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A challenge worth taking on: The Guerra Honors Program
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-7995
Posted: 04/30/2012
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When senior Nicolas Carmona from Laredo first came to The University of Texas-Pan American he wanted an educational experience beyond that of the average student.


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Pictured left to right at the ceremony to recognize the May 2012 graduates in The Rafael A. "Felo" & Carmen Guerra Honors Program are Carlos Guerra and his wife Ofira "Sister" Guerra; Guerra Honors Program graduates Miguel Setien, Yolanda Rodriguez, Mekka Edwards White, Stephanie Rico, Cynthia Tran, Nicolas Carmona, and George Galindo; Dr. Kenneth Buckman, associate provost, Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning; Dr. Hassan Ahmad, Guerra Honors Program director; and Lydia Aleman, associate vice president for University Advancement.
"I wanted to take the extra step to challenge myself throughout my four years here," said the premedical biology major who also minored in chemistry.

Carmona, who will graduate in May 2012, enrolled in The Rafael A. "Felo" & Carmen Guerra Honors Program at the University, where he said he learned to be more outspoken about his thoughts and ideas and developed a valuable student network.

"The network you develop with other honors program students - you can't compete with that," he said.

He also appreciated the opportunities the program offers to travel abroad. He is continuing his studies to master the Chinese language after traveling in an Honors Program trip to Beijing, China in May 2011. In addition, his research for his honors thesis allowed him to work closely as an undergraduate student with Honors Program faculty member Dr. Narayan Bhat, professor of chemistry, on the practical synthesis of molecular compounds that might help with antibiotic and anti-cancer agents.

"Dr. Bhat was mentored by Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry Harold Brown. Working with someone like him (Bhat) really gets you motivated," Carmona said.

Carmona was among seven Guerra Honors Program graduates honored at a ceremony April 25 in the University Ballroom, where they each received a medallion and a certificate of completion to recognize their success in the rigorous academic program.

Initiated in 1963, the honors program is directed to serve the needs of academically talented and ambitious students who value intellectual growth and want to make the most of their undergraduate education. The program provides students an enriched and challenging liberal arts curriculum, small honors classes, an exceptional opportunity to conduct research at the undergraduate level and a number of travel abroad experiences in which to participate.

The program was renamed in 2009 after the Guerras, a pioneering South Texas ranching family with a long history of supporting increased educational opportunities for students. Attending the ceremony were two sons of the late Rafael A. "Felo" & Carmen Guerra - A.R. "Felo" and Carlos Guerra - and their wives.


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Guerra Honors Program graduate Cynthia Tran (right) is pictured receiving the Dora E. Saavedra Director's Excellence Award for the top honors thesis from Dr. Dora E. Saavedra, associate professor of communication and a former UTPA honors program director. The distinction includes a plaque and a $500 monetary award.
Carlos, who gave the students some words of encouragement and advice he called "A Recipe for Success," said he wished his parents could have been there to be with the students.

"It is very inspiring and gives us a great sense of pride," said Carlos, who asked the graduating students to become role models themselves as volunteers and mentors in the community.

Dr. Kristin Croyle, vice provost of undergraduate education who welcomed the students and their family members, described the benefits she gained as an honors student herself while in college and also the accomplishments of honors students she has advised at UTPA in the last three years.

"Honors programs take strong students and convert them to student scholars who then are ready to make a difference in the community and the world around them," she said. "The Honors Program here and its students and faculty are a jewel at the University."

According to Guerra Honors Program Director Dr. Hassan Ahmad, who is also a professor of chemistry and an Honors Program faculty member, the Guerra Honors Program allows motivated students to reach exemplary levels of academic achievement, noting they generally graduate with a higher GPA and more quickly than non-honors program students. The average GPA of the seven graduates this year is 3.8. Half of the 2006-2012 honors program cohorts graduated in four years, 97 percent graduated in six years, Hassan said. There are currently 109 students in the program and since its inception, honors program students have produced about 300 undergraduate honors theses.

"In general, the Guerra Honors Program experience fosters the long-term intellectual, ethical and personal growth of each student," he said.

The graduating seniors recognized at the ceremony, with their thesis topics noted, were:

• Nicolas Carmona, "Highly Diastereoselective Synthesis of both (E)- and (Z)-trisubstituted Alkenes Containing a Phenyl and a Methoxphenyl Moiety."

• George Galindo, "Leadership in the High School Classroom: Teacher Leadership Styles and Student Performance."

• Stephanie Rico, "Investigation of the Effects of Ferulic Acid and Ferulic Acid Methyl Ester on GST and QR Activity in Hepa1c1c7 and MCF7 Cancer Cell Lines."

• Yolanda Rodriguez, "Suggestion and the Creation of False Memories."

• Miguel Setien, "Language Barrier and Medicare Comprehension."

• Cynthia Tran, "Attachment of Glutathione to Electrospun Polystyrene (styrene-co-maleic anhydride) Fiber Mesh for Affinity Membrane Application."

• Mekka Edwards White, "Student-Athlete Academic Outcomes: An Analysis of Academic Aspiration, Academic Expectation, and GPA."


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Former Guerra Honors Program director Dr. Kenneth Buckman (center), now associate provost for the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, was given a certificate of appreciation and a gift of a new iPad by the May 2012 honors program graduates during the April 25 ceremony.
Tran, a biology major and student in the UTPA/Baylor Premedical Honors College, received the Dora E. Saavedra Director's Excellence Award, named after the former program director, for her honors thesis. The theses of Rico and Rodriguez received honorable mention.

Tran, whose family emigrated from Vietnam to Corpus Christi in 1981, said the honors program has had a tremendous impact on her as a student and a person.

"A freshman enters college unsure and uncertain. It takes programs like the Guerra Honors Program to instill direction and drive into a student to push them to be way better than when they first entered college," she said.

She will travel in an honors program trip to Paris in May 2012 and last year traveled to China.

"It instills in you a desire to branch out in terms of your learning, to go beyond the classroom to obtain that lifelong learning experience. In China, I noticed the differences in the Chinese to us here. However, even in those differences everyone is the same in what they want most, they want their children to succeed, they want their children to prosper and it's in those similarities that you can find connections, relationships and growth," she said.

For more information on the Guerra Honors Program, visit the program's website.