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Five people stand on stage at the convocation ceremony

Craig M. Berge Dean David W. Hahn, Humberto Fierro-Laredo and Maricruz Zepeda-Wilson of the Office of Academic Affairs recognize graduating Engineering Ambassadors Aaron Folkerts and Ira Stokes, center, at the 2023 winter convocation. Engineering ambassadors represent the college and conduct tours.

'Create Your Own Path,' ABOR Chair-Elect Urges Graduates

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'Create Your Own Path,' ABOR Chair-Elect Urges Graduates

Jan. 30, 2024
Sharing her own journey from first-generation college student to Southern Arizona business leader, Cecilia Mata inspires Wildcat Engineers at the 2023 winter convocation.

Keynote speaker Cecelia Mata shared her personal journey with the graduating class of 269 at the December 2023 University of Arizona College of Engineering convocation ceremony.

“Let me tell you about my story and how higher education impacted my trajectory and brought me opportunities I never thought I would have,” said Mata, chair-elect of the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body for Arizona’s three public universities.

Former Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Mata to an eight-year ABOR term that began in 2020. She serves in several leadership positions and is expected to become board chair during her tenure, pending election by her fellow regents.

Cecelia Mata head shot
Cecelia Mata is a business community leader, having been named the 2013 Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the Year, the 2016 Minority-Owned Small Business Champion of the Year by the Arizona Small Business Administration and an outstanding Latina entrepreneur by Cox Communications.

Mata delivered her speech in both English and Spanish. She grew up in Panama as the daughter of immigrant parents from Hong Kong. She spoke Chinese at home and Spanish elsewhere. While Mata faced challenges, such as beginning full-time work at a young age, she said she knew education was the key to a better life.

Mata became the first member of her family to complete college, earning business administration bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Panama. When she moved to Sierra Vista, Arizona, in 2000, she wanted to start a business and live the American dream.

“I became what Americans call a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge I could to enable me to realize my dream.”

Mata founded AllSource Global Management in 2005. The company provides professional services to public and private clients within the defense industry. Since then, she has launched a security services firm, Sawaceci; purchased an aerospace engineering design and manufacturing company, Serenidad Hoy; and emerged as a Southern Arizona business leader.

“What I want all of you to take away from my story,” she told the graduates, “is the realization that you all have the opportunity as engineers to create your own path.”

Off to Change the World

Before introducing Mata, David W. Hahn, the Craig M. Berge Dean of the College of Engineering, welcomed guests and congratulated the graduates.

three people sit at a table at a luncheon
Karson Knudson, center, looks forward to putting to the test his master’s degree as well as the advice of mentors. Knudson is shown here at the fall 2023 outstanding seniors award luncheon with ECE Department Head Michael Wu at left and Michael Marcellin, Regents Professor and International Foundation for Telemetering Chaired Professor, at right.

“Through the challenges, inevitable failures and the glorious successes, you have stood strong together,” he said. “The Wildcat spirit is contagious, and the Wildcat Engineering spirit knows no limits.”

Karson Knudson, the convocation’s student speaker, shared several pieces of advice from college faculty members, including this one from chemical and environmental engineering professor Armin Sorooshian: “Don’t shy away from failure; it’s an integral part of development and growth.”

Knudson completed a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. He is pursuing an ECE accelerated master’s degree and continuing a position as senior technical coordinator with Universal Creative for its Orlando theme park.

Hahn also welcomed special guest Jason Sherrill, director of the UPC-University of Arizona program at the Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (UPC) in Lima, Peru. The program allows students to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fields including industrial engineering at UPC.

Kelly Simmons-Potter, associate dean of academic affairs, conferred the degrees: 135 bachelor’s, 97 master’s and 37 doctoral.

Yi Zhang stands in front of Old Main
Among the 269 graduates, Yi Zhang, with a PhD in materials science and engineering, plans to work in industry, perhaps aerospace or medicine.

Yi Zhang was one of the 269 graduates. She earned a PhD in materials science and engineering. She was also the department’s outstanding graduate student for fall 2023.

“I’m excited. It’s a long journey for a PhD,” said Zhang, who began the program in 2017.

Zhang learned metal 3D printing from her adviser, assistant professor of materials science and engineering Andrew Wessman.

“It’s a big accomplishment for her. I’m excited to see where she goes,” said Wessman. An alum with Zhang’s skills is likely to work in aerospace, designing medical implants or for a national lab, he said.

Wessman was pleased to see all the MSE graduates and their families.

“We’re a small department, and we get to know all our students,” he said. “It’s special for us to see them graduate and head off to change the world.”

Watch the video of the winter 2023 convocation.