Thursday, May 23, 2019
  Awards and Recognitions, Alumni

By News and Internal Communications

 RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 23, 2019 – UTRGV recently hosted its annual Distinguished Alumni Awards, the highest honor an alumnus of UTRGV or one of its legacy institutions can receive.

This year’s awards – to Mary Rose Cardenas, Sister Norma Pimentel and James 'Jim' Hickey – recognized high-achieving individuals who have made significant contributions to society, honoring the legacy of excellence at UTRGV through civic accomplishments, careers and philanthropic endeavors.

During the event, held at the McAllen Country Club, Dr. Kelly Scrivner, UTRGV vice president for Institutional Advancement, welcomed reception guests and the honorees.

“Tonight we honor their values, their courage to rise to greatness, and their many accomplishments,” she said. “Each honoree reminds us that graduates from UTRGV and our legacy institutions are truly transforming the world.”

The 2019 Distinguished Alumni were honored for their pursuit of excellence and demonstration of community service.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said this year’s honorees are “true champions” of the university.

“As our 2019 Distinguished Alumni, they represent the very best of this university and what’s possible as a UTRGV or legacy institution graduate,” he said. “As we honor them, we show our students what they can do, what’s possible when they graduate.”


Cardenas, the first honoree of the evening, helped transform the auto industry in South Texas when she and her late husband, Renato, formed The Cardenas Auto Group. The couple also formed the Cardenas Development Group Company Inc., a Hispanic Fortune 500 Company consisting of a real estate company and a utility construction company.

She served on the board of Texas Southmost College for more than 25 years and was instrumental in establishing the partnership between The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, which eventually led to the establishment of UTRGV.

“Mary Rose was crucial to the development of higher education in the Valley,” Bailey said. “This was one of the most creative and innovative partnerships in modern history.”

Cardenas was joined at the reception by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.


Hickey, a renowned pitching coach, led The University of Texas-Pan American, a UTRGV legacy institution, to a baseball program record of 64 wins and to the NCAA tournament during his senior year.

That same year, he was named a first-team All-American. He 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.

Hickey’s 20-year coaching career began in 1996 with the Houston Astros’ Double-A affiliate, the Jackson Generals. Accolades in both the Major and Minor leagues include being named Astros Player Development Man of the Year in 2002, and induction into the UTPA Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.

Hickey was unable to attend the Distinguished Alumni Awards reception due to travels outside of the country.

“While we wish Jim could be here with us this evening,” Bailey said, “we would be remiss if we didn’t show our appreciation for his continued support of our community and show our gratitude for continuously demonstrating the values that we admire in our alumni.”


Pimentel, a religious sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, has overseen the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, the charitable arm of the Diocese of Brownsville, since 2003.

She leads community efforts to provide aid during times of disaster and crisis throughout the Rio Grande Valley, led the local humanitarian response to the surge of Central Americans seeking asylum in 2014, and established the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen. She continues to lead relief efforts for those who cross the border today.

“Sister Norma Pimentel’s work has benefitted thousands of people. We are proud to call her our own,” Bailey said.

In 2015, Pope Francis recognized and personally thanked Pimentel for her work with immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, and in 2018 she received the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University, which is the highest and oldest award given to Catholics in the United States.

Pimentel graduated from UTRGV legacy institution Pan American University in 1977, and joined the Missionaries of Jesus the next year. During her early years with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, she worked at Casa Oscar Romero, a shelter that provided food, clothing and care for refugees from Central America.

“Truly, I believe there are defining moments in our life, that God will call us to determine who we are and what we stand for,” she said.


Gen. William F. Garrison (UTPA, BBA ’66); Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (UTPA, BA ’70); Welcome Wilson Sr. (UTB/TSC, AA ’46); Sandesh V. Kadur (UTB/TSC, BS ’01); Alice L. Rodriguez (UTB/TSC, BBA ’86); Norma Teran (UTPA, ADN ’87, BS ’95, MBA ’02); Michael J. Williamson (UTPA, BBA ’97); Michael Ray Mancias (UTPA, BS ’00); Heriberto Reynoso (UTB/TSC, BS ’11); Alicia Torres (UTPA, BBA ’83); and Lauryn Gayle White (UTPA BBA ’69).


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.