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Texas Parents Recognizes Outstanding CNS Students

Texas Parents Recognizes Outstanding CNS Students

Since 1951, Texas Parents has proudly honored two undergraduate Outstanding Student recipients and four finalists who demonstrate exceptional leadership, scholarship, character and service. They are awarded $1,000 grant for a registered student organization or campus program of their choice. This year both recipients and two of the finalists were from the College of Natural Sciences. Meet the award winners.


Brandon Okeke
Biochemistry (Pre-med)
Houston, Texas

"Good enough" won't cut it for Brandon Okeke — his experience on the Forty Acres went beyond succeeding academically. He led dynamic programs at the Multicultural Engagement Center, demonstrated a commitment to his field of study through research and volunteering, and developed leadership skills through student organizations.

"Very early on I got involved and it's been incredible to have people around me pushing me to be better. A lot of people helped me along in my journey and I do the work that I do because I want to see everyone else succeed. I gave my best efforts to reach my goal and it's been in part because of the supportive community," he noted.

Through the Multicultural Engagement Center's student organization Afrikan American Affairs, Okeke led a team of student leaders to host New Black Student Weekend for more than 100 incoming first-year and transfer students. Outside of the center, Okeke organized volunteer opportunities with Texas African Students Organization, and participated in the African American Male Research Initiative, Black Health Professions Organization and intramural sports. He conducted organic chemistry research at the E. V. Anslyn Research Lab and volunteered at Dell Medical School. Off campus, he taught biology to local elementary students through UTeach Natural Science and the Beijing study abroad program.

"Brandon has made sure that he focuses on legacy building in the humblest way possible. He understands that the seeds that he has planted on campus will flourish for years to come simply because he has nurtured the people that he comes in contact with daily," said Multicultural Engagement Center Director Brandelyn Flunder, who nominated Okeke for the award.

After graduation in May, Okeke will attend The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to pursue either emergency medicine or radiology.

Okeke (third from left) with fellow New Black Student Weekend organizers

Briana Ortiz
Biology (Pre-med)
Laredo, Texas

As a teenager, Briana Ortiz faced long nights caring for her younger brother while her parents juggled medical issues and work. She left home to pursue her degree at UT Austin, instead of attending a local college, to teach her brother how to dream big and pursue his passions.

"My family life has taught me how to persevere and prioritize what really matters. I am left with feelings of deep gratitude to those that have continued to aid me in my academic and professional passions. I only look forward to the triumphs of tomorrow," she said.

Ortiz excelled academically while leaving a lasting impact on the College of Natural Sciences. She served as a Women in Natural Sciences teaching assistant, and had student representative roles on her college's diversity, equity and budget committees. Her feedback helped enact programmatic change. She also put her passion for healthcare into practice through the Health Advocacy Student Coalition and Women in Medicine student organizations, and as a volunteer with Foundation Communities and Dell Children's Medical Center.

"Briana was indispensable as a student voice from the beginning, speaking up for how students would best engage and benefit from the developing curriculum. She has an unwavering commitment to lifting those around her up and not shying away from important issues. I can unequivocally say that the college is stronger for her courage and leadership," said Assistant Dean Becky Kester, who nominated Ortiz for the award along with Student Life Coordinator Elizabeth Morgan.

Ortiz will graduate in May and attend medical school in the fall. After completing medical school, she plans to return to her hometown of Laredo to provide care to her community.

Ortiz (front, left) with fellow Women in Natural Sciences students conducting an experiment with Professor Kate Biberdorf (front, second from right)

Congratulations to the award finalists:

  • Hussain Alkhafaji, Journalism and Public Health, Moody College of Communication and College of Natural Sciences
  • Caroline Bik, Aerospace Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Amie Jean, Finance, McCombs School of Business
  • Maya Patel, Chemistry, College of Natural Sciences

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Monday, 01 June 2020

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