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Texas at Large: Class of 2003 graduates with a high degree of commitment to helping people

Profiles of Accomplished Graduates

Graduates conquer Nursing curriculum
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.

Amanda and Courtney Holmes working at the hospital
Identical 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 other.”

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.

The university has 45 maces that are carried by faculty marshals in the Grand Procession.

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” motivates
her to help improve the lives of others

Alene Riley is the quintessential public affairs graduate at The University of Texas at Austin.

Alene Riley at the Texas State Capitol
Public 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 activities.

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 resourcefulness.

Beginning in 1996, the graduation year (this year "03") is illuminated in the Tower windows.

“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 at the Texas State Capitol with participants from the Spider Web program
Alene Riley with Spider Web participants (from left) Chrystal Rivers, Nicole Johnson and Alicée Wilson at the Texas State Capitol.

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 her association.”

College of Pharmacy graduate finds niche
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 it.

Rene Garza
Rene Garza plans to open a diabetes-specialty pharmacy after he graduates.

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 and equipment.

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.

Last year the procession included more than 3,500 people and lasted 22 minutes.

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 the community.

“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 said.

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.

Lauren Martin at the Jamail Swim Center
Three-time All-American swimmer Lauren Martin will pursue a career in advertising.

“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 and volunteer.”

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 pool record.

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.

16,000 chairs are set up for graduates and guests.

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.

Alexandra Chirinos
Truman 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 (ESL) classroom.

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.

This year almost 2,000 pyrotechnic devices will be used in the finale during the playing of 'The Eyes of Texas.'

“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 said.

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.”

Photos: Marsha Miller

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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