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CCU40 Honorees for 2015

Corpus Christi Under 40 exists to honor the men and women dedicated to making a difference in Corpus Christi. Be it in education, health care, or technology, it is those individuals with the perseverance and determination that create culture and opportunity for others in our community.

Click on the drop-down boxes below to meet and learn more about this year’s group of Honorees!

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Dr. Amy Aldridge Sanford is a department chair and associate professor in the Department of Communication & Media at TAMU-CC. Before joining the faculty in 2013, she taught at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, for nine years, where she also served as department chair for three years. Amy earned a PhD in communication studies from the University of Iowa in 2006. Currently, she is writing a book about student activism and occasionally pens op-eds for The Caller-Times. In the past five years, Amy has been a presenter on more than 30 academic panels and given nearly 50 invited lectures. She is the immediate past chair of the Texas Association for Communication Administrators and has served on the executive committees for the Central States Communication Association, AAUW Oklahoma, Oklahoma Speech Theatre Communication Association, and Oklahoma Women for Higher Education. Locally, she has served on the city’s Cable Commission and volunteers for UIL Speech & Debate, Battleground Texas, and YWCA. Amy will attend the prestigious HERS Institute at Bryn Mawr College this summer. In her leisure time, she enjoys reading, traveling, watching documentaries, attending university events, and spending time with her spouse and their five rescued pets.

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Traci McLester Arellano is Assistant Vice President for Frost’s Public Finance Division and relationship manager for Frost in the Corpus Christi region and surrounding Coastal Bend communities. During a banking career that began in 2007, Traci has spent significant time understanding and responding to the banking needs of the community, leading businesses, executives, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs. She has spent 4 years of her banking career with Frost in Houston, Texas as a relationship manager, gaining knowledge and a well-rounded expertise on various industries and their banking relationship needs. In August 2014, she joined the Public Finance Division to provide that expertise to the local public and nonprofit organizations of Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend. Traci is a native of Rockport, Texas where she was born and lived until leaving for school in 2003 and is excited to have returned to her hometown and its surrounding communities.  She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Houston.

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Pedro Azevedo is a Senior Commercial Lender and Senior Vice President with Kleberg Bank N.A.  He received his Bachelor of Commerce degree (finance) from the University of Windsor in 2001.  Pedro began his career with the Royal Bank of Canada, through its management training program, before heading for the United States in 2004.  He continued his banking career through a community bank in California, as a junior Credit Analyst.  Through a series of promotions and bank mergers Pedro moved-up the career ladder, ultimately becoming a Senior Commercial Lender in the Lake Tahoe area of Nevada/California with a large regional bank, followed by a family relocation to South Texas in the spring of 2012.  Pedro uses his background in finance and banking to help serve the community, through his volunteer efforts as the Treasurer of the Corpus Christi Education Foundation and Treasurer of the Leadership Corpus Christi Alumni Association.  Pedro and his wife enjoy travelling with their eight-year-old son, and exploring their ‘still new them’ city of Corpus Christi and surrounding areas.  Pedro is an avid reader, and enjoys following MotoGP each summer.

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Aislynn Campbell is the Executive Director of GROW Local South Texas. She received her B.A. from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Aislynn founded the Corpus Christi Downtown Farmers’ Market in 2011. One year later, understanding that the entire local food system needed an invigorating push, she founded GROW Local STX, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Designed to educate the next generation of local food producers, she oversaw the creation of The Learning Garden, GROW Local STX’s teaching community garden. The advent of GROW has facilitated the growing demand for local food markets and the local restaurant community. In addition to her passion for local food and healthy community, Aislynn is a key contributor to 40 Things to do in Corpus Christi, giving a voice to her love for pointing out the positives in Corpus Christi. An avid foodie and cook, she utilizes local foods as her creative medium. Aislynn and her fiancée, Joe, have 4 preteen & teenage kiddos often you’ll find her at London ISD sports event. Whenever Aislynn can find free time for herself, she enjoys the local craft beer and music scene and she lives to travel.

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Curtis Clark serves as Cash Management Liaison for IBC Corpus Christi Market. He also serves on the IBC Employee Advisory Board for Charitable Community Development Corporation and is President Elect for 2015. Mr. Clark was recognized as the February 2014 Employee of the Quarter and was recently accepted into the Leadership Corpus Christi Class 44. Clark sits on the Board of Directors for Corpus Christi Black Chamber of Commerce as Chairman for Economic Development and Director of Community Affairs, as well as, Board Member Representative for Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation.  On February 17, 2015, the Mayor and City Council appointed Mr. Clark as a Member of the Corpus Christi International Airport Board of Directors and he currently serves as Community Chair for American Cancer Society Relay for Life 2015. A Dallas and Greenville native, Clark attended several colleges and military schools and is a  As a Proud Military Veteran, having served in the United States Navy. Mr. Clark resides in Corpus Christi with is Beautiful wife Melissa and son Jaden.  The Clarks enjoy quality time at home with their five dogs or simply out and about shopping.  Clark other interests involves current events, history, and being a moving force for Diversity.

