Farmer. Keynote Speaker.

Stephen Ritz

Stephen Ritz is a South Bronx educator / administrator who believes that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one. Moving generations of students into spheres of personal and academic successes which they had never imagined — while reclaiming and rebuilding the Bronx — Stephen’s extended student and community family have grown more than 40,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance. Recently named a 2015 Top Ten Finalist for the $1m Global Teacher Prize, Stephen’s accolades include a 2016 Project Based Learning Champion Award, 2016 Health Champion Award, 2016 Dr. Oz Award, 2015 BAMMY Laureate – Elementary Educator of the Year Award, 2014 Greenius Award, 2014 Green Difference Award, 2013 Latin Trends Award, ABC Above and Beyond Award, Chevrolet / General Motors National Green Educator Award, USS Intrepid Hometown Hero Award, NYC Chancellor’s Award and various others.

Stephen helped earn his school the first ever Citywide Award of Excellence from the NYC Strategic Alliance for Health and directly attributes these results to growing vegetables in school. The National Association of Secondary School Principals cited Stephen’s work and Green Bronx Machine as one of five national exemplars of service learning. In 2016, Stephen was invited by the White House to present at State of STEM – installing an indoor garden in the process; a replica of Stephen’s class was installed in the United States Botanical Gardens as well. In 2014, Stephen’s fourth and fifth grade students accepted a personal invitation from White House by Chef William Yosses to visit the White House and exchange ideas about food literacy. Consequently, Stephen and his students hosted Chef Yosses and an international team at their school using food grown in his classroom. Today they partner together in the Bronx and have presented annually at the New York Times Tastes of the World Travel Show and have hosted visitors from around the globe.

Stephen’s Bronx classroom featured the first indoor edible classroom in NYC Department Of Education, which routinely generated enough produce to provide healthy meals to 450 students while training the youngest nationally certified workforce in America. His programming is approved for School Garden to School Cafe; growing the food served in school in classrooms all year long. His students have embarked on growing projects from Boston to Rockefeller Center to the Hamptons and beyond — all while earning living wages en route to graduation. They have gone on to install over 100 gardens in NYC and countless across America and around the globe. Recently, Stephen and his students were featured by NPR – Fifty Great Teachers and PBS in the American Graduate Series.

Affectionately known as "America's Favorite Teacher," Stephen has moved attendance from 40% to 93% daily, helped partner towards 2,200 youth jobs in the Bronx and captured the United States EPA Award for transforming mindsets and landscapes in NYC. A strong advocate for Project Based Learning, Stephen is an annual presenter for the Buck Institute and works with school districts and universities across the country. Stephen has worked with and conducted professional development for the AFT, UFT as well as charter, independent, public and private schools around the world. American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom identified and featured Stephen as one of the top fifty teachers in America. Internationally, he consults with Instituto Thomas Jefferson in Mexico, lectures for the Hebrew University, was named a Delegate at WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education), and recently spoke at Congreso Nacional de Educacion in Medellin, Colombia. Stephen has received standing ovations from coast to coast, continent to continent and around the globe.

To date, Stephen’s work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, TNT, Disney, NPR, PBS, Univision, Upworthy and in many international media outlets. His TEDx Manhattan Talk boasts over 975,000 views – ranked in the Top 10 Food / Education TED Talks of all time and is used for teacher training / workforce development globally. Stephen is an Office Depot featured teacher – Teachers Change Lives! In 2013, the United States Department of State and New York Foreign Press Corps toured representatives from 40 countries across Stephen’s worksites and classrooms. Dedicated to harvesting hope and cultivating minds, Stephen dreams of opening a nationally replicable Career Technical Education public school rooted in urban agriculture, green, and sustainable initiatives. Stephen recently lost more than 100 pounds by modeling positive behavior and eating what he and his students grow in school. Stephen believes that together, via collaboration, coalition and get to yes solutions, we can all prosper!


Tyraine "Grand Hank" Ragsdale

founder and CEO of The Knowledge Factory, Inc. (TKFI) and president of Grand Hank Productions Incorporated

Tayraine Ragsdale

Tyraine Ragsdale (a.k.a. Grand Hank) is the founder and CEO of The Knowledge Factory, Inc. (TKFI) and president of Grand Hank Productions Incorporated. Prior to heading these organizations, Tyraine was a research chemist for the R.W. Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute Division of Johnson & Johnson. Tyraine is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Chemistry.

He chose the field of Chemistry because of his interest in researching and developing new methods to cure physical illnesses. His scientific background has given him a leading edge in today's technology and insight on how to organizing ideas in ways that encourage others. At the same time Tyraine possess a music and television background that allows him to create multimedia programs and products that appeal to all audiences.

Since founding TKFI in 1998, Tyraine has reached a wide range of students, parents and teachers across the globe with his educational programs, products and services. Tyraine’s accomplishments and current projects include but are not limited to:

  • Recipient of an invitation to participate in the 6th and final White House Science Fair with President Obama.
  • Presenting the keynote address at the National Conference of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) in Nashville, TN
  • Featured presenter at the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC.
  • Recipient of the “Man Of The Year” award by The National Association of Negro Business & Professional Women’s Clubs, Incorporated.
  • Completing a 10-city STEM-Energy tour sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.
  • Completing a 5-city “Science Is Fun” tour with the DuPont Corporation.
  • Renovation of a 10,000 Sq. Ft. facility adjacent to LaSalle University to house the "Grand Hank STEM Center For Inner City Youth."
  • Traveled to South Africa for an 11 City Road Show that covered more than 3000 miles over the course of 3 weeks, which provided professional development for under-represented and under-served teachers and students.
  • Founder and host of the “Science of Philadelphia” and “Science Lab of Grand Hank” television shows, which were broadcast on Comcast and Verizon Fios networks through PSTV’s channel of the Philadelphia School District.

Tyraine's commitment to moving science education to a new level has not gone unrecognized. He is has been featured in newspapers, magazines as well as appearing on radio and television talk shows.

As a community leader and scientist, Tyraine knows education is critical. His commitment to education, in general, and science education, specifically, as well as his desire to provide positive role models in the urban community is the cornerstone of TKFI.


Craig Wilson, Ph. D.

Director, USDA Future Scientist Program, USDA Eastern Business Center, Senior Research Associate, Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) College of Science, Texas A&M University

Craig Wilson, Ph. D.

