Astronaut Danny Olivas Returns, Student Helps to Make it Happen
February 15, 2011 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Transform your World - UTEP student conference
A former NASA astronaut will return to his alma mater, The University of Texas at El Paso, as the opening speaker for this year's "Transform Your World: Shape Your Life, Shape Your Future" student leadership conference.
"The theme (Transform Your World) was decided upon so that students could be supported in gathering all of the skills they need through this experience and using the skills in ways to improve their future," said Ryan C. Holmes, assistant dean of students.
The fifth annual student conference is set to kick off with an etiquette dinner at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 17, in the Tomás Rivera Conference Center, located in Union Building East.
El Pasoan and UTEP alum Danny Olivas is scheduled as the opening speaker at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 18, in the Union Cinema. His talk will be preceded by a meet and greet session at 9 a.m. in the Union's first floor Miner Lounge.
The celebrated astronaut has revisited his UTEP home several times, though on this journey back, his return to the Union came as a result of one student's efforts, according to Aimee Maczko, coordinator for the Student Development Center.
"Our mission is to encourage students to become active in campus and community involvement," she said. "The circumstances that transpired in (bringing Olivas back to UTEP) show what one motivated student can accomplish."
Junior mechanical engineering major Juan Carlos Lopez is a student ambassador for NASA. Lopez began as an intern for the national space agency through the Hispanic College Fund and One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI).
Through his ambassadorship, he is asked to host a series of meetings at various locations with large Hispanic populations in order to inform students of internship and professional development and education opportunities. Ambassadors are asked to invite astronauts to speak at these engagements.
Lopez, a member of the Leadership 10, a new student organization at UTEP, also was involved in organizing the Transform Your World conference.
"I knew this would be a great opportunity to partner OSSI and UTEP," Lopez said. "Both OSSI and the (Transform Your World) conference have the same message, and that is motivating students to get involved with their school and community."
Community involvement is vital to the development of all students, Holmes said.
"Volunteerism plays an integral part in moving our community forward. It teaches unity, teamwork, and in some cases, equity," Holmes said. "In the context of UTEP, it also allows our students, faculty and staff the capacity to be observed as role models and leaders in the community."
In addition to Olivas, other keynote speakers for the event include Jason Sabo, senior vice president of public policy for United Ways of Texas and chief operating officer for public affairs firm Frontera 501, and David Ciemny, who worked as a tour manager for pop star Lady Gaga.
All three speakers demonstrate tenacity and motivation, showing that through hard work, anyone can accomplish their goal, Maczko said.
For instance, Sabo worked as a lobbyist for 5 years before launching his public affairs firm, and Ciemny did everything from walking the Dixie Chicks' dog to teaching Robert Smith of The Cure how to eat tacos.
Lopez hopes that the stories of the three speakers will ignite the motivation in each student to get involved and shape their own lives, much as he has shaped his.
"I became interested in engineering when I graduated from high school," Lopez said. "When I first came to El Paso, I didn't know English. I kept propelling myself further, meeting new people and seeking out opportunities. That's the message we'd really like to share at the conference."
Originally posted on News @ UTEP.