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Justin Colmenero is a native of the beautiful sparkling city by the sea, Corpus Christi, Texas. He achieved his A.S at Del Mar College, and received his B.S from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Since 2007, Justin has ridden the waves of our local and surrounding area’s Real Estate markets as one of its top producers. After two years as realtor, he exceled and became one of the youngest Real Estate Brokers in Corpus Christi and took the helm of Edwards Capital Corporation as their Managing Broker. Justin accepted a Real Estate instructor position at Del Mar college in 2010, where he molded the minds of many of our up and coming Real Estate professionals. His ambition continued, and in 2013, he established Prime Real Estate where he is the owner and Managing Broker.  In addition to Real Estate, Justin is the Account Executive for La Palmera, Secretary for the Kayla Elvira Mungaray Music Scholarship Foundation, Committee Chair of the AAF Fundraising Committee, and the incoming President for the American Advertising Federation where he was award Volunteer of the year for 2014. Justin, and his Partner in crime of over 12 happy years, Ryan Fikes, enjoy traveling, and indulging in life’s many pleasures around the world.

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Annalee Cruz is Central Checkout Manager with HEB. She attended Texas A&M Kingsville and majored in Criminology. During the course of her busy work day she manages the day-to-day operations for the service department and creates a team environment through the store. Her other duties include store scheduling, budgets and timekeeping. Throughout her nine-year tenure with HEB, Annalee has held multiple roles each increasing in responsibility and serves in the capacity of Store Trainer. In spite of her busy work schedule, Annalee makes time for her community, volunteering with the March of Dimes, Beach to Bay, Young Business Professionals, Beach Cleanup, Junior Achievement, The Food Bank of Corpus Christi, and Habitat for Humanity among many others.  Annalee’s drive and passion for her many charity projects has motivated many of her peers to join in as well. This level of dedication and ability to inspire others makes Annalee stand out as an emerging leader in our community. In her spare time, Annalee enjoys classical jazz music, dancing, social networking and is an avid healthy living and fitness proponent.  A native of Kingsville, Annalee lives with her dog Willard, and has called Corpus Christi home for the last 12 years.

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Brenda Davis is a New Media Specialist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. In her role, Brenda oversees the university’s social media presence, coordinates external e-communications, and assists with the maintenance and deployment of the university’s top tier web presence. Under her direction, the university earned a ranking among the Top 10 Texas Higher Education Institutions on Twitter in 2014. Brenda also serves as an Assistant Director at KEDT, assisting during their annual auction as well as the tapings of their KEDT Challenge game show. Brenda graduated with high honors from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in 2005, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Communication, and has worked in various roles at the Island University for over 10 years. When not at work, Brenda enjoys promoting the arts, having been an active volunteer both on and off the stage at the Aurora Arts Theatre, a local non-profit community theatre, since 2010. She also enjoys baking for friends and family, and spending time with her husband and two children.

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Hilary Davis is a Financial Center Manager at Kleberg Bank. She has been with Kleberg Bank for two years and currently oversees the day-to-day operations of their largest financial center. Hilary trains and develops a team of ten employees and is responsible for meeting sales and customer service goals, as well as overseeing compliance with all banking laws, regulations, and corporate policies. The central Illinois-native graduated from Augustana College with a degree in International Business and Asian Studies. Hilary’s husband will tell you she was quite the bookworm, but outside of her collegiate studies, Hilary enjoyed being a part of many volunteer organizations on campus, such as Student United Way and Honor Council. When moving to Corpus Christi in 2013, Hilary first plugged into the community through Young Business Professionals and is now serving on YBP’s Board of Directors for her second year. Hilary is also a member of First Baptist Church and volunteers on their First Impressions Team. Hilary enjoys staying active through running, bicycling, and yoga, but her favorite moments are relaxing at home with a warm dessert and playing board games with family and friends.

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Natasa Davis fell in love with Corpus Christi from the moment she stepped off the airplane in 2004 and has made the Coastal Bend her home ever since. Originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, she has lived in London, UK and Long Beach, CA where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from California State UniversityLong Beach. Natasa is also a proud alumna of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where she received her Master’s in Secondary Education. She currently works for Corpus Christi ISD as a member of the History Department at Marvin P. Baker Middle School. In 2015, she was voted Baker’s Teacher of the Year for her dedication to her students and the entire Baker community. In addition to teaching, Natasa works with her husband Chris, assisting with social media marketing for his company, Spurfire. Her passion for children and community has inspired her to volunteer as a member of the Junior League of Corpus Christi, assist in the fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society’s Cattle Baron’s Ball, and take an active leadership role at First United Methodist Church. Natasa and Chris enjoy spending lots of time outdoors with their son Hudson and their dogs, Barkley and Pippa.

