The University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni Club has awarded 1,998 scholarships totaling more than $4 million through the fundraising efforts of its signature event, the UAHA Scholarship Dinner and Dance.
This year marks the club's 25th anniversary in the effort to raise scholarship and retention program funds. The club will host an event called "Portraits of Excellence" which will be held on Dec. 4 at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa. The event celebrates the achievements and contributions of Richard "Rick" J. Gonzales and Marty Cortez of the Leadership and Retention Program for the University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni Club.
The two leaders being honored exemplify the organization's commitment to Hispanic students at the UA.
In 1982, an enthusiastic group of 125 UA graduates gathered in the Arizona Stadium Club to begin a bold experiment that is now known UAHA. The first officers were selected and the group was entrusted with the goal of promoting excellence among the Hispanic students at the University.
Under the leadership of Gonzales and Cortez UAHA's first scholarships were awarded in 1985, thanks to then-UA President Henry Koffler, the UAHA was provided with tuition waivers to help increase Hispanic graduation rates and the club set the goal of establishing a $100,000 endowment.
Gonzales became one of UAHA's founding members and the first general counsel for the organization shortly after he went into private law practice.
He graduated from the UA in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in political science and earned his law degree from the UA College of Law in 1975. A year later, he was admitted to the State Bar of Arizona and to practice before the U.S. District Court of Arizona. In 1977, he was admitted to practice before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, in 1993, before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gonzales began his career in the Pima County Public Defender's Office before becoming a Deputy Pima County Attorney in the criminal division. He went into private practice in 1980 and formed the law firm of Gonzales and Villarreal, P.C. with his friend and partner, Stephen C. Villarreal.
Gonzales' commitment to the community is evident. He dedicates time to helping students, promoting the arts, finding ways to suppress crime and alcoholism, promoting education on all levels, fostering dialogue among diverse groups, working with agencies that provide mental and behavioral health support to families in the community, providing financial and hands-on support to United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, taking a leadership role in organizations that encourage other Latinos to seek success.
Marty Herman Cortez also has been a mainstay in UAHA's work with students but it is through her commitment that UAHA's slogan became, We don't just award scholarships; we launch careers!
Cortez has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and and master's degrees in elementary education and counseling and guidance, all from the UA. She has taught in Tucson and Nogales, was named Nogales Teacher of the Year in 1969 and has been a principal in the Nogales, Amphitheater and Sunnyside School Districts.
She is a member of the Pima Community College Board of Governors, serving two terms as its chair, and was a graduate student academic adviser for Northern Arizona University's Tucson campus. She also was a member of the UA President's Council on Diversity, served two terms on the UA Hispanic Advisory Council to the President, served on the UA International College Advisory Council and the UA National Alumni Board.
Cortez served as UAHA's president for three years beginning in 1997. Prior to and following her tenure she continued to work to refine the organization's mentoring and scholarship retention program with the UA Chicano/Hispano Student Center.
UAHA freshmen scholarship students as part of the retention component, must, as a requirement of accepting the club's financial assistance, go through the two-semester Success Express class. Scholarship students also are required to attend monthly meetings aimed at retention and graduation
Sophomores learn communication skills. As juniors, students receive career counseling, prepare résumés, get coaching on job interviews, learn about dress and fashion – appropriate dress, hair styles and cosmetics. As seniors, they learn about networking, community involvement and personal preparation.
UAHA's importance to UA Hispanic student graduation is undeniable.
The average graduation rate for Hispanic students in most higher education institutions nationally is approximately 45 percent; however, through the UAHA programs and partnerships, scholarship recipients have achieved a graduation rate of 90 percent.
For 2009-2010, UAHA awarded 234 scholarships but UAHA President Humberto Stevens said more needs to be done.
The UAHA's goal this year is to raise its scholarship awards from $500,000 to $600,000.
"Hispanics are the largest group of youth and they are an emerging population that can rejuvenate, strengthen and stimulate the nation's economy and competitiveness in today's global market," Stevens added.
Stevens cited census data that showed as of 2008, an estimated 46.9 million Hispanics represented 15 percent of the U.S. population with a spending potential estimated at $1 trillion for 2009.
Stevens encouraged the Tucson and surrounding communities to attend the event and contribute to the UAHA's efforts.
"Only with your help will we reach this goal to enrich the lives of more students, the community and the University of Arizona," Stevens added.