Alumna Clara Villarreal twirled her son around as a tune played by UT’s mariachi ensemble echoed through the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center.
Villarreal and her son found their seats at the 16th annual Texas Exes Hispanic Alumni Fiesta on Friday, joining more than 200 former students at the sold-out event.
“It’s important to be able to provide alumni avenues to connect with each other, along with the experiences they shared,” said Brian Ricter, Texas Exes business analyst and networks coordinator. “The Hispanic alumni all had similar student organizations and similar experiences during their time on campus. This is a way for them to stay connected to the University in that affinity, even if they don’t all live in the same place anymore.”
Complete with a towering queso and chip display, raffle prizes lining the walls and an appearance by the UT mascot, Hook’em, the fiesta provided an activity-packed evening while helping raise money for the alumni scholarship fund.
Through the Texas Exes, the Hispanic Alumni Network’s proceeds will go toward a set of scholarships for UT students. Ricter said there are currently nine students benefiting from the Network’s scholarships.
For Villarreal, a former aerospace engineering major, the event’s cause brought her back to campus.
“The bottom line is all the money raised is for scholarships,” Villarreal said. “I earned the Texas Achievement Award when I was (at UT), and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise. That’s what called to me the most, the philanthropic part of it.”
For alumnus Richard Zuniga, the event was a way to reconnect with those he saw at Fiestas in previous years. Zuniga said the event provides a good way to give back to the University.
“We’ve been doing this for seven or eight years now,” Zuniga said. “It’s important to get people back and get them to stay in touch with the University and see what the scholarships are doing through here.”
This year was the “Sweet Sixteen” for the signature Hispanic Alumni event and also marked the last fiesta performance for neuroscience senior Frankie Lira, who plays the Guitarra de Golpe in the mariachi ensemble.
“It’s always great performing for people who know the music,” Lira said. “It’s fun seeing people come together, not only for the love of music, but also because they love UT.”