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Juan (J.J.) Jose De La Cerda Jr. is the Assistant Director at the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery. He founded an initiative to bring the community together so that indigent or homeless veterans are not buried alone and honored with full military honors. J.J. moved to Corpus Christi in 2011 after being promoted from the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery where he was Office Manager for four years. J.J. enlisted in the Marine Corps from 2001-2005 and served two combat tours in Iraq. He earned the rank of Sergeant and the following awards: Navy Achievement Medal (2nd Awd), Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation (2nd Awd), Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal (with one bronze campaign star), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (with one bronze star), and Certificate of Commendation (2nd Awd). J.J. has been an assistant football coach for the NCYFL league for the past four years, and for the past two years has been a science fair judge at TM Primary School. J.J., his wife, and three children like to travel, attend and participate in car shows, and watch movies.

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Mallory Gabro, P.E. is a Civil Engineer for the San Patricio Municipal Water District where she performs, supervises, and coordinates professional engineering work in the field and office.  She received her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2009.  After graduating, she worked at a local civil engineering firm for four and one-half years and earned her Professional Engineering License before joining SPMWD in August of 2014.  Mallory is an active member in the Nueces County A&M Club where she has served on the board of directors for six years and has been the social chair & a scholarship committee member for four years.  She is active in multiple charity organizations including FUNdraiser where the group donates to and/or volunteers at various local benefits, shelters, charities & nonprofits each month.  Mallory belongs to many professional organizations including Water Environmental Association of Texas/Texas American Water Works Association, Texas Society of Professional Engineers, South Texas Environmental Professionals, and American Society of Civil Engineers.  Mallory enjoys playing tennis & golf, spending time with friends & family, and watching Aggie sports!

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Carlos Garanzuay is the Coordinator for the College Relations Office at Del Mar College and serves as an adjunct professor in public speaking. He received his B.A. and M.A. from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in Communication after serving two enlistments in the U.S. Air Force. In his year at Del Mar College, Carlos made significant developments to improve his department’s assessment and budget processes, and developed a student-veteran mentorship program. He also played substantial, coordinating roles in the annual “Stop the Silence” Domestic Abuse Awareness summit, and Representative Todd Hunter’s Power On for Texas Film conference. An avid movie viewer, he also consults for the South Texas Underground Film Festival, a free film festival which boasts over 2500 film entrees from around the world. In his academic career, he was recognized as the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year for the Texas Speech Communication Association, TAMU-CC’s Department of Communication, and College of Liberal Arts.  He is host for the “DMC Upside”, a television news-magazine for Del Mar College, and coach for Padre Island Pacers, a local girls 18 & under AAU basketball team. He is an advocate of higher education and life preparedness through his family and community.

Susan Gonzales is currently employed with the Law Offices of Douglas A. Allison, as the firm’s office manager, where she is solely in charge of all human resources and all accounting and financial matters. In addition, Susan is also the co-owner and Marketing Director and Event Coordinator of The Post at Lamar Park. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Studies from Texas State University in May 2006, at which point she moved to Corpus Christi. Susan is a philanthropist at heart, donating her time and monetary efforts to many charities throughout the Coastal Bend, but her greatest success has been with the Junior League of Corpus Christi, where she is currently co-chair of a children’s literacy initiative known as Story Time, which focuses on inspiring the love of reading for children ages 0-6 in some of Corpus Christi’s high risk areas. Susan is a loving and dedicated wife and mother of two beautiful daughters. Some of Susan’s many passions in life are being physically active, reading, and photography. Another one of her talents includes being a part-time lifestyle photographer. Susan is proud to call Corpus Christi her home now for almost 10 years, and she is determined to give back to her community in anyway that is possible.

Susan Gonzales is currently employed with the Law Offices of Douglas A. Allison, as the firm’s office manager, where she is solely in charge of all human resources and all accounting and financial matters. In addition, Susan is also the co-owner and Marketing Director and Event Coordinator of The Post at Lamar Park.  She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Studies from Texas State University in May 2006, at which point she moved to Corpus Christi. Susan is a philanthropist at heart, donating her time and monetary efforts to many charities throughout the Coastal Bend, but her greatest success has been with the Junior League of Corpus Christi, where she is currently co-chair of a children’s literacy initiative known as Story Time, which focuses on inspiring the love of reading for children ages 0-6 in some of Corpus Christi’s high risk areas. Susan is a loving and dedicated wife and mother of two beautiful daughters. Some of Susan’s many passions in life are being physically active, reading, and photography. Another one of her talents includes being a part-time lifestyle photographer.  Susan is proud to call Corpus Christi her home now for almost 10 years, and she is determined to give back to her community in anyway that is possible.

