Trio Recognized for Service, Achievement at Honors Convocation
Desmond Blair BA’07, MFA’09, recipient of the Undergraduate Alumni Achievement Award, accepts honorary membership into the UT Dallas chapter of Phi Kappa Phi from Dr. Gene Fitch, vice president for Student Affairs.
As is tradition, the spring Honors Convocation provides an opportunity for The University of Texas at Dallas to recognize the service of an alumnus, a graduating senior and an advisor.
Desmond Blair BA’07, MFA’09 received this year’s Undergraduate Alumni Achievement Award. Raised in the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas, Blair is an acclaimed visual artist who was born with a limb difference — he never uses the term “disability.” His works — primarily portraits in oils on canvas — have helped raise more than $20,000 for local charitable organizations.
The importance of education was emphasized in Blair’s life from day one.
“My mom always told me as a kid that immediately after I was born, the doctor told her to make sure I get the best education possible,” Blair said. “She did just that throughout my public school years by finding various academic and arts programs.”
Blair graduated from Skyline High School at age 16, and the challenge became finding a college that would enable him to excel.
“My mom was a single parent. It wasn't going to be easy,” Blair said. “I got accepted to several out-of-state arts schools, but we couldn't afford the tuition.”
“My time at UTD was just as much about learning life lessons as it was about education. Time management, prioritizing responsibilities, helping others and volunteering, and learning to adapt and do basic things most people with all of their limbs overlook — I learned all of these things at UTD.”
Around this time, UT Dallas was starting the program that eventually became the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC).
“After finding out about the arts and technology program and visiting the campus, UTD checked all the right boxes,” Blair said. “Everything I needed or wanted to study was right here in DFW.”
Blair believes UT Dallas played an immense role in helping him achieve his goals.
“As someone with a limb difference, receiving a quality education in the right environment didn’t just level the playing field — it gave me an edge,” Blair said. “Having a group of really sharp peers combined with exceptional professors forced me to continuously push myself to new levels. I got the best education my mom could give me.”
Blair honed his traditional-art abilities at UT Dallas, and transferred them to digital media. His master’s thesis focused on computer graphics and emerging media trends. After a period as a UT Dallas adjunct professor teaching 3-D modeling, Blair now works in the IT department for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, where he was once a patient.
“My time at UTD was just as much about learning life lessons as it was about education,” Blair said. “Time management, prioritizing responsibilities, helping others and volunteering, and learning to adapt and do basic things most people with all of their limbs overlook — I learned all of these things at UTD.”
In 2011, Blair was invited to participate in a charity art auction for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. That occasion transformed how he viewed his artistic pursuits.
“My first showing helped me get serious about my painting and using it to support causes that help others,” Blair said. “Since then, I’ve helped raise money for a variety of causes, from art education to cancer research.”
Blair credits the nurturing culture of UT Dallas for setting him up to succeed — and help others. He notes several faculty and staff members in particular, including Dr. Marjorie Zielke in ATEC, who set him on the path to his career as a project manager.
“UTD is such a special place,” Blair said. “The professors and administrators are really there to encourage the students and push them to be their best, and I think that makes a huge difference.
“My time at UTD will always be cherished, and this award is a tremendous honor.”
Nancy Fairbank holds her Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award with Dr. Andrew Blanchard, dean of undergraduate education. Fairbank recently became UT Dallas’ first Marshall Scholarship recipient since 2006.
Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award recipient Nancy Fairbank adds this honor to an extensive list of achievements, including becoming UT Dallas’ first Marshall Scholarship recipient since 2006. When she returns from across the Atlantic in 2019, Fairbank will attend Harvard Law School.
“With the Marshall Scholarship, I will pursue two master's degrees in the U.K.,” Fairbank said. “The first is in international development with a focus on poverty and inequality at the University of Birmingham. My proposed second degree is policy evaluation and social intervention at Oxford.”
Since arriving as a McDermott Scholar in 2013, Fairbank has published Throwaway Youth: Stories of Springfield’s Homeless Teens, a book about poverty in her Missouri hometown, and she was part of a UT Dallas Moot Court duo that placed in the Top 16 at 2017 AMCA Nationals. She served as Student Government vice president for 2014-15, and she founded the UT Dallas chapter of No Labels, an organization dedicated to bipartisanship and civil political discourse.
“I am eternally grateful to The University of Texas at Dallas for the stellar undergraduate education that I have received,” Fairbank said. “It is a true honor, and I am so grateful to all of the professors and staff members that have supported me in my time here. The opportunities I've received at UT Dallas are unparalleled, and my professors have gone above and beyond to help me find the right path for my future.”
Chien Ho Paden, Undergraduate Advisor of the Year, joined UT Dallas in 2001 and has worked in the Naveen Jindal School of Management since 2007.
Advisor of the Year Chien Ho Paden has worked as an advisor in the Naveen Jindal School of Management since 2007. She started at UTD in January 2001 working in the Office of Admission and Enrollment as a degree evaluator, and later served as a foreign credential evaluator. In 2007, Paden moved to the Jindal School as an undergraduate advisor.
“This award means a lot not only to me, but also to the JSOM advising office,” Paden said. “Watching students build up their confidence over the years, listening to them share their study abroad stories and their internship experiences, makes me so proud of JSOM students. Knowing I can be part of their life’s journey and that I have a little bit of positive influence and they appreciate it is the best reward for me.”
Paden described learning the new policies, new courses and new programs as her biggest challenge, and praised JSOM faculty and directors for the regular updates and training they provide to enable her and her colleagues to excel at their jobs.
“I also want to thank my JSOM advising co-workers,” Paden said. “Their support and help makes the extremely busy times easier. They are the best co-workers you could ever ask for.”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].