Worlds Ahead Graduates Summer 2016

Summer 2016

Ceremony 1

Beyssa BuilBeyssa Buil
Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs
Honors College

Beyssa Buil always suspected that she was different from other children.

In elementary school, she was routinely pulled from class for occupational therapy, where she learned to use scissors and tie her shoelaces. It wasn’t until a professor at Miami Dade College noticed Beyssa’s academic struggles and recommended her for testing that she learned that she had a cognitive disability.

When her son London was diagnosed with autism, Beyssa saw history repeating itself. The cruelty and intolerance directed toward him nearly broke her. Looking back, she views that time as one of growth – when she found her inner strength and resiliency and understood her calling. Today, she is a special needs advocate, providing support to families and working to change policy.

Beyssa’s academic journey has never been easy. Many times, she wasn’t sure she would ever complete her degree, but she credits the accommodations provided by FIU’s Disability Resource Center in helping her succeed. Persistent and dedicated, Beyssa has excelled academically. She graduates with a 3.9 GPA.

She is a member of the Honors College, Phi Beta Kappa honors society and Theta Alpha Kappa national honor society for religion and theology students. She served as vice president for education and advocacy for the UN Women at FIU, a United Nations entity that promotes gender equality. She was awarded the Excellence in Global Learning Medallion and the Excellence in Civic Engagement Medallion of Distinction.

Wanting to give back to others, Beyssa will attend seminary school to earn a Master of
Arts in Pastoral Care and Counseling and dreams of becoming a Buddhist Chaplin.

Judith MansillaJudith Mansilla
Ph.D. in History
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs

Judith Mansilla’s humble beginnings in Lima, Peru, gave no indication that she would become the first woman in her family to achieve a doctorate  – or go on to produce groundbreaking research on the devastating earthquake that shook her hometown in the late 1600s.

But for Judith, whose father died when she was two, no obstacle would prevent her from becoming a tenacious historical researcher who, in addition to finishing her doctorate in half the time of most Ph.D. students in history, also earned her U.S. citizenship while pursuing her studies.

As an undergraduate in Peru, she spent hours poring over difficult 16th and 17th century handwritten manuscripts. She went on to complete her master’s in history and entered FIU’s Ph.D. program in 2012.

Since then, Judith has published six articles and book chapters in a field where few doctoral candidates complete even one before graduating. She has presented her research at 16 international conferences, from Argentina to Germany, and amassed a number of awards and fellowships, including the prestigious History Project Research Award from Harvard University’s Joint Center for History and Economics.

After graduation, Judith will continue her research as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of History. She sees her greatest accomplishments as working hard, demonstrating her abilities and achieving success in her program.

Julien TuyaJulien Tuya
Bachelor of Arts in International Relations
Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs

Julien Tuya believes that as global citizens, all individuals have an obligation to help create a better and more peaceful world. Julien made the most of his time at FIU to do just that.

During his freshman and sophomore years, Julien worked full-time and carried a full course load. He also served as a member of the Army National Guard for two years and led a battalion of more than 180 cadets as FIU’s Army ROTC operations officer and later as the personnel officer.

Julien oversaw a significant spike in recruitment efforts that resulted in large numbers of new students joining ROTC. He also developed new leadership programs and situational exercises within ROTC to keep cadets challenged and engaged.

Julien juggled many activities, but still earned a 3.51 GPA. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, he earned a minor in military science and a certificate in national security studies. He views his greatest achievement as simply meeting the challenges he faced and emerging successful. His experience at FIU built his character and taught him about his priorities, he said.

Upon graduation, Julien will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army – the first in his family – and pursue a graduate certificate in national security studies at FIU. His greatest hope is that his education will help him continue to serve his country and the world.

Ceremony 2

Albert EliasAlbert Elias
Master of Architecture
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts

Albert Elias’ architectural designs are out of this world – literally. He is using code to bring the cities of the future, on earth and in space, to life.

Under visiting professor and NASA fellow Neil Leach, Albert worked in the Space Fictions design studio, which challenged students to create a habitat in space while taking factors like radiation and weightlessness into consideration.

