Press Release Banner


UTEP Announces 2006 Distinguished Alumni:
NASA astronaut; energy industry geologist honored with award

Danny Olivas
Photo courtesy of NASA
Danny Olivas
The University of Texas at El Paso proudly announces two recipients of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award: NASA astronaut John “Danny” Olivas and energy industry businessman and geologist Reese Rowling.

Presented by the UTEP Alumni Association, the Distinguished Alumni Award is the university’s highest honor, bestowed upon outstanding alumni for their achievements and contributions to the community. The two will be honored during Homecoming Week activities Oct. 30 to Nov. 4.

“We are delighted to honor these two extraordinarily accomplished UTEP alumni,” said University President Diana Natalicio. “Their distinguished professional careers are a great testament to both their talent and hard work, and the quality of the education they received on this campus. We are immensely proud of their success and thank them for raising the UTEP banner so high.”


Olivas, a 1989 UTEP graduate, has been selected to make his first-ever flight into space in February 2007. He will join the crew of the shuttle mission STS-117 and work on the International Space Station.

Despite this high-profile assignment, Olivas remains modest about his career and said he’s humbled by the honor of being named a Distinguished Alumnus.

“When you see the people who get recognized you think of them at a certain level of professional excellence,” he said. “By contrast, I would characterize myself as a guy who likes to work and is happy to have technical challenges.”

Beyond the hard work and determination, Olivas credits UTEP with helping him chart his career.

“UTEP gives students a lot of opportunities and helps them realize they have control over their destiny,” he said.

A graduate of Burges High School in El Paso, Olivas earned his bachelor’s from UTEP and master’s from the University of Houston, both in mechanical engineering. He also earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering and materials science from Rice University.

Olivas worked for Dow Chemical Company and later served as a senior research engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was named to NASA’s astronaut program in 1998.

As an astronaut, Olivas has worked in the NASA Robotics Branch and helped develop tools and techniques used in on-orbit shuttle repair.

Olivas was assigned to shuttle mission STS-117 in May. During the mission scheduled for next year, the seven-man crew will deliver a segment of the international space station and other equipment.

For more information about Olivas and the upcoming mission, visit

– Cindy Ramirez

Horizons Online News. Citing Internet Resources. [Online], Oct. 5, 2006.