Dr. Wilson was born in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland but grew up in England and attended Oxford University. He met his Texan wife in Iceland and they had their three children in Botswana, Africa where he was Head of Science at Serowe Teacher Training College, a branch of The University of Botswana. He has also owned and run a chicken farm with his wife and they restore old homes. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) with their older daughter a few years ago, having climbed The Matterhorn (Switzerland) when in college. He now works within the College of Science in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) at Texas A&M University where he obtained his Ph.D. in Science Education, Curriculum and Instruction.

He has an office at the USDA Eastern Business Center in College Station, Texas alongside which has been created a USDA People’s Garden complete with Monarch Waystation (butterfly garden), pond and ‘pocket prairie’ where students are able to spend a day working on related science activities. He has taught for over thirty-five years on three continents in situations ranging from beneath a huge thorn tree on the edge of the Kalahari Desert (Botswana, Africa) to experimenting with weightlessness on NASA’s KC-135 (Houston, Texas).

His research interests are in hands-on/inquiry-based science teaching and in how most successfully to link science teachers with research scientists. He coordinated a NASA funded program-the National Space Biomedical Research Institute-Teacher Academy Project (NSBRI TAP) looking at the impact of long duration space flight on the human body and this allowed him to work with teachers in all fifty states and to teach in many of these including Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.

He currently directs the USDA/HSINP Future Scientists Program that expanded nationwide to California and Arizona (2009-2010) and to Florida and Puerto Rico (2010-2014). The program has been adopted by schools in thirty other states and by two schools in England, bringing Life and Agricultural Science into classrooms grades K-12. The program was the recipient of the USDA Administrator’s Outreach, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity Award 2007. It is now administered as a nationwide program through the USDA/Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program (HSINP). It is also recognized as an Exemplary Science Program (ESP) by the National Association of Science Teachers (NSTA). Dr Wilson accepted two awards in 2014 on behalf of the program: The 2014 International SETAC/Menzie Environmental Education Award and the 2014 Outstanding Accomplishment in STEM Education Support Award as a member of the USDA/Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Mid-south Area Team awarded by the Federal Laboratories Consortium (FLC) Southeast Region.

Kate Rogers

Executive Vice President, The Holdsworth Center

Kate Rogers

Kate Rogers currently serves as the Executive Vice President of The Holdsworth Center, a non-profit organization whose mission is to impact the quality of public education available to Texas students through transformational leadership development.

Prior to joining the Holdsworth team, Kate spent 18 years as an executive with HEB where she served in a variety of roles ranging from marketing to Human Resources. Most recently, she led the launch of the H-E-B Partner Stock Plan and all of the company’s efforts related to health and wellness as the VP of Corporate Communication and Health Promotion. In this capacity, Kate led the H-E-B Health and Wellness Task Force and oversaw all internal and customer facing initiatives related to wellness including the launch of H-E-B Nutrition Services, a network of in-store dietitians.

Kate’s true passion, however, has always been education. During her time at H-E-B, she was responsible for the creation of multiple programs such as Read 3, an early childhood initiative that includes in-store literacy centers, a community outreach curriculum and access to free and affordable books to ensure all children begin their school experience with an opportunity to succeed. She is currently leading the development of a series of career-themed high schools known as the Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) to support San Antonio students in reaching their maximum potential while helping to fill local workforce needs.

Kate began her career with H-E-B as the host and producer of H-E-B’s live, interactive distance learning program known as TeleVentures. In 1998, she moved to Austin to become the Director of Public Affairs for Central Texas and studied education policy at the LBJ School at the University of Texas. In 2006, Kate was awarded Ford’s Salute to Education Award for her work creating the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards, the largest monetary awards program in the state honoring outstanding public school teachers, principals and districts.

Kate is a native of Corpus Christi and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in advertising/public relations from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She is a graduate of the Leadership Austin class of 2000 and the Leadership San Antonio class of 2005. She currently serves on the Boards of the Witte Museum, Texas Book Festival and as the founder and co-chair of SA Works.

John Devitry

Fellow at the Center of Space Engineering - Utah State University

John Devitry

John Devitry is a Research Fellow at the Center of Space Engineering - Utah State University. From 2004 – 2015 John taught the introductory classes for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at USU while also working as the CAD Administrator at Space Dynamics Laboratory – the research arm of USU.

Over the years John has a developed a unique and compelling approach to teaching mechanical engineering and 3D design, introducing the concept of Conceptual Design Blending and Topology Optimization as a way to facilitate creative thinking with engineering graphics students.

Earlier is his career John worked for 3D Systems, promoting 3D printing, rapid prototyping and tooling technologies visiting hundreds of leading design and manufacturing companies around the world. He holds 3 patents developing the product from concept to market, selling the patent rights to independent investors. John enjoys writing and has published 3 articles in BYU Studies. Education: 1986 – 1990 Brigham Young University Provo, UT. Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering

Tina Aguirre

ITSO 2.0 Programme and Transformation Manager Shell

Tina Aguirre

I am currently the ITSO 2.0 Programme and Transformation Manager in the Strategy & Planning Organization with ITSO. Key accountability is to help lead the transformation of our organization and be prepared for the future (which is already here). We have and will continue to have many technology disruptions and we must be preparing for tomorrow, today! I am currently an EAB (Executive Advisory Board) member for SHEN (Shell Hispanic Employee Network) and I also served as the 2013 WAVE President (Women Adding Value Everywhere) Network which has over 2000 members across the US. I am also Shell’s Corporate Advisor for UnidosUS (previously NCLR (National Council of La Raza)).

I have been in the IT industry for over 30 years. Spent 27 years at ExxonMobil, 3 at BP and will complete 9 years at Shell later this year. Have held many IT jobs, both in programming and application support (eCommerce, EDI, Trading, Desktop support, etc). I have also managed Project Portfolio, IT audit, and compliance teams.

Received 2 undergraduates from University of Houston (Data Processing and Business-age 19 &Commerce-age 21) and a Master’s Degree from Houston Baptist University in Management and Computer Science – age 23.

Lead Leadership 2000 program for over 10 years. This program focuses on Jr. High and High School students to encourage them to stay in school, finish high school and go to college, or obtain a skill. I have a passion for getting involved in the community and giving back as can relate firsthand the challenges faced adjusting to a new country. I am also very active in the Shell employee community and have been leading different mentoring circles for several years.

Born in Mexico and came to the US as a teenager; married to a wonderful supporting husband (Larry) for over 30 years. I have 2 sons, Joshua already graduated from UofH and Jacob will also graduate from UofH in May 2017.