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Morgane Heinz was born and raised in Corpus Christi, and has always had a passion for fashion and effortless, classic style. She opened MARKET Boutique 10 years ago.  Before she delved into the world of retail entrepreneurship, she earned her BFA from the University of Houston and lived in Los Angeles. In LA, she taught children’s art classes and worked for Courtney Love. In addition to running MARKET, she has been an active and passionate member of Paws and Claws since 2007, serving as president in 2014. She has been an integral part of the Membership Committee of the Art Museum of South Texas since 2007, and a board member since 2013. This year, she became an executive board member for the Art Museum. She has been chair of the Contemporary Art Circle for the past two years. Her hobbies include art, animals, and fashion. She is recently engaged to Henry Blackmon, a local attorney.

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Katherine Hewett’s passion is creativity and innovation. Her calling is to foster a love and wonder for emerging technologies in children. She is the Technology Applications teacher at her beloved alma mater, Richard King High School. This year marks 12 years of service with the Corpus Christi Independent School District. Hewett holds many degrees, including her M.S. in Education from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and is currently a doctoral candidate with the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. Her research explores the possibilities for game-based learning in education. In 2010, Hewett was the Texas Computer Education Association’s winner for state “Classroom Teacher of the Year.” She has contributed to TechEdge magazine, and has garnered attention for her innovative integration of Minecraft into her 3D courses. She has twice represented the Coastal Bend region as a state finalist for the “Secondary Rising Star” award given by the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards. She presents regularly at technology conferences at the state and local level. Hewett is a member of the prestigious Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. She is an active volunteer member of the Corpus Christi Junior League. In her spare time, she spends time with family and friends, and creates virtual historic fashions for game engines.

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Katie Hoover is currently the Fundraising & Special Event Manager for the American Diabetes Association where she went to work shortly after losing her father to diabetes in early 2015.  An ADA volunteer since 2012, she has always been passionate about the Association. In her current position, Katie manages ADA signature events Father of the Year and Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes as well as Camp Sandcastle, a camp for Type 1 diabetic children. As a Development Specialist for the Education Service Center, Region 2, Katie rebranded the purchasing cooperative, creating a new revenue stream and increasing both member and vendor participation. Katie is a 2006 graduate of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where she earned her Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing. Katie is an active member of the Junior League of Corpus Christi, serves as VP of Fundraising for her son’s PTA, is a climb leader for Postpartum Progress, and recently completed her 3-year term on the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Alumni Association Board of Directors. Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Katie married New York state resident-turned Texan, Brad Hoover on February 2, 2012. They have two energetic boys, Robinson (5) and Alexander (3).  Katie enjoys reading, socializing, event-planning, and dancing.

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Chris Horn is a South Texas native, growing up in Port Aransas before attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He worked full-time paying for college while earning his BBA with a major in Marketing. After graduating, he returned to Corpus Christi and began a four year career at Wells Fargo, being promoted four times from bank teller, up to Regional Marketing Consultant for 60 branches. Chris then took an opportunity to be a stay-at-home-dad with his firstborn daughter for one-year before beginning his current seven-year advertising career at The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. After two years of strong digital sales performance, he was promoted to Key Accounts Sales Manager managing up to eight team members working directly with major advertisers. With a recent promotion to Digital Sales Manager, he now oversees the entire digital advertising portfolio for the Caller-Times, as well as managing the outside sales team. Chris enjoys most of his free time with his wife of 10 years, two daughters and his son.  He grew up playing outdoors on the island, and still enjoys going to the beach, fishing, hunting, playing golf, and hunting for his golf balls.

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Erica Lozano is currently the Director of Sales for the Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau. She joined the CC CVB in May 2011. Lozano is responsible for overseeing and directing the department personnel, sales efforts, marketing, advertising and services. Lozano is a native of Corpus Christi, an alumna of Richard King High School and Del Mar College.  She has also received certifications from Texas A&M University and from the University of Houston /Texas Hotel Lodging Association. Her most recent education acquired a new designation as a Certified Diversity Meeting Professional (CDMP) from the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Planners. Lozano generously volunteers a great deal of her time to many organizations and events.  She holds active seats on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas and the Greater Corpus Christi Hospitality Association; and serves on the City of Corpus Christi’s Parking Advisory Committee. When Erica is not working, traveling for work or volunteering, she loves spending time with her family and friends.  She adores her five year-old Chihuahua, Bella and four year-old Black Labrador, Buddy.  Her favorite pastime is reading a good book on the beach and chasing waves as often as possible.

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Mr. Justin McComb is currently a Project Manager for Barcom Construction Inc. He has held this position with Barcom for the past six years and has worked in the construction industry for the past 12 years. Justin attended Texas A&M University in College Station and was a member of the Corps of Cadets where he served at the Executive Officer for his outfit. After Graduation he started his career in sales for a USA Metal Buildings and has worked his way up to Project Manager for a local General Contractor. Justin currently serves as a board member and committee chair for the Nueces County A&M club and has held these potions for the past nine years. He also currently serves on the Nueces County Emergency Management construction committee which helps rebuilt homes that are damaged in natural disasters. Outside of work, Justin and his wife Ashley have been married for 10 years and have three children (eight year-old son, six year-old son,  and one year-old daughter).  Along with coaching his two sons in little league, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, fishing in the Laguna Madre, and weekends at the ranch.

