Gala Emphasizes Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

Eric Shanteau

Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau, who overcame cancer and won a gold medal at the 2012 London Games, spoke at the Diversity Awards Gala.

Olympic swimmer and cancer survivor Eric Shanteau held up his gold medal, urging audience members to become champions in their own right – champions of diversity.

Shanteau was speaking as master of ceremonies for the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement’s 4th annual Diversity Awards Gala, which honors students, staff, faculty and community members for their commitment to diversity and inclusion. This year’s theme was “Creating the Future: Diversity, a Pathway to Excellence.”

“Diversity is not just about the way you look. It’s not just about race or ethnicity. To me, diversity is anything that makes a person unique. What makes me unique is my experience as a swimmer and as an athlete – and that’s why I’m here with you today,” said Shanteau.

Shanteau was diagnosed with cancer 10 days before he would go to the 2008 Olympic trials.

“It changed my life forever,” he said. “I became a part of the cancer community. I met people from all walks of life with different backgrounds, and they showed me unconditional support. And that support is what helped me to continue to compete.”

Shanteau swam at the 2008 games, leaving his cancer untreated. He swam his way to a personal best time and six days after returning from Beijing, Shanteau began his treatment. Not only did he beat cancer, but he also returned to the water faster than ever and spent the next three years at the top of the world rankings. Shanteau won a gold medal at the 2012 London Games as a member of the 4×100-meter medley relay.

Diversity Gala - Ericsson Award

Accepting the Corporate Diversity Award on behalf of Ericsson was Gunjan Aggarwal (center, left), head of human resources for the company's North Americas region. Congratulating her were (from left) Dr. Aaron Conley, vice president for development and alumni relations; Dr. Magaly Spector, vice president of diversity and community engagement; and Dr. David E. Daniel, UT Dallas president.

“Someday, this medal will tarnish, the ribbon will fade. What’s really important about this medal is the journey I took to get it. If you’re fortunate enough to receive an award tonight, I want you to reflect on your journey, what you’ve been through to receive that award. That’s the important part,” Shanteau said.

After the Cathedral of Hope Gospel Choir sang the national anthem and other songs, filling the room with clapping and cheering, UT Dallas President David E. Daniel took the stage to speak on the importance of creating a diverse environment at the University.

“At UT Dallas, we work  to produce the most talented, able and educated young men and women in the world. To achieve that, we must give our students the chance to engage with people who look different from them, come from different backgrounds, and view the world differently than they do,” he said. “Without offering that kind of experience, we’re not adequately preparing them to be successful.

“A diverse group of people, each of whom brings something different to the table, is likely to be the most effective group at any task they set for themselves,” Daniel said. “If we are to become one of the best universities in the world, we must embrace diversity.”

After Daniel’s talk, the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement presented its annual awards. Categories and honorees included:

  • Student Diversity   Mohammed Nafis Bin Nasim, a PhD candidate at UT Dallas majoring in economics.
  • Student Organization Diversity The UT Dallas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Comet Council.
  • Staff Diversity Dr. Calvin Jamison, vice president for administration.
  • Community Champion of Diversity Marsha Clark, independent consultant and founder of Marsha Clark & Associates.
  • Corporate Diversity Ericsson.
  • Faculty Diversity   Dr. Manuel Quevedo-Lopez, associate professor in the department of material science and engineering, Erik Jonnson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
  • Inclusive Excellence and Intercultural Teaching Dr. Kim A. Knight, assistant professor of emerging media and communication, School of Arts and Humanities and Dr. Mary L. Urquhart, associate professor in the department of science/mathematics education, School of Natural Science and Mathematics.
Dr. Kim Knight

Dr. Kim Knight, assistant professor of emerging media and communication, received the Inclusive Excellence and Intercultural Teaching Award.

Two UT Dallas students described how diversity scholarships have helped them complete their degrees.

Ashley Pickett received the first UT Dallas LGBTQA Diversity Retention Scholarship, which is awarded to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight-ally students who have made significant contributions to UT Dallas and the broader community.

Horacio Martinez, a senior majoring in biology, received the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement Diversity Retention Scholarship. 

Also on the bill for the night’s events was a short performance and monologue from UT Dallas student Eshita Sharmin, who presented “The Girl in the Orange Coat.” In the performance, Sharmin reflected on her connection to her culture, as well as the way she has uniquely encountered a family member's mental illness and the events of 9/11.

“I am not just the girl in the orange coat.  I am the face and heart of diversity under my orange coat. We are all equal yet so beautifully different, but we share one similarity that will never change: Everybody has a story,” Sharmin said, wearing a thick, orange pea coat.

Haracio Martinez

Horacio Martinez, a senior majoring in biology, received the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement Diversity Retention Scholarship.

Proceeds from the Gala benefited the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement’s Diversity Scholarship Program.

Funds raised from this event will assist underrepresented students, including women pursuing careers in STEM fields. Students with records of academic merit, demonstrated financial need and the potential to increase the diversity of the student body will receive priority for the scholarship funds.

“This is an exciting time for our office and the University,” said Dr. Magaly Spector, vice president for diversity and community engagement. “We continue to make progress in our diversity goals, but we only can accomplish those goals with the engagement and support of our community and leaders inside and outside UT Dallas. Your generous support of tonight’s gala will help advance our institutional diversity goals and mission and support well deserving students.”

For more information on giving to Office of Diversity and Community Engagement scholarships, call 972-883-4566.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].