Greatest passion is to develop people to their full potential!

Dr. Angela Chapman

UTRGV Assistant Professor of Science Education

Dr. Angela Chapman

Dr. Angela Chapman is an assistant professor of science education at the University of Rio Grande Valley where she teaches courses in the areas of elementary and secondary science education. She earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Science Education from the University of South Florida in Tampa and an MS in Biology from the University of Kentucky. Her research examines how to mitigate marginalization in science classrooms, and offer all students access to high quality science instruction. In addition, her research focuses on the development of effective teaching strategies for biology students, including bilingual students.


Dr. Art Cavazos

Harlingen CISD Superintendent

Dr. Art Cavazos

Changing the landscape of education and the opportunities that are provided to students, Harlingen CISD Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos is a nationally recognized leader with almost 30 years of experience in education. Since being named the HCISD Superintendent in November 2013, he was awarded the 2014 national and state Distinguished School Administrators Award by the American and Texas Association of School Librarians for his efforts to advance library and literacy services. In November 2014, it was announced that he was selected by the U.S. Department of Education as one of 100 top school leaders from across America and was invited to participate in the first-ever National ConnectED Superintendents Summit at the White House. Texas Governor, Greg Abbott recently appointed Dr. Cavazos to serve on the State Board for Educator Certification.

Dr. Cavazos is a valley native who grew up in the fields of South Texas and worked his way through school to eventually attain his doctorate degree from the University of Texas.

He has been married to Sharon for over 20 years and has two sons, Christopher and Matthew.


Scott Thompson

Assistant Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation

Scott Thompson

Scott Thompson is Assistant Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation, a corporate philanthropy devoted to the systemic improvement of public education in the United States, and the Editor of Strategies, an issues series by the Panasonic Foundation in cooperation with the American Association of School Administrators and the University Council for Educational Administration. Thompson, who started his career as a high school English teacher, is author of Leading From the Eye of the Storm (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2005), a book that illuminates the inner work of leading school systems through the complexities of full-scale, sustainable improvement. Prior to joining the staff of Panasonic Foundation in 1996, Thompson was Director of Dissemination and Project Development at the Institute for Responsive Education and Editor of New Schools, New Communities.


Francisco Almaraz

Chief Executive Officer of Workforce Solutions

Francisco Almaraz

Francisco “Frank” Almaraz was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Workforce Solutions on August 2014. As CEO, Almaraz has planning, oversight and fiduciary responsibility of the organization that oversees workforce development services for Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy Counties in South Texas.

Mr. Almaraz is responsible for the overall management and compliance of the workforce programs specified by Local, State and Federal regulations, as well as coordinate the programs with the needs of the private and public sector. With over 25 years experience in financial accounting, auditing, and investigations, Mr. Almaraz brings his expertise to ensure that internal control systems are operating efficiently and effectively. Mr. Almaraz, together with the Board of Directors, strives to ensure that public dollars go directly to the development of the local workforce, in training, job seeker and business services. Workforce Solutions has recently been recognized as one of the highest performing workforce board’s in Texas, winning three of four performance awards at the 2013 Texas Workforce Commission Annual Conference.

A graduate of Pan American University (Edinburg, Texas) in 1977 with a Bachelor in Business Administration majoring in accounting, Mr. Almaraz began his career in accounting in McAllen, Texas. In 1984, Mr. Almaraz earned the designation of Certified Public Accountant. After working as internal audit manager for First City Bancorporation, Mr. Almaraz obtained his Certified Internal Auditor certification in 1989. Mr. Almaraz also served as an internal auditor for the Texas Workforce Commission and Texas Attorney General’s office where he was instrumental in establishing a monitoring system to monitor contractor performance, and evaluating internal control systems of large state agencies.

Mr. Almaraz is married to Marisa and enjoys being a proud parent of three children: Francisco III, Jennifer, and Kristy.


Efren Rodriguez

2016 HESTEC Teacher of the Year

Efren Rodriguez

Efren Rodriguez grew up in Elsa, TX. He graduated from Edcouch-Elsa in 1987 and went on to UT Austin. He took a great break from school and served in the Air Force for four years. Efren then finished off his Chemistry degree at UT Pan American. He has been teaching for 20 years at several locations: Weslaco H.S, Science Academy, Region One and currently at Port Isabel HS. He really enjoys working with his students in learning chemistry along with some technology. He truly enjoys learning. He has been Teacher of the Year at Weslaco and Port Isabel and was one of last year’s HESTEC Science Teachers of the Year.






Student Leadership Day


Ralph Luaces

United Launch Alliance - Engineer

Ralph Luaces

Ralph Luaces was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban exiles who fled that country shortly after the revolution in the early 1960’s. He was raised in Miami and attended the local public schools, engaging in math, science, and engineering related activities at a young age. When not attending school, Ralph worked with his father at his mechanic shop, fixing cars before he could even drive them.

Ralph earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1987. He started his professional career working on cargo aircraft conversion at Pemco Aeroplex in Miami, Florida. Shortly thereafter, Ralph moved to Harlingen, TX to work as a Liaison Engineer for General Dynamics Space Systems, today known as the United Launch Alliance. He has taken on a variety of roles and assignments at ULA, including participation in the Engineering Material Review Board, Site Ethics Officer, Lean and 6 sigma Black Belt, F-16 Program Manager, Factory Support and Quality Assurance Lead, and Tooling Manager.

For 16 years, he led the ULA Harlingen Operations Engineering Group, which includes Production Engineers, Tool Design, and Certified Responsible Engineering Delegates. This group is specifically responsible for the design of production flow, tool design, and disposition of non-conforming flight hardware. As a Lean/6 Sigma focal for ULA Harlingen, Ralph has been actively mentoring and coaching teams working to reduce the cost and manufacturing span of ULA products.

In June 2017 he was promoted to the position of Site Lead where he is responsible for leading and managing the ULA Harlingen facility. His career path has allowed him to work on noted aircraft and launch vehicles including: Boeing 727; McDonnel Douglas DC-9/C-9B; Atlas/Centaur I, II, IIAS, III and V; Titan IV; Titan Centaur; Athena; Lockheed Martin F-16; and Delta IV. Ralph has actively supported STEM activities in the local community, including the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) at high schools in the Harlingen area, Project Lead the Way, and the UTRGV (heritage UTPA) College of Engineering Advisory Council. Ralph is married with four children, the two eldest of which are in STEM related careers.