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Samantha Marie Mendoza is a Case Coordinator with Ironclad Technology Services. She provides third party recommendations to the Office of Refugee Resettlement pertaining to the release of unaccompanied children to qualified sponsors and family members who are determined to be capable of providing for the child’s physical and mental well-being. The primary objective of her work is to assist in identifying cases of human trafficking of undocumented children. Samantha has dedicated her career to working with vulnerable populations, including children and individuals with intellectual disabilities or mental health needs- many of which have a history of being neglected, or have endured abuse of some type (verbal, physical, sexual).  A proud alumni of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Samantha earned a BS in Biomedical Science, MS in Counseling, and is working on her dissertation to complete a PhD in Counselor Education. Samantha has impacted her community through her involvement in many non-profit and community organizations. Over the past six years, she has participated in a unique range of projects and fundraising events as a member of the Junior League of Corpus Christi. In her free time, she enjoys working out, fishing, and visiting the shooting range.

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Denny Meyer is a native of California, but moved to Rockport, Texas in 1996. He received his BBA from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with dual majors in Finance and Accounting in 2005. After college, Denny joined Fields, Nemec & Co., P.C. (FNC) as a staff accountant performing mostly audits of privately held companies. After meeting his wife Julia in 2006, Denny obtained his CPA license in 2007. In 2008, Denny purchased an ownership interest in FNC and subsequently celebrated the birth of his first son, Brodi. His second son, Blake was born in 2012 and he is currently expecting his third child, a baby girl, in early 2016. Since the birth of his boys, Denny has been actively involved as a volunteer with Most Precious Blood, the JCC and now CCISD as a sponsor and regular participant in Watch Dogs. He also volunteers his time coaching little league baseball, soccer, and providing support to numerous local organizations. Professionally, he has continued to grow his practice while increasing his ownership interest in FNC and providing jobs to over 20 local residents of the Coastal Bend. When away from work, Denny enjoys spending time with his family, golfing and outdoor activities.

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Kristie Moeller Veit is the President of Communications Workers of America-Local 6137, President of the Coastal Bend Labor Council, and area Vice President for the Texas AFL-CIO. Kristie Moeller Veit joined CWA 6137 in 1999 when hired on with Southwestern Bell (now AT&T). She became a job steward in 2001, and Secretary-Treasurer in 2004. In 2011 she was elected President and re-elected in 2014. In her early years, CWA assigned her to be a delegate to the Coastal Bend Labor Council, where she served on the scholarship committee, and as Political and Legislative chair from 2003-2011.  She was elected as Vice President of the CBLC in 2012, then elected President of the CBLC in June 2015. In 2013 she was elected to the statewide organization, Texas AFL-CIO, as an Executive Board member, and re-elected in 2015, while also elected to serve as a Board Trustee. She has participated in and organized job actions across Texas for workers’ rights, human ‘ rights, Buy American projects, and supported the back to school supplies program for the children at the South Texas Womens’ Shelter. Kristie is married to Brian Veit, they have two daughters Taylor and Taryn and she is proud to call CWA members her family.

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Victor Navarrete was raised right on the Jersey Shore before he returned to Corpus Christi. He graduated from Foy H. Moody High School where he was active in the JROTC program, Boy Scouts of America, and represented Corpus Christi at Texas Boys State. Victor recently became the Director of Development in the College of Education at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where he studied Communication. Victor also proudly serves in the United States Navy as a Master At Arms (Military Police) at NAS Corpus Christi. He has supported commands like CORIVRON 1 out of Coronado, Naval Hospital San Diego, California, NAS Oceana/Dam Neck Annex, NAS Kingsville. One of his other loves is being a member of The Chive, an online community that supports their local community and strives to make the world 10% better any way they can. He plays an active role in planning and launching events throughout the Coastal Bend. But out of everything he does and all his positions, his favorite title is ‘Dad!’ He has been blessed with three active children who share my passion and love for the ocean and its beaches.