As a child, Albert expressed his fascination with astronomy and nature through building and drawing. Today, that passion continues and inspires his research.

Realizing the disconnect between science and design, Albert explored new ways to tell the story of our world’s fragile environment, and he enrolled in several computer science courses. Then he taught himself to code – and soon was using climate change data in his programs to generate prospective future landscapes. In his final thesis project, this innovative approach received a departmental award.

As a research assistant on a National Science Foundation-funded project, Albert led in the development of an augmented reality app – the same technology in Pokémon Go – that allows users to get an interactive x-ray glimpse of buildings. He’s also made virtual realities for music videos for Universal Studios and collaborated on FIU’s I-CAVE “First Folio” project that featured a digital experience of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

Currently, Albert is working on a virtual environment to show how the Everglades is changing in order to encourage restoration and protection. After graduation, he plans to continue his research in computational design and possibly pursue a doctoral degree.

Tamika DuffusTamika Duffus
Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management
Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management

Tamika Duffus has faced many personal challenges, including losing her father when she was in middle school, but she has always focused her energy on her classes and related extracurricular activities.

From an early age, she knew she wanted to work in an environment where she could interact with others and have a powerful impact within her profession. So she enrolled at FIU and set her sights on a hospitality management degree, where she became passionate about the food and beverage industry.

By her senior year at FIU, Tamika had added a slew of honors and invaluable experiences to her resume, including acting as secretary of the Caribbean Student Association and the University Town Hall Council. She became a teaching assistant for one of her Hospitality Management professors, Margaret La Belle, and successfully completed the distinguished Disney College Program while attending FIU.

Following graduation, Tamika will travel to Atlanta, Georgia, where she’ll begin her journey to become an executive in one of the most diverse industries in the world. She was chosen for the highly selective Marriott Voyage Global Leadership Program as a Manager in Training. These are coveted positions with hundreds and sometimes thousands of student applicants from across the country competing for a handful of spots.

After completing the program, Tamika is guaranteed a management-level position within the Marriott organization.

IMG_9790Eduardo Santa-Maria
Master of Science in Mass Communication
College of Communication, Architecture and the Arts

Eduardo Santa-Maria, better known as Eddy Moon, represents the spirit of invention and interdisciplinary collaboration promoted within the College of Communication, Architecture and the Arts. He brings together his talents in the arenas of art, entrepreneurship and strategic communication to contribute to South Florida’s blossoming creative economy. He exemplifies the college’s mission of uniting disparate forces to prepare graduates for the challenges of the 21st century’s information, technology and innovation economies.

Born and raised in Miami, Eddy earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Miami International University of Art and Design and soon after co-founded Quantus! Features, through which he produced an independent film that is currently touring the world one film festival at a time. With the goal one day to encourage more such productions in South Florida, and eventually to open up more jobs to unemployed artists, he enrolled in CARTA’s Global Strategic Communication track.

Instead of leaving for Los Angeles or New York, Eddy has made a commitment to the place he loves. He has contributed time and talent to nonprofits such as the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, for which he produced marketing videos in support of their fundraising events. And for the past year he has dedicated himself to educating aspiring filmmakers at the New York Film Academy on South Beach, where he has guided youngsters in creating short films while also himself working on various projects for the school.

In the future, Eddy hopes to use the knowledge and skills acquired at FIU to shine a light on independent cinema across the world.

Ceremony 3

America GomezAmerica Gomez
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences

Compassion and perseverance are at the heart of Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Worlds Ahead graduate America Gomez. Raised in an altruistic family who fed the hungry with what little they had, she herself has overcome extraordinary obstacles to follow her passion for helping others as a health care provider.

America is a former physician from Venezuela who immigrated to Oklahoma 16 years ago. As she acclimated to a new home and language, she struggled through a difficult divorce and custody battle for her autistic son. Yet she continued to give by caring for patients in county jails, psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes as a licensed practical nurse. In 2014, she uprooted her family to Miami to join FIU’s pioneering Foreign-Educated Physician to BSN/MSN program to become a licensed nursing professional.

The program gave America her life back, though it wasn’t an easy road. She was a single mom, the sole breadwinner for her parents and her special-needs child, worked two jobs up to 80 hours weekly, and as a full-time student maintained a 3.76 GPA.

