Hispanic Heritage Celebration Kickoff Thursday

Part of the celebration, which includes entertainment and food, is recognizing six honorees who contribute to Latino culture.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 2, 2012) – The University of South Florida Hispanic Heritage Celebration kickoff, featuring entertainment, awards and food, gets underway at 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4 in the Marshall Student Center ballroom.


Each year, the USF Hispanic Heritage Committee, a subcommittee of the USF Status of Latinos Presidential Advisory Committee, organizes the event. This year the featured guest speak is attorney Daniel A. Alvarez, Sr., a business law professor at the University of Tampa.


Everyone is welcome to attend the event, which typically draws hundreds of students, faculty, staff and visitors.


“If you don’t run into someone you know, then it’s worth coming to in order to make some new friends, regardless of your background,” said Leonor O’Relly, who works in USF Continuing Education’s Testing Services and chairs the Status of Latinos Committee. “And best of all we honor people who are doing amazing things in our community. That part always inspires everyone. It’s not just a party or typical awards ceremony.”


The program awards put the spotlight on the accomplishments of students, faculty, staff and people in the community who contribute to Latino culture through academic research and/or community service. 


Nominated by people from across campus, the award nominees are reviewed by the USF Hispanic Heritage Celebration committee. Six were selected this year. The honorees are attorney Myriam Irizarry; two students, Ivonne Rodriguez and Henry Cabra; USF Professor Christian Wells; and two USF staff members, Paula Lezama and Eileen Rodriguez.  


“We use this time to acknowledge good work and good people,” O’Relly said.  “This is a wonderful thing for USF and for the community.”


Delicious food and dance performances round out the evening which is free and open to the public.  


There is also an exhibit for participating local vendors, USF departments and USF student organizations to showcase what they have to offer the entire community.


The keynoter is the founder and managing member of The Alvarez Legal Group and is a business law professor at the University of Tampa. Alvarez also is a member of the Hillsborough Bar Association Leadership Institute and in 2010, was appointed by the Hillsborough County Commission to a four-year term on the Hillsborough Children’s Services Advisory Board.


The kickoff celebration is sponsored by the USF Graduate School, State Farm Insurance, USF Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, INTO USF and USF World, the USF Office of Multicultural Affairs and the USF College of Engineering, with in-kind gifts from the USF Bookstore, USF Center for Equal Health, USF College of Education, USF College of Pharmacy and USF University College.


The Status of Latinos Presidential Advisory Committee is responsible for advising President Judy Genshaft on matters related to Latino faculty, staff and students of the university. This committee works in collaboration with the Latin Community Advisory Committee, a group of community leaders who began a privately-funded USF Latino Scholarship program in 1992. 


For more information about the event, contact Leonor O’Relly at (813) 974-5299. 


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.


2012 Status of Latinos (SOL) Committee 
Hispanic Heritage Celebration Honorees


SOL Community Award

Myriam Irizarry

Attorney Myriam Irizarry, who works as chief deputy/general counsel to the Pinellas County clerk of the court and also is an adjunct instructor at St. Petersburg College in Clearwater, was nominated by Luisa Ojeda, the fiscal and business specialist in the USF Department of Physics. As president-elect of the Clearwater Bar Association, she is the first Hispanic to hold this office. She is the immediate past president and founding member of the Intercultural Advocacy Institute which is the oversight board for the Hispanic Outreach Center in downtown Clearwater.


Irizarry was “instrumental in bringing awareness to the Hispanic population on the importance of being involved with the elections of city council members and was very vocal in bringing the concerns of the Hispanic community to the council members,” Ojeda wrote. 


SOL Staff Awards


Paula Lezama

A native of Cali, Colombia, Paula Lezama is the full-time academic advisor for the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC). She earned a master’s degree from the institute after coming to USF five years ago and has a keen interest in economic policies in the Americas.


USF Diversity Coordinator Joseph Anastasio, who nominated Lezama, highlighted her role as an “arduous spokesperson for student rights and success, and a believer that anything can be done if you try. She sees the value of an American education, but also the freedoms that come with this country as a means to truly shape public policy.” 


Eileen Rodriguez

USF’s Small Business Development Center’s first Spanish-speaking business analyst, Eileen Rodríguez was nominated by College of Business Communications and Marketing Director Lorie Briggs for her 15 years of work helping Tampa Bay’s Hispanic community start and run successful businesses.


Rodriguez’s no-cost business consulting to Hispanic entrepreneurs has helped them “gain greater access to the resources needed to increase the operational and financial performance of their businesses. Eileen developed and taught the center’s Spanish workshops, such as Steps to Starting a Small Business and Minority Business Enterprise Certification. During her progression from business analyst to associate and then regional director, she continued to add bi-lingual consultants to the team in order to increase the center’s capacity to serve the region’s Hispanic community. Under Eileen’s direction, the SBDC’s Hispanic client base has grown to nearly 16 percent,” Briggs said. 


SOL Faculty Award

Christian Wells

Christian Wells, associate professor of anthropology and faculty associate with the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean, was nominated by Anthropology Professor and USF Citizenship Initiative Director Linda Whiteford.


Whiteford wrote, “Since joining the USF faculty in 2003, he has developed and led a student‐centered research program on community history and heritage in Honduras with the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History. Through applied research and education outreach, the program empowers Honduran communities by working with stakeholder groups to help them become active participants in the protection and care of local heritage resources. Since its inception, this program has introduced nearly 100 U.S. students to Honduran communities through Wells’ USF Education Abroad summer research experience. A number of these students have since returned to Honduras to conduct their own research and educational activities. The program has also helped to bring three Honduran students to USF to enroll in M.A. and Ph.D. programs in anthropology. “


SOL Successful Latina/o Student Awards


Henry Cabra, Graduate Student

Doctoral candidate Henry Cabra’s nomination was submitted by Department of Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Sylvia W. Thomas, whose focus is diversity and external affairs for the college.  Cabra arrived at USF with “a plethora of experiences in industry and academia,” Thomas wrote. “His work is novel and transformative in its approach and function.”


Cabra earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering in his native Colombia and held faculty positions at the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, in Cali. He has also earned a master’s degree from USF to add to two previous master’s degrees in communication and technological innovation. Now working towards his doctorate, and working as a teaching assistant, Cabra is under Thomas’ direction with the Advanced Materials Bio and Integration Research (AMBIR) group in the area of harvesting bio-energy for implantable biomedical devices.


An exemplary “scholar, leader, professional and career-oriented individual, Henry’s research can transform how bio and micro-electromechanical, MEMs, devices are powered, reducing toxicity and danger for in-vivo/implantable applications,” Thomas said.


Ivonne Rodriguez, Undergraduate Student

Chemical engineering major Ivonne Rodriguez was nominated by the College of Engineering’s Associate Director of Student Services Bernard Batson. Looking at graduation in May, Rodriguez immigrated to the United States from Bogota, Colombia at age 10 and graduating third in her class from Tampa Bay Technical High School. 


“Based upon my interactions with Ivonne, I can personally attest she is a high achiever with unlimited potential to become a leader in the engineering profession. Her young life is a story of overcoming obstacles, excelling as a student-leader, and the pursuit of the American Dream,” Batson wrote. Of her family he added, “The move away from their homeland was difficult, both culturally and economically. Despite these challenges, Ivonne overcame language barriers to excel in school.”