Honoring the 2020 Texas Excellence Awards Winners
By Danielle Lopez | Photographs by Matt Wright-Steel
Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world found ways to honor those who deserved celebration. For birthdays, friends and families tailgated outside their loved ones’ homes; universities hosted elaborate virtual commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020; and people in cities across the country stepped outside on a nightly basis to clap for health care workers.
In April, the Texas Exes was set to host its second annual Texas Excellence Awards, recognizing outstanding members of the campus community. Though we couldn’t welcome these recipients onstage this year, we are celebrating them in the Alcalde with a portrait and kind words from faculty and students. We asked each recipient to take a break from their homes, get gussied up, and meet with our staff photographer Matt Wright-Steel at a safe distance on campus.
Texas Exes Tejas Club Campus Leadership Award
BFA ’20, School of Design and Creative Technologies
In 2018, the Tejas Club Award was established to recognize an accomplished student leader at the university for their commitment to making an impact on student life. As a first-generation college student, Bereal didn’t feel like he belonged when he first arrived on campus. But over the last four years, Bereal found a passion for design and made it his mission to use it to benefit the Longhorn community. He co-founded UT’s first black honor society, the Onyx Honor Society; served as the associate director of advertising for UT Student Government; and created The Black Yearbook, combining visual and verbal storytelling to document and raise awareness of the black experience at UT.
“His selfless dedication to the UT Austin community is evident in everything that he does,” one nominator said.
James W. Vick Advising Award
For nearly 30 years, this award — its winner chosen from student nominations — has been granted to five academic advisors who have worked to help students stay on track and make the most of their UT education.
Senior Academic Advisor, Moody College of Communication
Years at UT: 5
When students step into Porras’ office, they know they’re going to leave excited about their future. In nearly every nomination, her students said that she always exceeds their expectations. Students see her as an encouraging voice who gets them where they need to be.
“Each time I go in for advising, Jennifer is extremely patient with me, answers my multiple questions with such kindness, and can always put me at ease,” one student said. “I genuinely think that Jennifer is an angel and that I would not still be in school if it weren’t for her.”
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, College of Education
Years at UT: 29
As the assistant dean for Student Affairs, Hogeda’s, BA ’93, MEd ’02, Life Member, life can get pretty busy — he is responsible for academic advising programs, new student orientation, degree evaluation, study abroad programs, and student organizations. But even so, his students note that he always makes time for them, whether they’re looking for a letter of recommendation or struggling in class. According to his nominations, students view him as more than an advisor — he’s a role model and a mentor.
“Most of all, he makes a personal effort,” one student said. “He makes students feel heard, remembered, and important. Any student that sees him leaves his office feeling positive.”
Director of Advising, Moody College of Communication
Years at UT: 19
After nearly 20 years advising students on the Forty Acres, Thomas knows it all. Her students are confident that she will always come equipped with the answer they need to get set on the right path. She works tirelessly to make sure her students have what they need to succeed and she does it with a smile.
“Theresa is the brightest light in Moody,” one student said. “She is always there for everyone and goes out of her way to say hi to individuals. She makes students feel like they have a home and because of her I truly feel welcome.”
Senior Academic Advisor, McCombs School of Business
Years at UT: 9
Barham, BS ’11, joined McCombs in 2015, following two years as a student development specialist at the School of Undergraduate Studies. Students who nominated Barham described him as supportive, understanding, compassionate, and even praised his humorous emails. One student went so far as to call him the “GOAT” — the greatest of all time.
“Josh is more than just an advisor for classes, he is also a mentor for all things about life,” one student said. “He made me comfortable to be on campus and he made me hopeful that my college career will only improve.”
Associate Academic Advisor, College of Education
Years at UT: 4
Tedder, MED ’18, is all about inclusivity and positivity. As a graduate assistant in the admissions office, he helped launch “Longhorn Pride,” a day for prospective students to explore the university’s LGBTQ resources and meet with current queer-identifying students and alumni. With Tedder as their advisor, his students feel seen, heard, and cared for, and describe him as empathetic and a guiding light.
“He truly cares about the College of Education and has already made massive strides to making it a better, more inclusive space for all,” one student said. “Sawyer truly leaves each space he’s in better than he found it.”
Edward S. Guleke Student Excellence Award
Brandon Chukwunyelu Okeke
BSA ’20, College of Natural Sciences
Each year, this award recognizes a student who has distinguished academic credentials, has made a significant contribution to the university through campus-wide activities, and displays the personal attributes of character and integrity that have earned the respect and admiration of their peers. In his time on the Forty Acres, Okeke demonstrated these traits through his academic achievements, making CNS honors every semester; tutoring his college peers and Austin ISD students through UTeach; and leading Afrikan American Affairs through the Multicultural Engagement Center on campus.
“Brandon has a great professional demeanor, is easy to work with, and is an outstanding team member,” one nominator said.
Jean Holloway Award for Excellence in Teaching
Assistant Professor of Instruction, UT Health and Society Program
Years at UT: 6
Since 1970, the Jean Holloway Award has been given to a professor from the College of Liberal Arts or Natural Sciences. Nominated by students, the recipient is someone who demonstrates a warm spirit, concern for society and the individual, and imparts knowledge while challenging students. This year’s recipient, Stephanie Osbakken, BA ’94, is those things and more. Her sociology students describe her as a phenomenal professor who is engaging, tough, and relatable.
“Dr. Osbakken is the best communicator, the most caring professor, and also one of the most inspirational people I have ever met,” a former student said. “I can’t think of anyone on this campus who is more deserving of this award than her.”