She hopes to transform the stigma associated with mental health by becoming a registered nurse practitioner in psychiatrics and eventually returning to the program as a professor. America’s advice to others, including to her 5-year-old son, is to never put limits on your life, and it’s this spirit that truly embodies what being Worlds Ahead is all about.

Charmaine FortuneCharmaine Mae Fortune
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences

If there is one word that defines Charmaine Fortune’s journey, it’s “service.” Charmaine spent her teenage years in the Philippines dealing with something no teen should have to – caring for a terminally ill grandparent. The nurse who taught Charmaine how to do that inspired her to pursue the nursing profession, and enlisting in the U.S. Air Force was the first step.

Charmaine juggled her full-time job as a military medic in Georgia with her full-time pre-nursing studies at Florida State College at Jacksonville – driving across state lines to do so. Despite the challenges, she graduated on the dean’s list with her Associate of Arts degree, earned various military awards and volunteered for organizations such as the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity.

In 2015 Charmaine was one of the few selected for the Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program and received a full scholarship to FIU’s Medic to Nurse program, which helps veterans and active duty personnel with military medical training earn a Bachelor of Nursing degree. Charmaine is graduating as a Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing member alongside her husband, Jean, who is also in the program.

Upon graduation, she will head to Texas to serve as a registered nurse and second lieutenant at San Antonio Military Medical Center. Eventually she hopes to earn her master’s degree specializing in women’s health.

Somaye Fakharian QomSomaye Fakharian Qom
Ph.D. in Civil Engineering
College of Engineering and Computing

Growing up in Tehran, Somaye Fakharian was strongly encouraged by her parents to pursue an education. They worked tirelessly so that she and her sister could become engineers, and their mom was their biggest champion.

Somaye earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the Iran University of Science and Technology. When professors informed her that transportation engineering was a growing field, particularly in the United States, Somaye saw an opportunity. After working for three years at the Department of Transportation in Iran, she made the difficult decision to leave her family in pursuit of a Ph.D. at FIU.

Somaye’s research helps transportation officials make decisions about the future of highways and set toll policies. She credits Professor Mohammed Hadi as an important mentor at FIU. With his support and through her own hard work, Somaye has published five articles in prestigious journals and made presentations at 15 national and international conferences. She won the best paper award at the International Conference on Managed Lanes and third place in the Intelligent Transportation System Americas student essay competition, and she was awarded the Dwight David Eisenhower Fellowship by the United States Department of Transportation.

As our nation recognizes the profound need for more women to diversify and strengthen the field of engineering, Somaye stands as an example and an inspiration. She has reached out to her peers by co-founding and serving as president of the FIU student chapter of the national Women’s Transportation Seminar. And she has made us proud by receiving five job offers for senior-level positions, including one she is seriously considering with a transportation company in Texas.

Ceremony 4

Alan BrailsfordAlan Brailsford
Master of Social Work
Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work

Worlds Ahead Graduate Alan Brailsford was fresh out of high school when he joined the Air Force. There he was able to fulfill his desire to help others as a medic in the ICU and ER, on surgical wards and in clinics. After four years of service, in Texas, New Hampshire, Florida and Korea, Alan decided not to reenlist when his tour was up in 1983. This was long before a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was to be adopted, and the military’s unspoken sentiment toward LGBTQ persons at the time was “just don’t.”

So Alan, determined to define the next stage of his life as a gay man, came out to his parents. Although Norman and Elli received the news with compassion and unconditional love, society was not as accepting, and Alan fell victim to self-hate. Like many other LGBTQ individuals who struggle for acceptance, he turned to alcohol and drugs. Yet Alan’s desire to help others never wavered. With the support of his parents and brother Donald, and through a 12-step program and volunteering, he was able to gain perspective and overcome his disease.

On May 29 of this year, Alan celebrated eight years of sobriety. After his first-hand experience with addiction, Alan decided to pursue a Master of Social Work with a certificate in addictions from the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work in order to help others on the path to recovery.