Amanda Garcia

United Launch Alliance - Engineer

Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia was born and raised in Harlingen, Texas. She attended Harlingen High School where she competed in basketball, volleyball, and softball. Her love of math was always there but the interest in engineering did not come until her uncle gave her a tour of his place of employment, Raytheon. Amanda graduated from University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) in May 2011 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. By the end of that year, she started her professional career at United Launch Alliance as a Liaison Engineer. As a Lean 6 Sigma Greenbelt she has lead a couple teams whose focus was to reduce cost and span of particular hardware. Amanda is also on the Engineering Material Review Board and has become a Certified Responsible Engineer Delegate for Harlingen produced products. While her focus is on the dispositioning of non-conforming flight hardware, she has also worked tool design, production planning, engineering changes and performing final product reviews. Amanda is married and has recently expanded her little family by adopting a puppy from the Harlingen Humane Society. The entire Garcia family are avid San Antonio Spurs fans, Go Spurs Go!


Carlos Gutierrez

Department of Energy

Carlos Gutierrez

Carlos Gutierrez was born and raised in San Antonio, TX. Mr. Gutierrez joined the Department of Energy in January of 2017 as a Business Program Manager in the Office of Minority Business and Economic Development within the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. Prior to his current role, Mr. Gutierrez worked with the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), a bureau of the Department of Commerce, as a Strategic Alliances/ Innovation Ecosystem Specialist. At MBDA he was project lead for the agency’s Inclusive Innovation Initiative (I3) which increases engagement between federal laboratories and minority owned businesses. Prior to joining MBDA, Mr. Gutierrez served as the Director of The Texas Veterans Business Outreach Center with a service area consisting of the five states in SBA region VI; Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma. He lead a staff that assisted aspiring Veteran business owners with technical assistance such as preparation of business plans, development of financial projections, gap analysis, training, and mentorship.

Mr. Gutierrez started his career with four years of service in the United States Marine Corps working in the field of logistics. He completed two tours overseas, one of which was in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Persian Gulf. Subsequently, Mr. Gutierrez held roles in the private sector to include several years as an Executive Team Leader with Target retail stores and Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. Additionally, Mr. Gutierrez is the founder of three companies and serves as an advisor for three nascent stage tech startups. He has written and co-written grants applications that have been awarded a total of 1.73 million dollars


Craig Wilson, Ph. D.

Director, USDA Future Scientist Program, USDA Eastern Business Center, Senior Research Associate, Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) College of Science, Texas A&M University

Craig Wilson, Ph. D.

Dr. Wilson was born in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland but grew up in England and attended Oxford University. He met his Texan wife in Iceland and they had their three children in Botswana, Africa where he was Head of Science at Serowe Teacher Training College, a branch of The University of Botswana. He has also owned and run a chicken farm with his wife and they restore old homes. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) with their older daughter a few years ago, having climbed The Matterhorn (Switzerland) when in college. He now works within the College of Science in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) at Texas A&M University where he obtained his Ph.D. in Science Education, Curriculum and Instruction.

He has an office at the USDA Eastern Business Center in College Station, Texas alongside which has been created a USDA People’s Garden complete with Monarch Waystation (butterfly garden), pond and ‘pocket prairie’ where students are able to spend a day working on related science activities. He has taught for over thirty-five years on three continents in situations ranging from beneath a huge thorn tree on the edge of the Kalahari Desert (Botswana, Africa) to experimenting with weightlessness on NASA’s KC-135 (Houston, Texas).

His research interests are in hands-on/inquiry-based science teaching and in how most successfully to link science teachers with research scientists. He coordinated a NASA funded program-the National Space Biomedical Research Institute-Teacher Academy Project (NSBRI TAP) looking at the impact of long duration space flight on the human body and this allowed him to work with teachers in all fifty states and to teach in many of these including Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.

He currently directs the USDA/HSINP Future Scientists Program that expanded nationwide to California and Arizona (2009-2010) and to Florida and Puerto Rico (2010-2014). The program has been adopted by schools in thirty other states and by two schools in England, bringing Life and Agricultural Science into classrooms grades K-12. The program was the recipient of the USDA Administrator’s Outreach, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity Award 2007. It is now administered as a nationwide program through the USDA/Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program (HSINP). It is also recognized as an Exemplary Science Program (ESP) by the National Association of Science Teachers (NSTA). Dr Wilson accepted two awards in 2014 on behalf of the program: The 2014 International SETAC/Menzie Environmental Education Award and the 2014 Outstanding Accomplishment in STEM Education Support Award as a member of the USDA/Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Mid-south Area Team awarded by the Federal Laboratories Consortium (FLC) Southeast Region.

Armando Arismendi

Vice President, Intellectual Property Partner Investments & Delivery
Yorktown Heights, NY
IBM Intellectual Property Group

Armando Arismendi

Armando Arismendi is responsible for creating and driving the development, execution and delivery of a new business model involving partnerships with external innovation companies involved with IoT, commerce, analytics and security. This partnership co-investment model enables IBM to deliver a broader set of product offerings with nimble flexibility in the management of costs and resources.

Armando Arismendi was previously in IBM Watson responsible for the implementation of Watson’s worldwide cloud infrastructure and providing world class solution delivery and support. Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities use language processing and machine learning to enable people to interact more naturally to extend and magnify human expertise and cognition. Armando was also in IBM Research responsible for the development and delivery of custom supercomputers for the U.S. Government’s efforts in national security. He was the Research Division CIO responsible for the worldwide Research infrastructure as well as infrastructure research and innovation in the areas of Cloud Computing and worldwide collaboration.

Armando's 37 year IBM career has been spent primarily in Austin, Texas, and New York. Armando has received overseas assignments in Madrid, Spain, and Sydney, Australia, and he has traveled worldwide for IBM. Armando’s 2000 Olympics efforts in Madrid and Sydney earned him an IBM Global Services Excellence Award.

In 2014, Armando received the Chairman’s Award at the Hispanic Engineers National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) in New Orleans, LA, for contributions to his profession and give back to the Hispanic community. In 2005, Armando received The President’s Volunteer Service Award from President George W. Bush.

Armando was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in August, 1957. He joined IBM in 1980 after receiving his Bachelors and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1979 and 1980.

