Gala Event Recognizes Champions of Diversity
Fundraiser Salutes Scholars for Their Tenacity and 2012 Honorees for Support

It was a gala in every sense of the word: a live jazz band, a capella performances, high heels and dark suits, a choice of filet mignon or salmon and hosted by a prime time TV actress. But the real stars of the night were the recipients of scholarships provided by the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Albert Palmer

Albert Palmer is working toward a master’s in applied sociology with his scholarship.

The 2012 Diversity Awards Gala and Scholarship Fundraiser gave opportunities for leaders on campus and corporate representatives to extol the value of enrolling and hiring people from different backgrounds and perspectives at a University. After opening festivities and academic and corporate perspectives about the importance of diversity, two Diversity Scholarship recipients who are also excellent students shared their inspirational journey to UT Dallas, earning standing ovations from the audience of more than 240.

Albert Palmer, a senior interdisciplinary studies major participating in the fast track master’s program in applied sociology, spoke of living nearly a week in what is now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history. Then he boarded a bus, not knowing his final destination, to live for months with other hurricane refugees in a Dallas jail cell. Even though killers and pedophiles were only a few floors beneath them, they didn’t complain too much because they finally had hot water and a place to stay, he said.

Sleep came with difficulty, however, and at times the hardships were difficult to bear.

“I knew I was somebody, but my circumstances did not say I was somebody,” Palmer said.

Irma Bautista-Soto

Irma Bautista-Soto began her quest for a college degree without her family’s support or knowledge.

But Palmer picked himself up, and now, thanks to what he described as guidance from prayer, Palmer plans to join a select group – the less than 0.001 percent of African American men who have doctoral degrees. He wants to serve as an example to his community and develop a charter school for refugees.

“That scholarship … was a life line to me,” he said. “I lost my job because of budget cuts and was at a crossroad of giving up on school. The scholarship helped me stay in school and not defer my dream once again.”

Irma Bautista-Soto, a senior from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, fled drug cartels and crime in Mexico with her family in 2001. The eldest daughter of a landscaper and housekeeper, Bautista-Soto was the first in her family to finish high school, and had to sneak behind her parents’ backs to enroll in college.

“They didn’t think that investing in education was worth it since nothing guaranteed that I would have a job afterward,” she said. “It was very, very hard at first because having the support of your family is the best thing you can have during college. If you don’t have your family’s support, you feel like you’re alone.”

Diversity and retention scholarships at UT Dallas helped her pay for tuition when her mother lost her job. Along with the scholarships, an advisor was there to help her with any obstacle in life.

“So here I am just a few weeks away from graduation and now both of my parents support me,” she said. “They understand that in order for our family to get better, we have to get educated.”

This was the third year for the scholarship awards program, which was created to honor UT Dallas faculty, staff, students and others working to build a campus community committed to cultural understanding, tolerance, acceptance and respect.

UT Dallas Diversity Gala

Actress Beth Broderick (right), who led the ceremonies, chats with attendees before the gala fundraiser.

“Diversity and community engagement is not a political issue. It’s a practical one,” said President David E. Daniel. “The world is so complex these days, so multicultural, so international, the people we encounter are often so different from us, that if, in fact, we are to fulfill our vision of empowering students to be successful in this world, we would be terribly remiss not to introduce them to other cultures, other races, and other views about the world. To me, that is what diversity is all about: empowering our students to be successful in an increasingly complex world.”

Highlights of diversity efforts this year include raising more than $50,000 for diversity programs and scholarships; serving thousands of students in underserved school districts through SAT math preparation, financial aid workshops and mentorship; and establishing a scholarship for UT Dallas students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or straight allies.

“The UT Dallas diversity mission ‘to embrace, enhance, and celebrate diversity at all levels of the University and our community through the efforts of students, faculty, staff, our executive leadership, and community partnerships and to be a leader in promoting diversity to achieve the highest levels of excellence’ is a necessary and critical element to becoming a Tier One University,” said Dr. Magaly Spector, vice president for diversity and community engagement.

Office of Diversity and Community Engagement

This is the third year that the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, led by Dr. Magaly Spector (center), the University’s vice president for diversity and community engagement, has held the Diversity Awards Gala and Scholarship Fundraiser.

This year’s event was hosted by actress and activist Beth Broderick, who is best known for her portrayal of Aunt Zelda in the long-running TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and also has appeared in Lost, The Closer, CSI and ER. Away from the studio, she founded Momentum, a program for people with AIDS in New York; co-founded the Celebrity Action Council for City Light Women’s Rehabilitation Program in Los Angeles; and contributed to a variety of women’s causes.

“It is easy to get discouraged by the injustices we observe in the world around us, but step by step, person by person, each one of us can make a difference ,” Broderick said.

2012 UT Dallas Diversity Awards

Irvin AshfordComerica Bank

Dr. Robert DoeringTexas Instruments

Runchun Chen

Sharon Edwards

Dr. Duncan MacFarlane

Dr. Peter Park

Dr. Alex Piquero

Dr. Orlando Richard

Dr. Mihaela Stefan


This year’s awards and winners were as follows.

Corporate Diversity Award: Texas Instruments for providing $15,000 in matching funds for a program that will support women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Community Champion Award: Irvin Ashford, senior vice president public affairs and director of community development and external affairs for Comerica Bank, for work including partnership for a Naveen Jindal School of Management program to empower minority individuals to improve their economic wealth and ultimately their place in society.

Student Diversity Award: Runchun Chen, graduate student in the Jindal School, for cosponsoring a program that welcomes international students by having domestic students provide tours to Dallas sightseeing spots.

Staff Diversity Award: Sharon Edwards, administrative assistant in the Center for Lithospheric Studies at UT Dallas, for encouraging underrepresented students to pursue degree programs in geosciences and providing mentorship and assistance to international students.

Faculty Diversity Award: Dr. Alex Piquero, Ashbel Smith professor of criminology, one of the most prolific, scholarly and well-known criminologists in the world, and member of UT Dallas committee that supports diversity and equity and sits on the faculty diversity council.

Faculty Diversity Award: Dr. Orlando Richard, associate professor of organizations, strategy and international management, for his research and publications on workplace diversity and organizational justice; he also serves on the UT Dallas committee that supports diversity and equity and sits on the faculty diversity council.

Teaching Award for Inclusive Excellence: Dr. Mihaela Stefan, assistant professor of chemistry, for creating a classroom environment of inclusiveness, and for her investment in students.

Ambassador of Diversity Award: Dr. Duncan MacFarlane, professor of electrical engineering, for his work as a friend, mentor, counselor and tutor to underprivileged, inner-city kids, and recruitment of other volunteers to serve this community.

Recognition for Diversity Service: Dr. Peter Park, assistant professor of history, for leadership of the diversity and equity committee and service throughout the year.


Speaking Out for Diversity

“At TI, we are committed to diversity. It is not only about doing the right thing, but also valuing the uniqueness of every individual who is involved with our company.”

Dr. Robert Doering, TI senior fellow and research manager

“You can’t have innovation, flexibility and new products when you have people of similar thought creating those products. You need different voices, you need different people coming together bringing their own background and experiences in order to meet the needs of customers.”

Irvin Ashford, senior vice president public affairs and director of community development and external affairs for Comerica Bank

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