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Dr. Nicholas P. Nilest PT, DPT, is the CEO of Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital. Originally from Louisville, KY, Nick earned a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences and a Minor in Biology at Bellarmine University. He continued at Bellarmine to receive his Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Nick is also Neuro-IFRAH certified to treat and manage adults who have suffered a brain injury or stroke. Nick started with Ernest Health in 2008 at Laredo Specialty Hospital as the Director of Therapy Operations. In 2014, Nick relocated to Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital as the COO and in 2015 moved into his current role as CEO. Nick is deeply involved in the Corpus Christi community and is currently a member of the Leadership Corpus Christi Class 44; sits on the board of the American Heart Association; provides written content for both Inspire and Nside magazines; is a member of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce; a Rotarian; a member of the Young Business Professionals; a participant, supporter, and sponsor for the American Cancer Society, It’s Your Life Foundation, Children’s Advocacy Center, The Gulf Coast Humane Society, the Christus Foundation; and a member of the Big Brother Big Sister Program. Nick is also the previous founder and CEO of Nilest Physical Therapy PLLC.

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David Pena was born and raised right here in Corpus Christi. He is a Moody High School graduate and continued his education down at the University of Texas Pan-American. David previously worked for Valero Refinery before leaving to pursue a dream of owning his own business. David and his wife took over Fleet Feet Sports in 2013. Once Fleet Feet was going strong, David decided to open his own archery shop. Archery is one of David’s many passions, and to be able to grow this sport in South Texas is his vision.  David coaches young athletes to their dream of shooting at the Olympic level through the JOAD (Junior Olympic Archery Development) program that he runs out of his shop.  David, his wife, and their two teenage kids love to run in local races, shoot in archery tournaments all over Texas, and enjoy everything the outdoors has to offer.

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Staff Sergeant Pogorzelski first joined the Marine Corps as an Infantryman in 1996. Since then he has served on active duty in the U.S. Army and joined the Army Reserves in 2003. He has deployed multiple times to include the invasion of Iraq as NCOIC of the 1st Marine Division Patriot Liaison Team and has served as the Fire Chief/NCOIC of the 463rd HQ Engineer Detachment. Currently he is the Fire Capitan for the 548th Engineer Detachment and the Training Assistant for the 463rd HQ Engineer Detachment. In addition, he is currently employed as a Firefighter/EMT at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Adam has volunteered since 2005 with the Star Garrison of the 501st Legion, an International Star Wars costume group that seeks to volunteer, fundraise, and help through charity. He also contributes his time to helping veterans through two organizations, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Organization in Beeville Texas since 2014, and Carry The Fallen since 2015. Adam is married to Marissa Pogorzelski and is the father of Connor. On the side, he enjoys building movie props, leatherwork, charity work, running half marathons, and camping. Adam is a graduate of Columbia Southern University with Associates in Fire Science.

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Michael Ramirez is Associate Professor of Sociology and Coordinator for the Women and Gender Studies Program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He earned a B.A. in Sociology from Texas Tech University and both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Georgia. He has published his research in academic journals and presented his work at conferences across the country. He is currently finishing his first book, Destined for Greatness: Passions, Dreams, and Aspirations in a College Music Town, which examines the lives of rock musicians as they pursue informal careers in music. He has been recognized for his teaching, most notably receiving the Teaching Excellence Award by the Texas A&M System in 2010. He was also the first-ever recipient of the Miriam Wagenschein Fellowship in Sociology in 2013. He has mentored students in the McNair Scholars Program, helping prepare them for their graduate studies. His volunteer work in the local community has focused on both women’s rights and working to improve the lives of animals. He spends his free time at the beach and at concerts with his partner, Ashley, and their dog, Sheila.

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Loren Rock is a Corpus Christi native. Due to a tragic accident, her biological father Lieutenant Edward Anthony Laich died during active duty while stationed in Corpus Christi. Her mother, who was pregnant with her at the time, chose to stay and make Corpus Christi the place she wanted to raise her three children. Loren has a strong love for her city, and is happy her mother made the decision to make it her home. Later in life, Loren chose to reside in Corpus and attend college at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, receiving her degree of Bachelors of Science.  Loren has worked for Rock Engineering for 12 years, and monitors the accounting department.  In her spare time, she has a passion for volunteering with non-profit organizations. Loren has been actively serving the community through Junior League of Corpus Christi, since 2009. She has held many leadership positions through Junior League and many other organizations. Other than her second job, also known as philanthropy work, Loren tries to live a Zen life. She loves to attend local events, practice yoga, drive down the beach, and walk the hike and bike trails with her dog, Godric.

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Sandra A. Rodriguez serves as Kleberg Bank’s Business Development Officer/Assistant Vice President and managed its South Region for the past three years. Native of Brownsville Texas, she graduated from high school as a junior and eagerly persued her undergraduate degree at the University of Houston. Upon graduation, Sandra started her career with Fortune 100 company, USAA, in San Antonio. There she excelled in the financial service industry and obtained her Masters of Business Administration from Our Lady of the Lake University. In 2011 the opportunity to work as Regional Manager for Kleberg Bank brought Sandra closer to her South Texas roots.  She has since settled into the community by volunteering in several organizations, to include the Coordinated Community Response Coalition, Board Member of the Kleberg County Pregnancy Resource Center, Navy League, American Cancer Society, and the Kingsville Chamber of Commerce. She is extremely passionate to serve as an Angel with Wings of Texas: My Team Triumph and was named Newbie Triathlete of 2015 by the Corpus Christi Triathlon Club. Sandra is honored to contribute to the community and humbly does so as encouragement for her two daughters, Sophia & Emily.