Trisha Nicole Maldonado

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
Human Resources Development Analyst

Trisha Nicole Maldonado

Trisha Nicole Maldonado was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. She graduated from Valley View High School as Top 10% in her class. She received an Associate’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from South Texas College at the time she was in high school. After completing both her high school and Associate’s Degree, she attended the University of Texas-Pan American, legacy institution of the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, in Edinburg, TX, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minor in Human Resource Management on May 2016. As a student, Trisha was actively involved in several organizations. She was Treasurer of Psi Chi Honor Society, Director of Corporate Relations of the Society for Human Resource Management, and member of the Psychology Club, Sociology Club, and Operation Smile. Meanwhile going to school for her degree, she worked part-time on campus as an I.T. Support Specialist, Human Resources Representative, and News Reporter for the Student Publication, The Rider. Aside from extra-curricular activities, working part-time and being a full-time student, Trisha also conducted undergraduate research at the South Texas Contextual Behavioral Science Lab with several other lab members under the supervision of Dr. Maureen Flynn to examine the psychometrics of the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-II, a psychological flexibility measure, in Hispanic college students.

Trisha also completed three co-op terms with Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas in San Antonio, TX on 2015. Her co-op terms were in the Human Resources Department rotating in Investigations, Staffing, and Team Member Relations.

Trisha accepted a full-time job offer where she co-op’ed at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, after graduating with her Bachelor’s degree on July 2016. She is currently a Human Resource Development Analyst where her responsibilities include Talent & Performance Management, Career Development Planning, and the Co-op Program.

She is the oldest of three siblings, and a first-generation college graduate.


Daniel Pittalunga

Senior Manager at Toyota Motor North America
Senior Manager - Production Engineering - Vehicle Planning Lead for Mexico Projects

Daniel Pittalunga

Daniel was born in Argentina and lived in the U.S. and Brazil while young. He is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and English.

In 1979 he permanently moved to the US and attended the Georgia Institute of Technology where he earned a degree in Chemical Engineering. After graduating during the 1982 recession, he began working in retail selling software. This activity gained him valuable knowledge of computer software. In 1984 he started a career in automotive with Ford Motor Company in Atlanta, and expanded his studies by receiving a Master in Business Administration from Georgia State University in 1992.

Daniel began his career at Ford as a process engineer in the paint department. There he applied his engineering and computer skills to reduce waste, a passion of his. First with paint waste later with production and maintenance waste. This eventually earned him a promotion to Engineering Manager at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville. Productivity improvements lead to him being recruited by Toyota.

In 2002, Daniel joined Toyota at the Manufacturing Headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky. While in Erlanger he worked in Production Engineering Division. There he managed the Paint Engineering group and expanded its’ role across North America. In 2010 he expanded his skills by transferring to the Supplier Engineering Development Division where he supported suppliers with quality and capacity improvements.

Daniel spent two years in Michigan working at Toyota’s Engineering Design Center developing a Simultaneous Engineering group to identify early part design problems.

In 2015 Daniel was promoted to Senior Manager and returned to Production Engineering in 2017 as Vehicle Planning Lead for Mexico Projects. He is currently working on a capacity increase project at our truck assembly plant in Baja California.

Daniel and his wife currently reside in Northern Kentucky.


Matt Long

Toyota Motor North America Senior Manager – Human Resources – Talent Acquisition College Programs

Matt Long

Matt began his career with Toyota in 2002 at the North American Engineering and Manufacturing headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky (Cincinnati suburb). While in Erlanger, he held various positions in Human Resources, including management of the engineering and college recruiting functions, as well as Executive Succession Planning & Development, Career and Development Planning, and Performance Management processes. After the announcement of Toyota’s headquarter relocation to Plano, Texas, Matt helped support the Organization Design process which guided Toyota’s many business units through the integration of its’ Sales/Marketing headquarters from Torrance, California with the Engineering Manufacturing headquarters from Erlanger.

Matt became the Senior Manager over Toyota Motor North America’s College Programs in April of 2016.

Prior to joining Toyota, Matt was an HR generalist and manager in the Financial Services and Information Technology industries for 10 years.

Matt is a graduate of Ohio University with BBA majoring in Human Resources. Matt and his family relocated from Southwest Ohio to Prosper, Texas in August 2015, where he currently resides with his wife Kristi and daughter Madeline.



Latina Day


Samantha Silvas

Business Support Advisor
ExxonMobil Global Services Company

Samantha Silvas

Samantha is currently a Business Support Advisor for the Upstream Research Company in ExxonMobil’s Global Services Company. She provides general and strategic Information Technology advice to the Upstream Research Company Engineers and Geoscientists. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Texas Pan American. She joined ExxonMobil in 2009 as a Houston and Dallas Data Center Site Lead. She has held multiple positions in ExxonMobil’s Global Services Company concentrating on IT infrastructure.

Samantha has served in several capacities to further the advancement of fellow employees through mentoring and other networking and expanded learning activities.

She also finds time to serve her community. Samantha is a United Way Young Leader. She has been active in student outreach programs as a mentor, speaker or general volunteer since her early days at ExxonMobil and is a proud participant in Hispanic Engineering, Science & Technology Conference (HESTEC), Latina Day, as well as other outreach programs. She and her husband also enjoy helping the community by fostering homeless pets from the greater Houston area whenever possible. She is a mother to her 11-month daughter and enjoys family activities during her personal time.

Lieutenant Amanda Selina Benavidez

United States Navy

A native of Los Angeles, California, Lieutenant Selina Benavides graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science and was commissioned in May 2013. She graduated from the Nuclear Power School in 2014 and served as a protocol officer for Joint Base Charleston from 2014 to 2015. LT Benavides is an active duty Human Resources Officer and recent graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). She earned a Master’s of Science in Operations Research in March 2017. Her thesis examined how career outcomes for Marines who filed a formal unrestricted report of sexual assault differ from those who never filed a report. The results were briefed to Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office of Headquarters Marine Corps.

LT Benavides currently resides in Memphis, TN and serves as an operations research analyst at Navy Recruiting Command. In this capacity, she is responsible for predictive modeling, advanced data analysis of recruiting statistics, and quantitative reporting that directly helps ensure recruiting requirements are met and unforeseen challenges are navigated. In addition, LT Benavides is project leader for the Multicultural Committee, department training officer, and a duty section leader.

Bridget Krause

Executive Director, an International Trainer, and an

Executive Coach with the John Maxwell Team Kimberly Gonzales TI

Bridgett Krause serves as an Executive Director, an International Trainer, and an Executive Coach with the John Maxwell Team. She is also the founder and CEO of the Dream Big Facility, a Leadership Development company. The Dream Big Facility annually gathers hundreds of leaders from across the Valley for the Live2Lead event to impact the culture of their businesses and the values of their homes and communities.

