10:31 AM

Alumni and Friends Celebration Dinner a Huge Hit!


By Marie Jacinto

More than 400 UHD alumni and friends of the University gathered in the Houston Marriott Marquis ballroom on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in celebration and support of Houston’s second-largest university.  Now in its second year, the annual Alumni & Friends Celebration Dinner benefits the University’s Compass Points Fund in support of student success. 

In anticipation of UHD’s 50th anniversary, two check presentations of $50,000 each were made—one from steadfast supporter Marilyn Davies and the other from T Mobile—bolstering the total funds raised to more than $300,000.

During dinner, UHD recognized Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as its Distinguished Friend of the University, and Houston’s First Daughter, Ashley Paige Turner (who attended with husband Jimmie Captain), accepted the award on her father’s behalf. Texas Dow Employees Credit Union (TDECU) was named Corporate Partner of the Year, and TDECU Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and UHD alum Hugo Lagarda was on hand to receive the award.  

JB Bobbitt, President of the UHD Alumni Council, announced the three alumni award winners:

  • Gabriela Smith, owner of Big State Construction in Houston and an MBA graduate in the Class of 2018, for the Alum Entrepreneur Award, which recognizes an alum who has contributed to the advancement of their own respective business or enterprise. The other finalists in this category were Maleo Dillet, CEO and Founder, Edecan’s Information Technology and a member of the Class of 2012, and Zahoor Gire, a financial and administrative management consultant in Houston and a member of the Class of 2005.
  • Christa Arefieva, M.D., an emergency medicine physician and a member of the Class of 2015, for the Alum on the Rise Award, which recognizes an alum within 15 years of graduation who has experienced professional success. The other finalists in this category were Ashley Garcia, a registered nurse and nursing educator in Maryland and a member of the Class of 2014, and Francis Rios, Head of Corporate Relations for the United Way of Greater Houston and a member of the Class of 2013.
  • José Antonio Marin, Chief Information Officer of US Med-Equip in Houston and a member of the Class of 1991, for the Distinguished Alum Award, presented to the alum who has brought special honor to the University because of their accomplishments and their long-time and successful commitment to their careers and communities. The other finalists in this category were Derrick Estes, Principal, James H. Law Elementary In Houston and a member of the Class of 2008, and Harry Simon Jr., Vice President Marketing, Sight Sciences In Dallas and an MBA graduate in the Class of 2020.

“To our alumni: Whenever I am in your presence, I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride,” said President Loren J. Blanchard. “I am proud of the many ways I see you contributing to the community and returning to invest in the students who are with us now. Witnessing your commitment to our beloved UHD fills me with a sense of urgency to push this institution to the next level, achieving our goals and solidifying our position as the anchor institution of Houston.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.