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Amanda Tijerina is the Business Transient Sales Manager/Specialist of Holiday Inn Downtown Marina. In the course of her busy work day you may find her developing and applying sales strategies against her assigned market segment, analyzing sales and customer data to develop revenue strategies, managing the hotel’s top accounts and negotiating rates, prospecting for new accounts and, all while staying on top of city events and maintaining a great positive attitude. Amanda has been recognized by IHG Hotels International with the Perseverance Sales Award, as well as being recognized with the Quarterly Customer Service Award. Amanda attended Del Mar College majoring in Business Finance. Amanda is a very active member in the Corpus Christi Young Business Professionals where she served as Chairperson of the Networking Committee, a Certified Tourism Ambassador, and as an Embajadore for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Amanda also devotes a great deal of time and effort to local charities. Amanda’s many hobbies include painting, jogging, music of all kinds, social networking. Amanda is truly an emerging leader in Corpus Christi and her sights are firmly set on success. A Corpus Christi native, Amanda lives with her three small children, Ezekiel, Ezeriah and Ezeala.

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Profoundly deaf since birth, Ms. Genelle Timperlake Sanders is an adjunct professor of Communications at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and of American Sign Language at Del Mar College. She received her B.A. from Texas A&M University at College Station and her M.A. from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. In 2013, Ms. Sanders was a nominee for Teacher of the Year at Del Mar College. In 2014, Ms. Sanders presented her Master’s thesis, Connecting visual communicators with an auditory world: Exploring communication accommodation processes in d/Deaf – hearing interactions, at the National Communication Association conference in Washington D.C. Ms. Sanders is involved with numerous local and state-wide organizations advocating for communication accessibility and the rights of deaf people. In addition to teaching and volunteerism, Ms. Sanders enjoys working outside on her family’s ranch and being physically active. She and her husband welcomed their son in April 2015.

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Adria Palacios Vasquez is a Certified Public Accountant and a partner at Palacios & Palacios, P.C. She is also a Senior Lecturer at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. As a CPA partner, she prepares tax returns for individuals and entities, prepares financial statements and does tax consulting. As a Senior Lecturer, she teaches various accounting classes and is an advisor to student organizations. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor in Business Administration and a Master in Professional Accounting in 1998. She taught freshman business classes and interned at Exxon while a graduate student. After graduation, she worked at KPMG, an international accounting firm, in Dallas. She has been active in her career with her two jobs and her community and professional activities including the Diocese of Corpus Christi school board, Pre-Cana speaker, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance coordinator, and Texas Society of CPA’s board &committee member. Her awards include eight teaching awards from the Texas A&M System, Texas A&M-Kingsville, Texas Society of CPA’s, the TSCPA “Rising Star Award” and TSCPA “Distinguished Public Service Award.” Mrs. Vasquez enjoys playing tennis, traveling and watching action movies.  She is married to Daniel and they have a one-year old daughter with another baby on the way.

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Nancy Zuniga is an Account Executive at Morehead, Dotts, Rybak advertising agency, and has worked on ad campaigns for CITGO Corpus Christi Refinery, NavyArmy Community Credit Union, Port Corpus Christi, and Hester’s Café among others. Nancy earned an Associates in Applied Science in Interpreting for the Deaf from Del Mar College in 1999, and worked as a Texas State Certified Sign Language Interpreter prior to joining MDR in 2007. Nancy is a graduate of Leadership Corpus Christi, Class XLI. She has been a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters for over three years and has seen her little sister transition to a successful student at Moody High School and the CITGO Innovation Academy. Nancy also volunteers her professional talents on the fundraising committees of Charlie’s Place Recovery Center and the March of Dimes. In her spare time, Nancy is an avid reader, enjoys painting and is learning the art of calligraphy. She enjoys traveling to the Texas Hill Country, and this last summer visited London, UK. She and her husband David plan on traveling abroad in the coming years.

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Born in San Antonio, Texas, Angelica Vela was raised by her admirable mother who always knew Angelica’s antics would set the precedent for her future. Always witty, a little introverted and extremely creative, Angelica keeps busy with her husband’s law firm, her children and her passion for helping others. Angelica holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of the Incarnate Word and matriculated into a master’s program where she was recognized as a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success. Vela has chaired various community events in town, generously giving time and resources to projects promoting child welfare, family literacy, and physical and mental wellness. Vela is a familiar on-air talent for commercials spanning across South Texas and a print model. Her publications include the cover of SA Weddings bridal magazine, a collegiate-level kinesiology text book and earlier this year, Vela was featured in Texas MD’s Monthly style & substance section. Her interests include exploring ways to improve her community, literacy advocacy, early childhood education, and the economics of education.  She inspires a love of books and reading to her own children. So much so, her first grade daughter reads at a fifth grade level.