Bridgett has been a part of Global Transformation with the John Maxwell Foundation, training thousands of leaders in Guatemala and Paraguay to help transform their nation. She has conducted workshops and keynotes on leadership and personal growth for multiple State Conferences, the Lowe’s Corporation, Mercy Ministries and many private and non-profit organizations. Bridgett currently serves on the President’s Advisory Council and as a Peer to Peer Teaching Partner on the John Maxwell Team training 16,000 individuals in over 140 countries.

Her greatest passion is helping individuals find their purpose and empowering them to walk out a life they design and choose. Bridgett currently lives in Mission, Texas with her husband and business partner Ryan Krause, 2 miniature schnauzers, Bekkar and Bella, and the ruler of their home a 12-year old feline named Sterling.

Linda Tovar

H-E-B Senior Manager

Linda Tovar

In her role as H-E-B Senior Manager, Public Affairs, Linda Tovar is responsible for providing leadership in the development and direction of H-E-B’s public affairs and community relations activities for the Border region. Additionally, as H-E-B’s community liaison, Linda oversees its philanthropic giving in communities throughout the region, as well as serving as a company spokesperson. A native of the Valley, Linda holds a B.B.A. from The University of Texas- Pan American. After joining H-E-B and graduating from the H-E-B School of Retail Leadership, Linda has served as Operations Leader for the Mission 3 store and McAllen 2. During her tenure as Operations Leader, Linda excelled at coaching store Partners (employees) in improving customer service. Additionally, Linda is a graduate of the H-E-B School of Retail Leadership.

Linda has a long history in community relations, as evidenced by her work with the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen prior to joining H-E-B. During her tenure at the Boys & Girls Club, she worked her way up the ranks from Program Coordinator to Director of Operations. When Linda started as Program Coordinator in 1997, her main responsibilities were assisting branch directors in program development and monitoring program progress, as well as assisting with special events. From there, Linda was promoted to Program/Unit Director in 1999. In this position, she managed overall daily operations, including staff training and community relations. In 2005, Linda had the opportunity to serve as Interim Executive Director, where her responsibilities included managing the strategic planning of the organization, as well as working with the Board of Directors to develop organizational goals and allocate resources. As Director of Operations, Linda was in charge of program development and implementation, supervision of assigned staff members, facilities and budget development.

As a result of her work with the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen, Linda has strong relationships with area nonprofits, elected officials and community leaders. In addition, Linda has experience working with media and is fluent in both spoken and written Spanish communications. Today, Linda is a proud board member of Easter Seals Rio Grande Valley and VAMOS. Most recently, Linda was honored as one of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Woman of Distinction – Professional and also one of the final UTPA Pillar of Success recipients. UTPA’s most distinguished alumni, the Pillars of Success celebrates a select group of Broncs for their inspirational stories and outstanding achievements.

Christina Solis Wilson

CEO of CM Institute of Leadership and Co-Founder of Crossroads Academy, Inc.

Christina Solis Wilson

Cristina Solis-Wilson is a wife, mother, CEO of CM Institute of Leadership and Co-Founder of Crossroads Academy, Inc. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from The University of Texas-Pan American. In addition, she holds an Associate of Arts degree in Social & Behavioral Sciences and Associates of Science in Criminal Justice both from South Texas College.

In 1991, she started her career in law enforcement. Currently as a Federal Investigator with the Federal Public Defenders Office, she has over 19 years of law enforcement experience to include over 18 years in the U.S. Army Reserve with 3 deployments and several awards.

Crossroads Academy, Inc. is a non-profit organization that helps the youth of today become the leaders of tomorrow. Crossroads Academy provides leadership workshops for economically disadvantages youth. This empowers youth to become the change agent of their lives, family and their community. While teaching leadership skills to youth, she found that not only youth lack leaders, but also many adults in the workforce, from small companies to large corporations. This gave her an understanding of the high demand and need of leadership development workplace.

In addition, Cristina is the CEO of CM Institute of Leadership. In this capacity, she serves the workforce with coaching, training, or speaking on leadership. Since October 2014, she has been part of the John Maxwell Team. As an International Trainer and Coach Cristina was among the exclusive group of coaches selected to train in the country of Paraguay. Over 250 coaches trained 20,000 Paraguayan leaders to transform the country in a national not-for-profit leadership education project known as Transformación Paraguay.

Cristina serves as the Secretary for HWNT-RGV, Event Chair for NHPO-RGV, and Vice Chair on Women’s Issues for the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Currently, she is a member of the John Maxwell Team (JMT); Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas (HWNT-RGV); RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; National Hispanic Professional Organization (NHPO-RGV); Organization of Women Executive (OWE); Boy Scouts of America; Leadership McAllen; and National Defender Investigator Association (NDIA).

In June 2017, Cristina was honored as the 2017 “Women of Distinction” for the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In addition, she is the recipient of Meritorious Service Medal; Army Commendation Medal (2nd Award); Army Achievement Medal (2nd Award); National Defense Service Medal; Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal (5th Award); Army Good Conduct Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” Device; Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (4th Award); Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Ribbon(2nd Award); and the Combat Action Badge for her outstanding service and leadership recognition in the United States Army.

She is married to Michael Wilson of 24 years and has two children, Michelle (22) and Christian (18). Her passion is to add value to others and help individuals reach their goals. She also enjoys giving back to the community and making a difference in people’s life and in the community.

Sarah Sagredo

President of the family owned, Atlas Electrical, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration & Plumbing Services Inc.

Kimberly Gonzales TI

Sarah Sagredo-Hammond is a local entrepreneur and a Rio Grande Valley community leader. Sarah is the President of the family owned, Atlas Electrical, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration & Plumbing Services Inc. (Atlas) that has been in operation since April 1983. Sarah oversees Atlas’ operations in the RGV, Laredo, Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Austin area.

Sarah started her professional career working in the legal field for 19 years. Her time in the legal field afforded her extensive knowledge in legal management, bankruptcy and adversarial cases. In 1997 Sarah joined the family business at Atlas, a 3,000sq ft. facility that employs 33 employees. Sarah also oversees the management of Hummingbird Trailer Park, a 20 year old Winter Texan park at maximum capacity every year. Sarah also owns Alton X-Plex, an office rental facility and is an investor for other local businesses.

