Profiles of Accomplished Graduates
Graduates conquer Nursing
with ‘It Takes Two’ attitude
College has been double the work, double the fun for two University
of Texas at Austin nursing sisters graduating this spring.
twins Amanda and Courtney Holmes will both graduate this spring
with degrees in nursing.
In their five years at the university, identical twins Amanda and
Courtney Holmes have lived together, sat side by side in the same
classes and filled out their clinical rotations at the same Austin
hospitals. They have confused instructors, hospital staff, nurses,
doctors and even patients.
Now they have decided to finally go in different directions after
graduation May 17.
“Going into the same field has been a blast,” said
Courtney, who has accepted a job at the Children’s Hospital
of Austin. “I’m so glad we went through this together.
We have always supported each other and been the best of friends.
Had we gone into different fields, we would hardly have seen each
Amanda has decided to take a position at North Austin Medical Center
on the medical-surgery floor. Both sisters had applied and were
accepted to the same hospitals.
“It was a difficult decision, but we decided it was for the
best to finally split up,” Courtney said.
Both sisters started at the university as students in biology with
Courtney originally wanting to become a veterinarian. Amanda first
changed her major to pre-nursing, then Courtney.
“I cannot tell you the number of times people would say hello
to me and I had no clue who they were,” Courtney said. “I
always felt like I was making Amanda look bad because I would look
at these people with a ‘do I know you’ expression on
my face. The same would happen to her.”
It wasn’t so funny, though, when a supervisor stopped her
one time at a hospital clinical rotation and asked why she wasn’t
upstairs observing a particular case. Amanda was actually the one
who was required to be at the demonstration.
Courtney just smiled and explained the situation.
“Patients and staff actually love seeing them together,”
said School of Nursing clinical instructor Shawn Boyd. “Usually
twins have very different personalities. I have sisters who are
twins, and they are very different.
“But the Holmes twins have very similar personalities, voices,
laughs and hairstyles. In fact, their bubbly personalities and kindnesses
really brighten everyone’s day.”
Originally from El Paso, the 23-year-old sisters are following
a long Holmes family tradition of going into nursing. Their 93-year-old
grandmother was a nurse and their cousin also is one.
“I truly feel as though nurses are Earth’s angels,”
said Courtney. “When people are in the hospital, they feel
helpless, vulnerable and scared. I feel as though we are a source
of strength for these patients.”
“Our grandmother has always told us about her rewarding experiences
as a nurse, and she was the one who inspired me to pursue nursing,”
said Amanda. Her work in “med-surg” will prepare her
to work in any area of hospital medicine, including the emergency
room, intensive care, and labor and delivery.
Although the role of a nurse has always been important, Amanda
believes there is now greater responsibility due to modern medicine
and changes in technology. In addition, the population is growing
older. This also puts a greater demand on nurses, she said.
“But still, I feel like I have an innate enthusiasm for caring
for people and I think that’s the major reason I love nursing,”
said Amanda. “I feel rewarded when I help people.”
The best part about being twins at college graduation time? They
each get seven tickets for the nursing convocation ceremony. That
means the whole family is coming from El Paso, even grandmother.
Alene Riley’s “driving goal”
her to help improve the lives of others
Alene Riley is the quintessential public affairs graduate at The
University of Texas at Austin.
affairs graduate Alene Riley has two legislative sessions
under her belt.
She has two legislative sessions under her belt, runs a mentoring
program for underserved teenage girls in Austin, helped organize
the Barbara Jordan National Forum on Public Policy and successfully
competed to enter federal employment through the Presidential Management
Internship Program in Washington, D.C., this summer.
In her spare time, Riley took a full course load each semester
in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs master’s
program and played an active role in student government, among other
Riley’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy is a product
of what she calls her “driving goal”: to improve the
lives of thousands of people over her lifetime.
“I’m an idealist and activist at heart,” she
said. “Doing volunteer work is something I’ve done since
I was in elementary school, and I plan to continue volunteering.
It allows me to have an impact on my community.”
Riley’s volunteer activities have ranged from voter education
and registration drives to political campaigns to mentoring and
tutoring programs for public school students. This past semester
she spent most Saturdays working with a group of teenage girls from
East Austin schools in a youth development program called the Spider
Web Workshop Series.
According to Riley, the Spider Web program aims to help the girls
build on their personal assets through workshops on such topics
as etiquette, self-defense, male-female relationships and women’s
health issues. The program also seeks to build self-confidence and
“We chose the name ‘Spider Web’ because it represents
something that looks very fragile but is actually very strong and
can be adapted by the spider for many, many purposes,” said
Riley. “We tell our girls that they are like the spider, and
they have the power to create their own unique webs that can be
used to network, to use as a dragline for resources and to bail
out of dangerous situations. Then together we learn how to use the
webs to help ourselves and others.”
Although community service is obviously an important part of Riley’s
life, she says it is only part of the picture.
“My career goal is to hold a public office, either state
or national,” said Riley. “Working with legislation
has a much greater impact and affects the lives of many more people
than hands-on volunteer work.”