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Jennifer’s position as Texas State Aquarium’s Director of Sales involves leading the Aquarium’s special event sales while striving to maximize several different revenue streams. She has been with the Aquarium for six years and earned her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Communications, minor in Media at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She collaborates with local organizations such as the Convention & Visitors Bureau, Port of CC, H-E-B, Driscoll Children’s Hospital and hoteliers to promote the Aquarium as the city’s leading attraction and event venue. Jennifer is currently working alongside American Diabetes Association toward Tour de Cure. Jennifer joined forces with Hammons Education Leadership Programs to provide experiences for at-risk youth through career mentoring. Jennifer aided Wounded Warrior Summit, service members with post 911 injuries, experience the Aquarium in a format that met needs for their injuries. Jennifer is Social Committee Chair of Young Business Professionals and Board Member. She’s active in Texas Society of Association Executives, Greater Corpus Christi Hospitality Association, Tuloso-Midway Parent Teacher Association, and National Association of Professional Women. Jennifer is proud to be a Certified Tourism Ambassador. Jennifer loves spending time with her family, husband and two beautiful children, who enjoy activities that bring them together!

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Uma Venkat is the Executive Director at the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation. Mrs. Venkat has significant experience in managing non-profit organizations and substantial involvement in community outreach and service. Mrs. Venkat has encompassing education background in administration, management and leadership, with a Bachelor in Organizational Leadership Studies and Diploma with Distinction in Human Resources Management from Canada, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) with a specialization in non-profit and public management. She also has a second Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) in Strategic Planning from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Mrs. Venkat has a deep passion for nature and a love for the coastal resources in the coastal bend area of Texas. She is also a strong advocate of conservation of natural resources through education and outreach. She currently resides in Corpus Christi with her husband, Magesh, and their son Arwin. Mrs. Venkat is also a professional Indian dancer and is very passionate about learning the various dance forms from different countries.

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Michelle Villarreal Leschper is a public information officer for the City of Corpus Christi. She received her B.A. from the University of Houston in 2010 and her M.A. from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in 2012. While pursuing her M.A. in English, Michelle published a paper on feminine identities and presented research on new media at the national Conference on College Composition and Communication. She worked for the Caller-Times for three years as a multimedia journalist focusing on the courtroom and earned multiple honors including the 2014 Texas Gavel Award from the State Bar of Texas and Community Service and Team Effort awards from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors. She assumed her current position with the City in 2013 and serves as the point of contact for all community and media inquiries regarding Public Works, which include Engineering, Streets and Solid Waste. In addition to providing communication to various departments, she also assists yearly with the Mayor’s 4th of July Big Bang Celebration. The Corpus Christi native resides in her hometown with her husband Will, daughter Mila, and Catahoula-Lab mix Blue. Michelle enjoys spending time with her large family and volunteers with St. Thomas More Catholic Church and Fish for Life.

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Sean Walker is a project manager for Fulton*Coastcon General Contractors, a commercial construction company. He received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University at College Station and began as an office assistant/estimator with Fulton in 2007. Sean’s duties include construction supervision, cost management, and owner relations for Fulton. He was an assistant project manager and superintendent for the construction of the New Parking Garage at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Veterans Memorial High School. Currently, Sean is the project manager for the new Los Encinos Elementary School. He was part of several Fulton project teams that have received awards from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). In 2013, he became an original board member for the start-up of AGC South Texas Chapter – Young Contractors Council. Presently, he is the VP of Membership and will be President-Elect in 2016 for the Nueces Count A&M Club, which provides scholarships for future Aggies and performs community service. Sean was a member of Leadership Corpus Christi Class 42. In his off-time, Sean loves hunting, fishing, and traveling with his family and friends. Sean and his wife, Teresa, have been married for four years, and have a beautiful two year-old daughter, Ryan.

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Dr. Chase Young is an Assistant Professor and the Silverman Endowed Chair in Literacy in the College of Education at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He joined the faculty three years ago after receiving his Ph.D. in Reading Education from the University of North Texas. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy and curriculum. Previously, he taught in the public schools for eight years and served as second and third grade teacher and as a reading specialist. Dr. Young focuses the majority of his research on helping students in the community become successful readers. In 2014, the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers selected him to receive the Jerry Johns Promising Researcher Award. In addition to over 30 research articles and book chapters, he published his first book in 2014 for Shell Education, and is currently under contract for two upcoming books that should be available in the fall of 2016. He is currently the editor of the Journal of Teacher Action Research and the co-editor of the Texas Journal of Literacy Education. Dr. Young enjoys fishing and lives in Corpus Christi with his lovely wife Kacy, and two amazing children, Austin and Kristen.