Angelo AndresAngelo Andres
Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
School of Integrated Science and Humanity

Angelo Andres has always had a passion for helping others. The idea of discovering and developing drugs, changing the field of medicine and saving lives excites him. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2008 as a means to both serve his country and pursue a career.

During his eight years with the reserve, he served as a preventive medicine specialist, performing air, water and environmental quality assessments to determine health risks to troops overseas. He also worked full-time while attending Miami Dade College.

In 2011 Angelo was deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. There he performed preventive medicine duties in the country’s largest tuberculosis patient detention facility. He rose to the rank of specialist, earning an Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Army Commendation Medal, among other awards.

After returning home, Angelo struggled with transitioning to civilian life and losing his sergeant to suicide. Angelo credits this dark time with motivating him to use his life to make a difference in the world.

After enrolling at FIU in 2013, Angelo met Professor Yuk-Ching Tse-Dinh and researcher Arasu Annamalai. He conducted investigations alongside them in the Biomolecular Sciences Institute to discover new antibiotics to combat tuberculosis. Angelo will pursue a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas and wants to dedicate his career to developing anticancer drugs in honor of his uncle, Ricardo, who passed away from a rare form of thyroid cancer.

Dainelys GarciaDainelys Garcia
Ph.D. in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Ph. D. in Clinical Psychology
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
School of Integrated Science and Humanity

Dainelys Garcia has shown tireless enthusiasm for and commitment to her education and research despite obstacles that would have made others buckle. As an undergraduate, she stood out to her mentor, Professor Daniel Bagner, as highly impressive. At the time Nely, as she is known, had just undergone spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis. In her subsequent recovery period, she managed to finish her bachelor’s degree at FIU in just one year after completing the two-year honors program at Miami-Dade College.

That record made her an ideal candidate for the FIU’s new Clinical Science Program in Child and Adolescent Psychology. During her graduate training, Nely demonstrated perfection in her coursework and excelled in her clinical responsibilities. Every family with whom she worked had tremendous affection for her. And she likewise soared in her research: She has 10 publications in top journals and conducted important work to improve treatment for children with traumatic brain injuries. Her investigations integrate pediatric neuropsychology, health psychology and child clinical psychology.

Today Nely is graduating with her Ph.D. a year early, despite continuing pain as a result of her surgery. Nely never complained or used her condition as an excuse and dismissed her professor’s encouragement to slow down in the interest of her health. Instead, the scientist in her moved to keep going. After graduation, she will continue her work as a post-doctoral student at FIU.

Pingping LiangPingping Liang
Ph.D. in Chemistry
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
School of Integrated Science and Humanity

Pingping Liang was born in a small village in China. She is a first-generation college student who studied chemistry education in her homeland and became a middle school teacher.

Pingping never imagined she would one day live abroad until her husband was accepted in the graduate program at FIU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Pingping quit her teaching job of three years and joined him in the fall of 2010. A year later, she decided to pursue her own doctoral degree in analytical chemistry.

Pingping’s research focuses on the development of biosensors to provide a simple, fast test for point-of-care or onsite drug screenings. Her goal is to create biosensor products that can be used in developing countries that lack sophisticated instruments and trained personnel.

Under the guidance of FIU Professor Yi Xiao, Pingping has published articles in top chemistry journals including the American Chemical Society Applied Materials & Interfaces. Her work has earned citation 20 times in less than two years. Additionally, she has given nine presentations at major research conferences. She was part of the team that helped secure a combination of five grants and two fellowships for FIU’s International Forensic Research Institute totaling the most National Institute of Justice awards given to a single institution in 2015. After graduation, Pingping hopes to secure a post-doctoral position to continue her research.

Clinical Psych PhD cohortInaugural Clinical Psychology Cohort
Maya Boustani
Kathleen Crum
Ryan Hill
Gabriela Hungerford
Michael Meinzer

Ph. D. in Clinical Psychology
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
School of Integrated Science and Humanity

In the fall of 2010, a group of students with diverse backgrounds and interests arrived at FIU from around the United States to enroll in the brand new Clinical Science Program in Child and Adolescent Psychology.

