Distinguished Alumni Awards

Distinguished Alumni Awards

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor our alumni can receive. The award recognizes high-achieving individuals who stand out in their fields and have made significant contributions to society. Recipients of this award have honored the legacy of excellence at UTRGV and its legacy institutions through their accomplishments, affiliations, careers, and philanthropic endeavors.

2019 UTRGV Distinguished Alumni Award Honorees

Mary Rose Cardenas
Mary Rose Cardenas
Cardenas Development Co., UTB/TSC Legacy

From a young age, Mary Rose Cardenas was a natural businesswoman. Her family originated in Mercedes, Texas, but moved to Brownsville, where her father managed a hardware store and sold insurance. Mary Rose became a businesswoman when an aunt introduced her to Avon at age 14. When she was 17, her father became ill and, as the eldest child, she became the breadwinner of the family. While working full-time, she graduated from Brownsville High School in 1948.

Mary Rose then began working at Cisneros Oil as a clerk and bookkeeper. From there, she went to work with the Credit Bureau of Brownsville for 16 years before moving on to Gulf Mart as credit manager and assistant manager. In 1955, she married her teenage sweetheart, Renato.

Together, the Cardenases started their own gas station business, where Renato also sold used cars. In 1971, they acquired the Buick and American Motors dealership in Brownsville, and thereafter added GMC and Isuzu to the dealership. They later opened a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Harlingen. It wasn't long before The Cardenas Auto Group sold and serviced cars throughout all of South Texas. Mary Rose and Renato expanded The Cardenas Auto Group to become The Cardenas Development Group Co. Inc., which is currently a Hispanic Fortune 500 Company. The Cardenas Development Group also consists of a real estate development company currently managed by their daughter, Reba McNair, and CUBCO, a utility construction company managed by their son, Ricky Cardenas. In 2017, Renato passed away – after over 60 years of marriage to Mary Rose. Together, they had five children. Mary Rose has served on many local boards and committees. She has made a major difference in education, serving on the board of Texas Southmost College for more than 25 years. She was instrumental to increasing the quality and quantity of its facilities and establishing the partnership with UT-Brownsville, known as the "UTB-TSC Agreement."

James 'Jim' Hickey
James 'Jim' Hickey
Major League Baseball Coach
Bachelor of Business Administration '87, UTPA legacy

Jim Hickey has spent more than 20 years as a pitching coach on the Major League and Minor League levels. As a pitcher in college, he set program marks for wins, innings and complete games in a season as a senior at Pan American University. That same season, he helped lead the team to a program-record of 64 wins, was named an All-American, and led The Broncs to the NCAA tournament. Hickey was a 13th round selection of the Chicago White Sox in the 1983 Draft and played eight seasons in the minor leagues with the White Sox, Dodgers and Astros. In 2010, Hickey was inducted into UTPA's Athletics Hall of Fame.

In 1996, Hickey joined the Houston Astros organization. He spent 16 seasons within the organization as a pitching coach, and the final two and half of those seasons he was on the major league staff. Then, he worked as pitching coach for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006-2017. He is one of only seven major league pitching coaches to go to a World Series with two different teams. In 2018, Hickey took over the role of pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs. Hickey has coached 12 different All-Star pitchers over his career including Chris Archer (2015, 17), David Price (2010-12, 14), Roy Oswalt (2005-06) and Roger Clemens (2005).

Hickey and his wife, Jennifer, reside in St. Cloud, Florida (near Orlando) with their two sons, Austin and Cameron, and daughter, Addison.

Sister Norma Pimentel
Sister Norma Pimentel
Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley
Bachelor of Fine Arts '77, UTPA legacy

Sister Norma Pimentel is a Sister of the Missionaries of Jesus. She has overseen the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, the charitable arm of the Diocese of Brownsville (Texas), since 2003. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley provides a range of services that include emergency food and shelter, housing assistance, counseling, and pregnancy care, to all four counties in the Rio Grande Valley. Sister Pimentel has been a longtime advocate for immigrants and refugees.

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Sister Pimentel was born in Brownsville, Texas, while her parents waited for a response from U.S. Immigration officials on their application for residency. She grew up spending time between Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico, to be with her family on both sides of the border.

Sister Pimentel earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pan American University in Edinburg, TX, a Master of Arts degree in Theology from St. Mary's University in San Antonio, TX, and a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University in Chicago, IL.

Sister Pimentel leads community efforts to provide aid and relief in times of disaster and crisis throughout the RGV. She played an important role in organizing resources to respond to the surge of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States in 2014, and setting up the Humanitarian Respite Center at the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas.

In 2015, Sister Pimentel was recognized and personally thanked by Pope Francis for her work with immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2018, Sister Pimentel was awarded the Laetare Medal by Notre Dame University for her work with refugees and migrants. The Laetare Medal is the highest and oldest award given to Catholics in the U.S. Recently, she was the recipient of the Community Service Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation during the 31st Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.