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Celebrating the Class of 2020

We raise our horns to all spring 2020 graduates who have worked hard and persevered during this challenging, unprecedented time. We’re highlighting several outstanding Longhorns who have made the most of their undergraduate experiences and are on their way to fulfilling the university’s mission to change the world.

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Tailar Brown
Major: Chemistry/African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) Minor/Forensic Science Certificate

Programs and activities: McNair Scholars; Fearless Leadership Institute; Mentor, Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) Scholars; Haven Student Fellowship; Historian (freshman year) and President (sophomore year), Jester West Residence Hall Council; Senator, University Residence Hall Association; UNCF STEM Scholar; Undergraduate Research Assistant, Energy Systems Transformation Group, LBJ School of Public Affairs

“Honestly joining the McNair program here at UT was a huge blessing. I am so happy that I actually listened to my best friend’s advice and applied when I did. I have been involved since the beginning of my Junior year and have grown so much from this experience. I found that there were so many things involved in applying to graduate school, but with that there are just as many resources. I was provided with the support of great faculty members such as Dr. J. Brown, Dr. Dieter, and Dr. Madkins (and others), and had the opportunity to attend academic conferences and make friends with other students from McNair programs throughout the nation. The program provided me with tools to be successful, not only in applying to grad school but serving as a Ph.D. candidate at any institution where I will continue my education.” Read the full story.

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Fernando Casal
Major: Geography

Programs and activities: McNair Scholars; President, Geography Society; Environmental Justice Collective; Native American and Indigenous Collective, Multicultural Engagement Center

“Navigating the graduate school application process is a nightmare if you don’t know what it entails. It is especially difficult as a first-generation student, since succeeding in academia often relies on connections and knowing who’s who. On top of that, applying to graduate school is just plain expensive. Being part of the McNair program has been awesome – it’s enabled me to attend multiple academic conferences, join academic associations and it has broken down so many barriers in the graduate school application process. Thank you, Dr. Dieter, for always being so accommodating and willing to offer your advice.” Read the full story.


image of Kellen FoytKellen Foyt
Major: Special Education

Programs and activities: Global Leadership and Social Impact Programs in Costa Rica and Beijing; Student Fellow, 100 Passports Program

“When I landed in China, I remember thinking to myself, ‘My future’s going to change because I’m here right now. I got to be the first person in my family to leave the country, which is really huge.” Read the full story. 

image of ashleyAshley Ikwuagwu
Major: Pre-Med/Human Development and Family Sciences

Programs and activities: Afrikan America Affairs, Black Health Professions Organization, Global Medical Training, Brian L. Fontenot Foundation, Council for Diversity Engagement, Texas Orange Jackets

“Ever since New Black Student Weekend, upperclassmen have been preaching about studying abroad, especially the abroad programs within the DDCE. Combined with the rich history and culture of South Africa, I knew I had to go on the Cape Town Trip.” Read the full story.

image of studentZulema Juarez
Major: Communication Sciences and Disorders

Programs and activities: Membership Director, National Student Speech Language Hearing Association; Project MALES Student Worker, University Leadership Network; Student Clinician, Lang Stuttering Institute

“I used my experiences and identity as a first-gen student to tell my story. Who was I and what brought me to college? I am a first-gen student who is passionate about maintaining and improving people’s communication skills and their overall quality of life. I was honest with my professors and peers, and I asked for help when it was needed. I wasn’t going to let anyone make me feel ashamed for not knowing what “GRE” meant. I used my humor and story to help people understand where I come from and why I wanted to achieve my dreams. Most importantly, I asked for help.” Read the full story.

image of christianChristian Kenoly
Major: Public Relations/Texas Media and Analytics Sequence Completion

Programs and activities: Student Agency Member, Queer People of Color and Allies; Public Relations Intern, Edelman; Public Relations Intern, Praytell; Campus Ambassador Leader, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Social Media Strategist, Simona and Lynn Student Government Campaign; Social Media Staff Member, Orange Magazine and Spark Magazine.

“Whenever I walk into the Multicultural Engagement Center, I am greeted with such warmth. Getting to know and love so many people from that space has truly been a gift. I cannot possibly imagine what my college experience would be like without it. When I was frustrated with right-wing extremists populating the campus, I went to the MEC. When I would get misgendered in the classroom and needed someone to listen to me, I went to the MEC. When I just wanted to gossip about pop culture, I went to the MEC. The MEC gave me a space I’d thought I’d never had.” Read the full story. 

Emeline Lakrout
Major: Business Marketing

Programs and activities: President, disABILITY Advocacy Student Coalition (DASC)

“My advice for Longhorns with disabilities is to find a group. It doesn’t have to be DASC, but find a local or national group to join because it will boost your confidence and teach you how to leverage your disability. Also, be a doer—and do something that is meaningful. Try to collect mentors because you don’t know what you don’t know. As long as you stay humble and keep learning, you can’t go wrong.” Read the full story.

Brandon Okeke headshotBrandon Okeke
Major: Biochemistry

Programs and activities: Afrikan American Affairs, Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males (formerly AAMRI), Texas Blazers, Black Health Professions Organization, Summer Health Professions Education Program in New Orleans, La.

“It’s easy to get lost on a campus with 50,000 students, so we’re reaching out to students early on to let them know that the MEC is here for them. It has really helped me feel more comfortable with my surroundings and helped me realize that I belong here.” Read the full story. 

image of studentHypatia Sorunk
Major: Plan II Honors, African and African Diaspora Studies

Programs and activities: Camp Texas, Black Student Alliance, Big XII Council, Onyx Honor Society, Epsilon Beta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

“With COVID-19, the face of everything is going to change. As incoming freshman, current students and graduating seniors are caught in the whirlwind of the pandemic, I hope that everyone takes time to breathe and access the changes that are to come. At some point, we must ask the question that every Longhorn has asked or been asked at some point: what can I do to help change the world? It’s a heavy but essential question. If UT has taught me anything, it is that the UT community only works if we care about every Longhorn,in Austin, in Texas and across the globe.” Read the full story. 

image of studentNieves Vázquez
Major: Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and Psychology, BDP Certificate in Conflict Resolution & Peace Studies

Programs and activities: Student Worker, Gender & Sexuality Center; Student Member, Native American & Indigenous Collective, Multicultural Engagement Center; Latino Studies Program; Bridging Disciplines Program; Mentor, First-Year Interest Group; Service Director and Inclusion Director, Texas Orange Jackets; Intern, Barbara Harlow Undergraduate; Rapoport Center for Human Rights & Justice, Texas Law; DJ, KVRX 91.7 UT Austin Student Radio

“My biggest advice for incoming first-gen Longhorns is to listen to your feelings. If you don’t like a certain major, or a certain class, or a certain org—don’t do it just because you think you have to do it. Don’t do anything that doesn’t make you happy, even if it goes against what you think your parents want or what other college students do. University is a time to learn about your passions and who you are. Even if you can’t let go of a major because of scholarships or pressure, add a minor or certificate in a different study that interests you, like an ethnic studies minor or art certificate. Also, there’re so many orgs, so don’t be afraid to dip your toes in more than one. The right fit can surprise you.” Read the full story.