The program is one of a handful in the country specializing in developmental psychopathology with emphasis on cultural diversity, adaptation, coping and resilience as it relates to access, quality and impact of mental health care. After meeting the rigorous requirements of the American Psychological Association, the program earned full accreditation in January of this year, thanks in part to the contributions of its first cohort.

Maya Boustani, Kathleen Crum, Ryan Hill, Gabbi Hungerford and Michael Meinzer are all remarkable scholars. Under the guidance of faculty mentors—including Dan Bagner, Jonathan Comer, Jami Furr, Jeremy Pettit and Stacy Frazier—these students conducted groundbreaking research in technology-based interventions for the treatment of anxiety disorders, co-occurring ADHD and depression in adolescents, childhood aggression, prevention of adolescent risky behaviors, pediatric neuropsychology and traumatic brain injury. They have published articles in the most prestigious journals in the field, presented at national conferences and secured federal funding to support their research.

Each has accepted an offer for a post-doctoral fellowship or faculty position, and they will soon be leaving us for Texas, Maryland, Nebraska, UCLA and Harvard. This inaugural cohort is well positioned to advance science in child mental health and contribute to expanding the availability of and access to effective treatment for those who need it most.

Ceremony 5

Angelle Bullar-RobertsAngelle Bullard-Roberts
Ph.D. in Biological Sciences
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
School of Environment, Arts and Society

A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Angelle Bullard-Roberts spent her childhood outdoors climbing trees planted by her parents. Her mother is a nurse and her father is a science teacher. Angelle’s parents also owned a health food store where she learned about the use of plants for medicinal purposes.

Wanting to become a doctor, Angelle enrolled at the University of the Southern Caribbean. A field research experience studying an endangered hummingbird immediately sparked a change in her academic trajectory. Angelle completed a bachelor’s in biology, followed by a master’s in environmental science and management. She taught environmental biology courses for five years before enrolling at FIU to pursue a Ph.D.

Aware of the prevalence of diabetes among the people of the Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora, Angelle focused her dissertation research on understanding the complex relationships between culture and plants, how people throughout the Caribbean select plants to treat diabetes symptoms and the anti-diabetic properties of these plants.

Midway through her Ph.D., a diagnosis of severe endometriosis almost derailed Angelle’s academic aspirations. Having lost twins prior to starting her program, the prospect of losing the option of motherhood was heart wrenching. Thankfully, surgery was successful and she returned to school after a sabbatical. In her final year, tragedy struck again when Angelle’s mom died, but she pressed on. She dedicates her Ph.D. to her mother.

When Angelle returns home, she will continue teaching about and researching the virtues and values of Caribbean medicinal plants.

Claudia CastilloClaudia Castillo
Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration
School of Education and Human Development

Growing up in Honduras, Claudia Castillo loved watching travel shows. These inspired her dreams of working in the hospitality and tourism industry, building relationships with people, providing great customer service and making them happy.

To find better opportunities, Claudia moved with her mother to Miami and began working full-time while taking English classes at night. A year later, at age 18, Claudia was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus. Despite chronic fatigue, constant pain and depression — and being told by doctors she had just six months to live — she beat the odds. Claudia went on to earn a bachelor’s in hospitality management from FIU in 1995.

She joined the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and served in a variety of roles, including career development counselor and adjunct instructor. During that time, she earned a master’s degree in human resource development and adult education from FIU’s School of Education and Human Development.

After more than 17 years at the Chaplin School, Claudia wanted to take her career to the next level in hopes of impacting as many students as possible. She enrolled in a Ph.D. program and dedicated her dissertation research to better understanding students with disabilities and their experiences with higher education services and accommodations as well as work preparation programs, so that she might help them achieve their career dreams.

It has not been easy for Claudia as she has had to battle complications and symptons associated with her illness, including asthma, glaucoma, shingles and stomach ulcers. Claudia credits working with students and having a positive attitude with giving her the energy needed to keep going.

Lizette PabonLizette Pabón
Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a Specialization in Learning Technologies
The College of Arts, Sciences & Education
School of Education and Human Development

Lizette Pabón understands the power of education more than most. Raised in the projects of New York City, she was determined not to be a statistic; she knew she needed to do something to better herself.

