Skip to content. Skip to main navigation.

UTA 2020 Black Heritage Month Celebration

February 1, 2020

Good morning and thank you for being here. It’s a great pleasure to welcome you to the second annual Black Heritage Celebration at the University of Texas Arlington.

When I spoke at the inaugural event last year I mentioned my hope that the event would grow in future years, rising to the stature of a wonderful community wide celebration sharing the contributions of the past, the achievements of the present, and providing encouragement and vision for the future.  Let me thank Prof. Alan Bowling and all the faculty and staff for the tremendous efforts that have turned this into an all-day event not only involving the community but also focusing on students from UTA and our schools.  Truly this has become in just its second year an event of celebration and of inspiration, building even stronger ties between UTA and the Arlington community.

We honor the work, sacrifice, legacy and spirit of great leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Thurgood Marshall, Booker T Washington and many more. They inspire us. They serve as role models and give us something to aspire to.  We marvel at their achievements and the obstacles they surmounted. Catalyzed and inspired by their example we find greater motivation to strengthen our commitment to make this world a better place, one of justice and equality, where talent is provided the opportunity to thrive irrespective of other differentiators.

It is only fitting that as we honor the legacy of the past we should celebrate and recognize the leaders of today, especially our alumni who set high standards of excellence in work and in the community, providing the continuity in the dream that we all have of a better tomorrow.  People like:

Fred Perpall, chief executive officer of The Beck Group. He leads the firm's domestic and international architectural design, planning, real estate consultancy and construction businesses. A registered architect, Perpall is a member of the prestigious American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. He is currently the Chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council and is former chairman of the Urban Land Institute's Urban Plan. He is a 2020 Dallas 500 Honoree and a 2014 UTA Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient.

Dr. Wendy A. Okolo, a 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient broke new ground in 2015 when she became the first Black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas Arlington. She is an Aerospace Research Engineer at NASA where she is leading teams to help develop re-entry vehicles for planetary exploration.  A winner of multiple national awards for her work as an engineer, she is a passionate advocate for the increased role of young girls, women, and minorities in STEM.

Devan Allen, a UTA alumna and Tarrant County Commissioner has used the hardships she faced as a child to become an entrepreneur, community leader, and an advocate for at-risk youth and women.  A former EMT she now leads our Precinct 2 with a focus that is best described in her own words as “we will seize the opportunities before us and move with intentionality and courage to shape the future for generations to come."

These alumni and so many others are building a legacy today and everyday – setting high standards in their professions and in the community, serving as role models for the students who follow in their footsteps, learning from tremendous talented and dedicated faculty such as   

Dr. Elten Briggs, Associate Professor of Marketing, whose research is showing the world that growing employee diversity helps grow the bottom-line by attracting a more diverse client base and building customer loyalty. 

Dr. Sonja Watson, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the College of Liberal Arts who has dedicated herself to studying inequality raising awareness of women’s issues and those associated with inequality for people of color.

Debra Woody, Senior Associate Dean – School of Social Work and Director of UTA’s Center for Addiction and Recovery Studies who is leading a hugely impactful project to train social workers to handle substance abuse issues to combat the opioid crisis. Her work is preparing the people on the front line of the opioid crisis how to treat those most effected.

And these are just a few examples of our faculty, continuing to build a legacy, breaking new ground – clearing the way for others to follow, creating more opportunities for people of color, for all people, to access higher education, conducting cutting-edge research to change our world for the better, and engaging with local and global communities to ensure that their work has impact.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, we are committed to providing opportunity and transformational experiences for our students, leading to career and life successes for each of them, and through them better futures for their families and the communities in which they live and reside.

We see this commitment, through the actions of our faculty, staff and students, and they are embodied in outcomes…Just a few weeks ago, UTA was recognized for graduating more African American students at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level than any other university in the state of Texas and is now ranked among the highest in the nation.  Since 2013, we’ve increased the number of Bachelor’s degrees awarded to African American students by 33%, and Master’s Degrees by 61%.

We’re very proud of those numbers, but they don’t tell the whole story of a focus on student empowerment and success that is based on dreaming big, believing that barriers and obstacles can be overcome, that the past, while it affects the present, cannot constrain the future, and that each student who walks through our doors will be a part of building a more equal, and better tomorrow.

Each of you here today is playing a special role, in continuing a journey that was started decades ago, enabling this campus to be a place where we work together to innovate, collaborate, dream and support each other to truly be one of the very best academic institutions – not just in terms of academics, scholarship and ranking, but also as related to climate, ethos and opportunity. Our students, our community, our great State and nation, deserve nothing less. You are building a legacy and in doing so you are ensuring a wonderful future.

Thank you for being here and for being part of the Black Heritage celebration.