Last updated: September 26, 2023

Q&A with UTEP Alumni Association President Manuel Castruita

Name: Manuel Castruita, Jr.

UTEP Degrees: B.S. Education, 1988;  M.Ed, 1992 

Occupation: Assistant Director, Radford School

Employment Background: I have been a proud member of this Board since September 2015. That makes six years on the Board, and about to start the 7th year.

Q: Can you start by sharing why you decided to apply for a position on the UTEP Alumni Association Board of Directors in 2017?

A: Great question. My decision to apply for a position on the UTEP Alumni Association Board is based on the ingrained sense of service to others that was inculcated in me by my padres and abuelos. I am reminded of the words by Mahatma Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” As such, I was in place in my life where I was finally able to give back to UTEP since it had given me so much in both personal and professional aspirations ever since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 1988. I believed and continue to believe that serving on the board was one way to work for, and on behalf of students, in particular our First-Generation students, like myself.

Q: Five years later, you’re leading the Alumni Association. What is the main thing you want our more than 130,000 living alumni around the world to know about their collective power as graduates of UTEP?

A: I feel so passionately about the immense ripple effect that our collective MINERO power can have across generations. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” As each of us reflects and shares our own story, we join in the creation of a tapestry of narratives that encourages and emboldens future generations of students to pursue their dreams. They realize that there is a vast network of proud UTEP Alumni who are not only ready, but want to help and support them on their journey. Our power can be manifested in so many ways from mentoring, serving as a resource, recruiting, or supporting scholarships for our current and future UTEP students.  In essence, our collective call to action aptly illustrates how “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the word,” as Howard Zinn noted.

Q: You have an interesting story about how you were recruited to UTEP and mentored throughout your years as a student. Can you share some of those highlights and how that shaped your views as an alum?

A: This is a highly emotive question and one that honors the Power of One! I was recruited by Beto Lopez in 1984. I was a student at Denver City High School in Denver City, Texas, and was valedictorian of my graduating class. Beto’s task that year had been to recruit the top students from West Texas high schools and, in particular, Hispanic students. I was not only impressed, but also moved by his passion for UTEP. He shared with me how attending UTEP would be beneficial, not only for me, but for my whole family. He assisted me with the application process and with processing my financial aid and scholarship packets. To his credit, he walked the talk. Once I matriculated at UTEP, Beto made it a point to meet with me at least a couple of times, not only my first semester and my first year, but every year until graduated in 1988. Beto reamained a close guide in my professional development. I am indebted to him for the care and compassion he gave me. He is and was emblematic of the many professors and staff at UTEP who blessed my life in a myriad of ways:  Dr. Diana Natalicio, Dr. Tommy Boley, Dr. Douglas Meyers, Dr. Frances Hernandez, Dr. Cheryl Martin, Dr. Josefina Tinajero, Dr. Ronald Webking, Dr. Don Combs, and Dr. Kathleen Staudt, along with so many others. I am forever grateful for their mentorship and love then and now. UTEP is familia.

Q: In your years on the board, you have worked on several committees, in particular as the Vice President for Student Engagement, where you worked very closely with the Student Alumni Association. What was your favorite part of working with the students? What did they teach you? 

A: There are many beautiful and cherished moments from serving on the Alumni Board. While I hold them all close to my heart, I am especially fond of working with our Student Alumni Association. It has been one of the greatest and most humbling opportunities during my time on the board. I was privileged to work with an amazing cadre of future leaders whose passion and conviction was contagious. In respecting their own growth, I was able to serve as a mentor and ardent cheerleader for them as they explore their paths. Seeing them develop and hone their skillset was so invigorating and refreshing at the same time. In our work together, they embraced me, and I them, that we both were empowered to take risks on new adventures, challenge the status quo, and lift our voices in unison to benefit others and our beloved university. I am so proud to see how far Miriam “Mimi” Aguirre and Jose Toriano, two of my mentees, have come and how much more they will achieve.

Q: In 2021, the board adopted a Five-Year Alumni Engagement Strategic Plan that touches on everything from fostering a culture of philanthropy to strengthening campus partnerships. How will this plan shape the way our alumni engage with UTEP moving forward?  

A: At the core of the new strategic plan is relationship building.  As Lee Iacocca stated, “The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being.” It is not a complicated ask, just a simple call to reach out to our current and future students in a manner that enhances the student experience.  As I referenced earlier, this support can come in many forms, from mentorship and guidance to philanthropic support for all of our students. One should never underestimate the collective power that we hold as one worldwide community of Miners.

Q: Also last year, UTEP unveiled its 2030 Strategic plan that focuses on four of UTEP’S advantages: its place, its people, its culture of care, and its partnerships. The goal of the plan is to leverage those advantages to advance UTEP over the next decade and solidify its place as America’s Leading Hispanic-Serving University.  How do you see the two strategic plans working together to advance UTEP? 

A: The two plans create a sense of synergy in achieving common goals that place students at the center of the work. UTEP has been at the forefront of expanding learning opportunities from its inception. Students past, present, future are challenged to apply their skills for the betterment of their families, region and nation. This is a powerful catalyst, especially when we stop to recognize that almost 70% of our students MUST work while pursuing their degrees. Thus, it is not by circumstance that UTEP is recognized as R1 Institution by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and in the Top 5% of 19 Hispanic Serving Institutions. UTEP continues to be the only R1 US university with 100% undergraduate admission rate. These accolades accentuate our Miner Pride. This pride will be accentuated in both individual and collective responses from alumni answering the call to support our students in the coming years.

Q: You have a 26-member board of directors representing . What excites you about this group of board members?  

A: There are many attributes and characteristics of this board that absolutely elate me.  Above all, however, I must share that each of them exemplifies Tim Fargo’s observation on leadership: “Leadership is service, not position.”  Each member is on the Board because they want to be of service. Their diversity of voice and strengths only accentuates what can be possible. They are collectively passionate about enhancing and supporting the Miner student experience.

Q: “Miners Forever, Stronger Together” is the tagline for the UTEP Alumni Association. What does that mean you, personally?

A: These are not mere words; they are a mantra, a way of framing the work of our Board and myself, which underscores servant leadership and meaningful fellowship. Miners are family/familia, and as such, we are called upon to lift each other up in word and deed.

Go Miners!

Meet the UTEP Alumni Association Board of Directors