Lizette started on the road to higher education after enrolling in SCAN New York’s Reach for the Stars after-school program. The program helped her get into Hudson School, an elite private school where she graduated salutatorian.

The first in her family to graduate college, Lizette now holds three degrees. In 2003, she earned her bachelor’s in neuroscience from Smith College. She soon realized her calling was educating others and moved to South Florida to pursue a master’s in public health from FIU. In 2007, she graduated and began working at the Miami-Dade Area Health Education Center, focusing on nutrition and tobacco-free education. She was on the committee that helped make FIU a tobacco- and smoke-free campus.

Lizette then turned her attention to education technology and began her doctorate in education, specializing in learning technologies. Her dissertation, under the mentorship of Professor Thomas Reio, examines adult learning from online training programs and its link to performance among cruise agents. The study was supported by game theory that predicts adults not only learn online, but also excel if the instructional design is informative as well as creative and fun.

Lizette’s work is currently under consideration for publication by the Journal of Educational Technology & Society.

Ceremony 6

Janet GarciaJanet Garcia
Bachelor of Business Administration
College of Business

Janet Garcia’s parents — her mom from Peru, her dad from Cuba — dropped out of college to each work two jobs to provide for their family. Their sacrifice made Janet determined to succeed and to take advantage of every opportunity.

While working at a medical office (one of her full-time jobs during college), Janet heard from a co-worker about the difficulty some people have in coming to a lab for blood work. She and her co-worker came up with the idea of taking a mobile lab to people’s residences, and they developed a new business called “We Have You Covered.” This company, about to launch, provides mobile lab services to patients all over South Florida. They want to expand the business to other parts of Florida and then nationwide.

This enterprising student also honed her business skills at a paid internship with Propulsions Technologies International, where she works with a business leader who oversees four different divisions of the company.

Janet, the first member of her family to graduate from college, has a 3.62 GPA and a major in international business. She will begin work on her Master of Accounting degree at FIU in the spring and wants to become a CPA.

Sonia OrtegaSonia Ortega
Bachelor of Business Administration
College of Business

Leadership and determination are two of Sonia Ortega’s outstanding qualities, and she has shown both during her undergraduate studies at FIU. As an international student ambassador, Sonia mentored College of Business students from Denmark, Peru, Brazil and the United Kingdom, working across multiple cultures to guide and encourage new business students.

Strong grades guaranteed Sonia’s success in the undergraduate international business dual degree program that brought her from the Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to FIU. In fall 2015, she received a merit scholarship from the College of Business for her academic performance in the dual degree program that’s part of an international collaboration between FIU and UNIBE.

Finance and numbers have been a central part of Sonia’s life since her childhood. Her grandfather founded an accounting firm in the Dominican Republic where her father and uncle also work. She worked at the firm during summers while in school, and in July 2014 became a trainee in the human resources department and later moved on to the consulting practice. Originally interested in studying law, Sonia realized at 16 that it wasn’t her calling, so she went back to her roots and decided to study finance.

Sonia already sees herself as one in the growing number of empowered women business leaders, those who aren’t letting their gender get in the way of success. She would like to be a source of empowerment to young women entering the finance and business fields. Sonia’s plans include obtaining a Master of Science in financial cconomics and eventually returning to the Dominican Republic to become a partner in the family’s accounting firm.

Yingyao WuYingyao Wu
Bachelor of Business Administration
College of Business

When Yingyao Wu arrived on FIU’s campus as a transfer student, his advisor, Genesis Dieguez, had a very difficult time communicating with him. Yingyao says his command of the English language at that time was “pretty bad.”

But Yingyao was starting classes and he was determined to do what it takes to not only conquer the English language but also to excel in academics and earn his Bachelor of Business Administration degree. This hard-working student from Canton, China, would record the classes he attended and play back the recordings again and again until he understood everything. He would read textbooks two or three times to understand the material.

Yingyao wasn’t afraid to ask questions of his professors and to keep using his English to communicate with his new friends at FIU. With his family far away, Yingyao faced these challenges alone yet he achieved success after success, including earning an A in calculus and other tough courses.