Sarah’s commitment to her community has catapulted her to many leadership roles with local organizations. She currently serves as the CEO for the Better Business Bureau, Vice Chair for FemCity RGV, Chair for Women Initiatives TAMACC and Community Liaison for Organization of Women Executives and Board of Governors for Cimarron Country Club. Previous roles have included Board president for the Women’s Business Center, Chair for Organization of Women Executives and Executive Director for the RGV ACCA chapter and more.

Sarah is known for her talent and willingness to help other emerging entrepreneurs. Her passion lies in Hispanic women owned business and has helped many local women start their entrepreneurial success.

Her award repertoire is extensive but includes a 2015 Global Champion for Women Economic Development Award she accepted in Dubai, an induction to the SAMEAWS 2015 Global Women Leaders Hall of Fame, the 2016 South Texas College HONOREE Women in Technology, and the 2014 Small Business Person of the Year for the Rio Grande Valley. Sarah has also been featured in the Special Edition for Amazon’s Watch Magazine Top 20 Global Women to Watch in 2016.

Sarah resides in McAllen, Texas. She is a mother to three strong daughters Jesslyn Juliet, Scarlett Vitalia and Zephorah Bordeaux. She enjoys spending time with her daughters and husband Marty Hammond, a high school football coach.

Armando Arismendi

Vice President, Intellectual Property Partner Investments & Delivery
Yorktown Heights, NY
IBM Intellectual Property Group

Armando Arismendi

Armando Arismendi is responsible for creating and driving the development, execution and delivery of a new business model involving partnerships with external innovation companies involved with IoT, commerce, analytics and security. This partnership co-investment model enables IBM to deliver a broader set of product offerings with nimble flexibility in the management of costs and resources.

Armando Arismendi was previously in IBM Watson responsible for the implementation of Watson’s worldwide cloud infrastructure and providing world class solution delivery and support. Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities use language processing and machine learning to enable people to interact more naturally to extend and magnify human expertise and cognition. Armando was also in IBM Research responsible for the development and delivery of custom supercomputers for the U.S. Government’s efforts in national security. He was the Research Division CIO responsible for the worldwide Research infrastructure as well as infrastructure research and innovation in the areas of Cloud Computing and worldwide collaboration.

Armando's 37 year IBM career has been spent primarily in Austin, Texas, and New York. Armando has received overseas assignments in Madrid, Spain, and Sydney, Australia, and he has traveled worldwide for IBM. Armando’s 2000 Olympics efforts in Madrid and Sydney earned him an IBM Global Services Excellence Award.

In 2014, Armando received the Chairman’s Award at the Hispanic Engineers National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) in New Orleans, LA, for contributions to his profession and give back to the Hispanic community. In 2005, Armando received The President’s Volunteer Service Award from President George W. Bush.

Armando was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in August, 1957. He joined IBM in 1980 after receiving his Bachelors and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1979 and 1980.

Vicente Castañeda

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
Production Control Ordering Overseas Analyst

vicente-castaneda

Vicente Castañeda was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. He graduated from Sharyland High School in 2007. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), legacy institution of UTRGV, Castañeda interned at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI for two summers. At the same time he was studying, Castañeda was an active member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), serving as a member from 2008-2011. He was also a member the Golden Key Honor Society and the Engineering Honor Society.

Castañeda completed and earned his Bachelors of Science in Manufacturing Engineering from UTPA in 2011 and began his Masters of Science in Engineering Management that same year. During this time, he worked with the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC). On his last semester of school, he was hired on as a co-op for Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas in the Production Planning department. He completed his Masters in Engineering Management in 2013, and began his Master’s in Business Administration the following year. Castañeda successfully received his MBA in 2016 and began working in Reynosa, Mexico with an automation and robotics company as an engineering manager.

After obtaining his MBA and having worked as an engineering manager for 3 years in Mexico, Castañeda was hired in 2016 by Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, in San Antonio. He is currently a North American Ordering Overseas Analyst in the Production Control department.

Ena Erika Capucion

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc
Human Resources Information Systems Co-op

Ena Erika Capucion

Ena Erika Capucion was born and raised in Mission, Texas. She attended Mims Elementary and Mission Jr. High. Before graduating 8th in her class from South Texas High School for Health Professions in 2014, Capucion worked as a Pharmacy Technician at McAllen Heart Hospital. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with a Concentration in Software Engineering and a minor in English at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Her expected graduation date is May 2018.

As a student at the UTRGV legacy school, the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), Capucion was the Arts & Life editor for the University paper, The Pan American in 2015. She later became the News Editor for the new publication, The Rider, when UTPA transitioned to UTRGV. In 2016, Capucion moved on to work as a business reporter for one of the Rio Grande Valley’s local newspapers, Rio Grande Guardian.

Capucion is currently in her third co-op term with Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (TMMTX) in the Human Resources Department rotating between Team Member Relations and Human Resource Development. She is supporting H.R. using her Computer Science background to automate the department’s manual processes by creating desktop and/or web applications. With her additional background in writing, Capucion has also contributed to companywide communications and company magazine columns.

Jacqueline Hay

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
Body Weld Engineer

jacqueline Hay

Jacqueline Denise Hay was born in Monterrey, N.L., Mexico and was raised in Mission, Texas. Inspired by her father, uncle and brother, she began racing Junior Dragsters in Monterrey at the age of seven. After graduating from Sharyland High School, she became a professional Drag Racer at the age of 18. While pursuing her passion in engineering, she attended The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

At the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, she devoted her time to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). She was one of three students responsible for the design and implementation of the rear braking system on the Baja vehicle. The SAE organization provided her the opportunity to develop hands-on skills to apply engineering methods when optimizing designs. In 2014, she received the Texas Business Foundations Certificate from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas in Austin, which helped her get a more well-rounded curriculum during her undergraduate years. A year later, in 2015, she interned at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Indiana, followed by another internship in 2016 at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Texas.

After earning her Bachelors of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, Hay started working as an Engineer in the Body Weld department at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas. Her job responsibilities require creative approaches to solve problems in the final stages of the body weld process. She takes great pride in helping Team Members on the line by facilitating their jobs when making improvements. Hay wishes to inspire the next generation of STEM students to challenge themselves to pursue higher education.