Alene Riley with Spider Web participants (from left) Chrystal
Rivers, Nicole Johnson and Alicée Wilson at the Texas
Riley’s understanding of state politics is already far greater
than that of most aspiring public servants. Before enrolling in
the LBJ School in fall 2001, she was a legislative intern for State
Rep. Glenn Lewis during the 2001 legislative session. Her work was
so exemplary that Lewis hired her to serve as his legislative aide
during the 2003 session.
A native of Houston, Riley has spent most of her time this session
handling constituent-related duties and feeding information to her
boss about bills being considered by the House. She said her work
dovetailed well with her studies at the LBJ School, which focused
on policymaking, public financial management and social policy.
“I was much better prepared to make a difference this session
than I was in 2001,” she said. “Not only did I get to
apply my coursework to real life situations, but I found that the
LBJ School’s good reputation at the Capitol was an asset in
getting things done.”
Riley attributes at least part of her public service ethic to the
influence of her role model, former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan.
“Ms. Jordan was a hometown hero, someone whose presence was
everywhere when I was growing up,” she said. “In high
school I was in a Black History Month program and played her giving
the keynote speech at the Democratic Convention. Later I entered
an essay contest in her memory and was a regional finalist. The
medal with her image engraved on it is framed at home.”
Riley said when she learned she was the recipient of the Barbara
Jordan Scholarship at the LBJ School in 2001 she was both surprised
(she had not known it existed) and gratified that Jordan had made
another appearance in her life.
“It may be a coincidence,” she said, “but I look
at it as fate. I want to leave behind a legacy that is worthy of
College of Pharmacy graduate
in study and treatment of his own disease
Wearing an insulin pump, having to check blood sugar level five
or six times a day and maintaining a strict meal schedule could
have put a crimp in another student’s busy lifestyle.
But these requirements and restrictions so central to the lives
of people with diabetes haven’t hampered Rene Garza.
Diabetes has been such a big part of The University of Texas at
Austin student’s life he decided to build a career around
Garza plans to open a diabetes-specialty pharmacy after he
Garza, a College of Pharmacy senior, plans to open a diabetes-specialty
pharmacy after he graduates this spring. The Sweet Vita Pharmacy,
which will cover all services but focus on diabetes and how to prevent
complications, will be in South Austin.
“Diabetes becomes part of your life, like wearing a watch,”
said Garza, who has type one insulin-dependent diabetes. “It’s
uncomfortable but you get used to it.”
In addition to a stressful pharmacy curriculum, he has served on
several boards and councils and was president of the Mexican American
Association of Pharmacy Students.
As a third-year student, Garza was the recipient of the nationally
competitive Novo Nordisk Pharmacy Practice Diabetes Award from the
American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. He received $5,000
for his research project, “DiaBEATit—Pharmacist Impact
on Diabetes Outcomes” and an additional $500 for supplies
Garza worked with a local pharmacist and a local physician to provide
outpatient care to a group of patients with type two diabetes. His
store will be next door to the physician involved in the study.
The group was compared with a similar group of patients who did
not have a pharmacist involved in their care.
The study showed that a pharmacist-based diabetes program in a
retail pharmacy could significantly decrease patient sugar levels
and improve patient self-care ability, said Garza, who intends to
incorporate the DiaBEATit program into his new pharmacy.
Garza found out he had diabetes when he was 20 years old. Now,
at 35, he is a slightly older than the average student at the university.
Before deciding to become a pharmacist, he was a schoolteacher in
Edinburg and at one point was a pharmaceutical salesman.
But Garza says he has always wanted to learn more about his disease
and the related area of health care so decided to go back to school.
“This led me to want to help others with my affliction and
the ball just kept rolling,” he said. “I believe that
the pharmacist is the first line of healthcare. Many people come
to the pharmacy first, and the pharmacist can aid them in selecting
products or refer them to a doctor if necessary.”
Pharmacy faculty member Debra Lopez said Garza has a genuine compassion
to help other patients with diabetes.
“He also has been a great inspiration to many pharmacy students,”
she said, “because of his involvement with student organizations
and volunteer work in the community.”
Entrepreneurship runs in the family. Garza’s father graduated
from the university’s College of Pharmacy in 1966 and now
owns Tino’s Prescription Shop in Brownsville. Garza worked
as a technician in the store and saw firsthand how his father helped
“Working next to my father gave me the opportunity to learn
the intricacies of running a successful business while instilling
in me the importance of giving back to the community,” Garza
Lauren Martin lives life
in the fast lane
While the life of a college athlete seems glamorous from the outside,
the truth is the training and competition schedule can be grueling,
forcing students to sacrifice activities such as volunteer work
and internships. However, Lauren Martin, a three-time All-American
swimmer and senior graduating with bachelor’s degrees in advertising
and English managed to do it all.
All-American swimmer Lauren Martin will pursue a career in
“It wasn’t always easy,” Martin said. “Between
a full load of classes and spending five hours a day training, there
were weeks when it was a feat to complete homework, much less work
Martin, who swam the freestyle sprint, is a four-time letter winner
and competed in the Olympic trials in 2000. She also swam on the
university’s 4x100 relay team that ranked first in the world
and holds The University of Texas at Austin’s long course
In addition to her roles as student and athlete, Martin found time
to work as a swimming coach at the Austin Country Club and as a
camp counselor at Heart of the Hills, a girls’ camp where
she taught swimming, diving and canoeing.