Yingyao’s advisor, who has seen his incredible progress, says her last advising session with him was easy and enjoyable as they talked away about many subjects. Yingyao credits her for being a valuable mentor.

He plans to work for a year then return to FIU to earn his Master of Science in International Real Estate, to enter a field where communication is very important.

Ceremony 7

Enrique PiñeiroEnrique Piñeiro
Master of Science in International Real Estate
College of Business

When his mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s disease, Enrique Piñeiro and his wife Alma became her caregivers. It was the start of Enrique’s connection with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Southeast Florida chapter, where he eventually became board chair. The organization had been invaluable to his family, and he wanted to give back.

That typifies Enrique’s commitment to family, profession, community and FIU. Aside from being on the Alzheimer’s board, he serves on the Miami Association of Realtors Professional Standards Committee, the Miami-Dade County Affordable Housing Advisory Board and the Miami-Dade County Municipal Advisory Committee, District 11. He became active in the affordable housing issue when he saw how many people who lost homes during the Great Recession could find nowhere to go.

Wanting to impact the lives of those with whom he shares a cultural heritage, Enrique in the 1990s flew several missions with Brothers to the Rescue, volunteers who helped secure the safety of Cuban rafters who braved the seas in a quest for freedom.

And at FIU, from which he earned his undergraduate business degree in 2003, Enrique serves on the board of the Alumni Association as he believes that supporting a strong public university will further promote a strong South Florida.

A recipient of the prestigious FIU Malcolm Butters Scholarship Award, Enrique is the director of property management and leasing at for a real estate company and says his wife of 29 years is his greatest source of inspiration.

Milena LizarazoMilena Lizarazo
Master of Business Administration
College of Business

Milena Lizarazo had the value of education drilled into her by her late father, an electrical engineer who always looked out for his daughter. At 19 she landed a job as a customer service agent at a bank in her native Colombia, and soon after she looked up to see him at her window. He made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. “I will pay you whatever they are paying you so you can devote all of your time to school,” he told her.

That spurred Milena to dive full-time into her business studies at Universidad de La Sabana, a move she has never regretted. She earned a degree and not long after relocated to New York to work in finance. Years later, she visited Miami Beach and heard about a group of condo owners unhappy with their management company. Enterprising and determined—she wanted to move to the Sunshine State to earn a Florida Real Estate Sales Associate license—she drew up a plan and sent a copy to every owner in the building. They hired her, and she has parlayed that success into her own company.

At FIU Milena saw her horizons expand when she took an organization information systems class with Associate College of Business Dean Susan Clemmons. Milena says the class that focused around the “Internet of Things” was rich and interesting. It centered on what an MBA professional should be trained and prepared for – real business life situations.

Milena will now focus on expanding her the business she began in 2009, which grew from one condo building to more than100 rental properties on South Beach. Her newly acquired expertise promises even bigger things ahead.

Orestes MirabalOrestes Mirabal
Executive Master of Business Administration
College of Business

Growing up, Orestes Mirabal faced a household reality of domestic abuse, violence and illegal activities. At times, his mother would flee with her children in an attempt to start over. Orestes dropped out of high school in the beginning of ninth grade and, due to the violence he encountered hanging out in the streets, ended up joining a Miami street gang. Yet Orestes’ determination to lead a meaningful life, and a combination of mentoring and education, pointed him in the direction of wanting to help others through their own challenges.

After a Christian ministry mentor set him on the right path as a young adult, he took on opportunities to give back, as a mentor in Miami and a worker in a poor Ecuadorian village. He became a warehouse laborer at UPS and thrived under the discipline, rising to regional supervisor for business development over the course of 15 years. And he started a family. Through it all, he embraced the power of education, going back to school for his GED and an undergraduate degree.

A mentor at UPS introduced Orestes to FIU’s Executive MBA. It was there that his leadership, research and team building skills blossomed, fueled by a desire to maximize his ability to give back. His capstone project, “Real Walk,” is a non-profit mentoring organization designed to help low-income Miami-Dade youth get into college, and he hopes to turn it into a working agency in the future. In the meantime, he mentors for Take Stock for Children and plans to take his learning to another level: a doctorate in education.