Laura Nelly Perez

Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
Project Planning Management Analyst

Laura Perez

Laura Nelly Perez was born and raised in Mission, Texas. She attended Waitz Elementary and Kenneth White Jr. High. During her high school years, Perez would travel to Hart, Michigan as a migrant worker and pick asparagus and zucchini. She was the first from her family to graduate from Mission High School in 2008. She attended South Texas College from 2008-2009. In 2009, she transferred to The University of Texas Pan American.

At the University of Texas Pan American, she was an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), serving as its president from 2011-2012. During her time, as SHRM’s leader, the organization received numerous recognitions, including the Dean’s Award for 2011-2012 and first place in the spring 2012 Bronc Olympics. Perez later interned with Wal-Mart and Toyota Motor Manufacturing.

In 2013, she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in Management and started working for Toyota Motor Manufacturing in San Antonio in the Human Resource department as a Team Member Relations Specialist. She currently works for Toyota Motor North America as a Project Planning Management Analyst.

Chris Escovedo

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
Quality Assurance Senior

Chris Escovedo

Chris Escovedo was born and raised in Edinburg, Texas. In 2008, he graduated from The University of Texas at Pan American (UTPA), legacy institution of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was the very first UTPA co-op hired by Toyota Texas.

Upon graduation, Chris was offered the position of Mechanical Safety Specialist with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas. During his tenure in the Safety Department, Chris was responsible for the safety of over 200 employees. He also designed equipment which improved the pre-hire medical evaluation process for Toyota.

In 2010, he transferred to the Quality Assurance Department where he desired to learn more about vehicle quality. As of 2017, Chris has become the Senior Quality Assurance Analyst. He has worked in a variety of roles including Field Specialist, Lead Quality Auditor, and Process Development Specialist. He has worked with multiple suppliers across the United States and Mexico in the areas of Recurrence Prevention and Quality Investigations. Chris has also served as a mentor to four student co-ops; a role he enjoys very much. In 2018, he will be seeking to obtain his Project Management Professional Certification.

Chris credits his interest in the automotive field with his involvement in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the Mini-Baja Race Team at UTPA.

In his personal life, Chris comes from a family of seven and is a first-generation college student.

He enjoys spending time teaching outdoor camping classes to young boys on the South Side of San Antonio. Chris recently got married in March and currently resides in San Antonio with his wife Olivia.



Robotics Day


Tim Smith

KRGV Chief Meteorologist

Tim Smith

Chief Meteorologist Tim Smith has been part of the CHANNEL 5 NEWS team for more than 30 years. A native of Batesville, Indiana and graduate of Indiana University, Tim worked at several radio stations in Indiana before heading for Texas in 1981. His first job at CHANNEL 5 NEWS was as Weekend Weathercaster working under the tutelage of the late Lee Lindsey. Tim quickly fell in love with the Valley's weather. Not just forecasting it, but enjoying it, like everyone else. He was promoted to Chief Forecaster in 1983, a position he's held since. Along the way, Tim has continued his meteorology education taking classes from Penn State University, Weatherscan School of Broadcast Meteorology, and Mississippi State University.

In August 2004, Tim completed Mississippi State's Broadcast Meteorology Program. He got straight A's and was one of only three students to accomplish that feat. That diploma changed Tim's title from Chief Forecaster to Chief Meteorologist. Tim has led CHANNEL 5 NEWS's weather coverage through hurricanes, tornadoes, freezes and even that rare Christmas 2004 snowstorm. "It was just an incredible blessing to see so many people getting to see snow for the very first time in their lives...and to have it happen on Christmas...what a miracle," Tim said, following the big event.

Tim has always been very active in the community. He visits with thousands of school children each year making presentations about weather. For more than 10 years, his "Kids You Should Know" feature highlighted special young people of our community. Tim is a regular on the civic organization speaking circuit. Of course, his Tim's Coats project has helped bring in more than 100,000 coats for the less fortunate of the Valley over the last 35 years. Along with Letty Garza and the Channel 5 Toy Drive, Tim delivers Christmas gifts to every child in every hospital in the Valley during the Christmas season.

Tim has served as member and Chairman of the Board of the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen. As Vice President of the Urban Science Initiative, he coordinates hands-on science activities for children all across the Valley. Tim is the co-founder of the National Tropical Weather Conference held each year on South Padre Island. He has served on the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross, the Rio Grande Valley Emergency Management Coordinating Council, the Hidalgo County Fatherhood Initiative, the UTPA Nursing Advisory Council, and the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

An Emmy Award winner, Tim was recently inducted into National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – Lone Star Chapter Silver Circle. This is a very prestigious honor reserved for broadcasters who have dedicated at least 25 years to the industry and to their communities. Tim has also received the Silver Apple Award from the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, the Texas Media Award from the National Association of Social Workers, and the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Texas – Pan American. Tim is a proud Rotarian and a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow. He has received multiple first place awards from the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters for his weathercasts.

Tim is an avid San Antonio Spurs fan and loves to watch his Indiana Hoosiers basketball team. He enjoys cycling and golfing. Tim and his wife Nora have three children, Justin, Maya and Taylor and two beautiful grandchildren.

Victoria Marshall

KGBT-TV Meteorologist

Victoria Marshall

Victoria Marshall is in her fourth year as the meteorologist for CBS 4 News Sunrise, and very proud to call the Rio Grande Valley her home! Victoria is a border town girl, born and raised right up the road in Laredo. She is a graduate of John B. Alexander High School, deciding to pursue her childhood passion for Meteorology thereafter. That led her to the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, where she was among the first two students to graduate with the degree! Victoria would intern at KABB and WOAI-TV (later Sinclair Broadcasting sister stations) in San Antonio during her college years. But she eventually ended up at home working for KGNS-TV, then making the leap to the RGV. She has served in various roles, including Meteorologist, Anchor, Producer, and Multi-Media Journalist. Her favorite part of working in the Valley is the mix of climates she gets to forecast, and interacting with viewers not just on air, but in the community. She is a huge animal advocate, and in her spare time, enjoys spending time with her corgi Baxter and her husband Mario, who is a Brownsville native. They are expecting their first son this year. Shoot her an e-mail or find her on social media if you have any questions, comments, or just want to chat!



Community Day


Hiten Patel

CEO of Nerdvana Tech Center

Hiten Patel

Hiten Patel is the CEO and Co-Founder of Nerdvana. With a background in process engineering and business, Hiten has channeled his problem-solving skills into an innovative business to change the way emerging technology is harnessed to advance the Rio Grande Valley.

Hiten’s goal is to provide exciting, hands-on experiences in technology to foster student and public engagement in STEM fields.