Her love for children led her to Austin’s Zavala Elementary
School where she was a volunteer mentor through the Helping One
Student To Succeed (HOSTS) program that pairs students needing help
in reading with a community member who wants to make a difference
in a child's life.
Advertising Professor John Murphy, who taught her Introduction
to Advertising and Advertising Campaigns classes in the College
of Communication, said Martin not only shines as an athlete but
as a student as well, taking on two majors.
“Lauren is one of those rare people who does extremely well
in anything they undertake,” Murphy said. “Despite all
her time commitments, she maintained excellent grades. Not to mention
that she is just a great person to be around.”
In fact, Martin’s good grades and charming personality landed
her in the offices of Shweiki Media, publishers of Study Breaks
magazine, where she interned as an account executive. She says her
experience there solidified her desire for a career in advertising.
Advertising wasn’t always the career Martin wanted to pursue,
however. As a child, she wanted to be a cartoonist and took a heavy
load of art classes throughout high school. It was the creative
freedom of advertising that eventually drew her in.
“The internship with Shweiki Media helped me realize I want
a career in a high-energy, pioneering and challenging environment
where expectations are high,” Martin said. “I want to
work at an innovative advertising agency where I can really excel.”
But before she lands that fast-paced job, Lauren plans to take
a vacation from the past five years.
“After a hectic ‘career’ of swimming, studying,
teaching and coaching, I plan to take some time off after graduation
and travel throughout Europe,” she said. “The fast-paced
jobs will be here when I return.”
Alexandra Chirinos overcomes
language barrier in pursuit
of education and skills to help immigrant women and children
Alexandra Chirinos has an impressive resume already. She won a
Truman scholarship, started the only Texas chapter of the Hispanic
Scholarship Fund, mentored students in the UT Reads program and
became a U.S. citizen in November 2002. These achievements are even
more impressive because she didn’t speak English until she
was 11 years old.
Scholar Alexandra Chirinos started the only Texas chapter
of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
The junior majoring in Plan II, business honors and finance won’t
be sitting still anytime soon. In addition to the Truman Scholarship
she received as a junior, Chirinos also has won a George Mitchell
Fellowship—the first awarded to a Texas student—that
will allow her to study in Ireland for a year before she begins
Harvard Law School. She plans to pursue a law degree as well as
a master’s degree in public policy concentrating on immigration
rights, particularly those of immigrant women.
“I really want to focus on changing issues that are ignored
by most people,” she said. “Immigrants are often ignored
because most of them can’t vote. I want to be the one to speak
for those silent voices.
“I had planned to go back to Mexico and work on social issues
when I finished school,” Chirinos said. “But while going
through the long and difficult citizenship process here, I was exposed
to many serious issues that affect immigrants, especially women.
My experience and the stories of the women I met along the way taught
me that there is not enough being done to protect and help immigrant
women and children.
“Once I finally became a citizen last November,” she
said, “I realized that as an educated, naturalized female
immigrant, I am in a unique position to work to change that, since
immigrant women like me seldom have a chance to go into public policy.
This is not just because of our situations, but also because of
culturally imposed low expectations for women.”
But low expectations were something Chirinos never had for herself.
She and her family moved to the United States when she was 11 years
old and she was placed in a sixth grade English as a Second Language
She soon realized that being in a class where everything, including
English, was being taught in Spanish would not help her reach her
goal of learning the new language and being in a regular class.
She learned English in short order by watching videos and exposing
herself to English at every opportunity. By the time she turned
12, Chirinos was in an English-speaking classroom.
“I wanted to show people they were wrong about their first
impression of me,” she said. “I wanted to show them
that their expectations of me were too low.
“The proudest day of my life was when they took me out of
the ESL class and showed me my new English class,” she said.
“I knew then that I would not be left behind.”
Chirinos still uses that experience when she acts as a mentor to
young Hispanic students. Through the UT Reads program, she often
tells her story to youngsters and encourages them to follow their
dreams of attending college.
She credits her mother with instilling her drive.
“My mother was a progressive thinker,” she said. “We
had to move here because of her push on social issues in Mexico.
She taught me that if you want something to change you can’t
wait around hoping it does, you have to make it change.”
Chirinos is very proud of the work of the Hispanic Scholarship
Fund chapter. In its first year, the Texas chapter at the university
has become the largest chapter in the country.
“Even though we are the only public school with a chapter,
we’ve become a role model for the Ivy League schools,”
She has combined majors in Plan II, business honors and finance
in order to help move her public policy agenda forward in the future.
“Every idealist needs to deal with people in power, the people
with the money,” she said. “Plan II has taught me a
way of thinking to change the world, but I needed another piece
to create the plans that people will pay attention to. When I have
to go to Congress or donors for funds, I need to be able to think
like they do and present solid information to convince them of the
viability of projects. Business taught me how to do that.”