OLLU alumni: Rising Stars

Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013



 Jeannette Wong-Powell

Jeannette Wong-Powell took an improbable path into the world of optometry. At 18, she left her home in Mexico City and arrived in Laredo, penniless and unable to speak a word of English.

“All I had,” she says, “was my U.S. passport.”

It didn’t matter that Jeannette spoke only Spanish. Or that no one in her family had ever attended college. Or that she had to live with relatives and wait tables and babysit to get by. Jeannette left Mexico to follow a vision she’d had for 10 years. She wanted to become an optometrist.

While working odd jobs, Jeannette enrolled at Laredo Community College and learned English. Soon after, she impressed a recruiter from Our Lady of the Lake University with her grade point average and received a generous financial aid package. At OLLU, Jeannette became a star student and graduated with a bachelor’s in biology in 2006, then enrolled at the University of Houston College of Optometry.

Twelve years after crossing the border, Dr. Wong-Powell, 30, has a practice at the Bowden Eye Institute on the East Side. She also serves as a senior clinical instructor at the University of the Incarnate Word Rosenberg School of Optometry.

The classes she took at OLLU – especially those under Professor James Hall – prepared her well for optometry school.

“Dr. Hall’s pre-professional program is outstanding,” Dr. Wong-Powell says. “Whenever I go to Our Lady of the Lake, I always tell pre-med students, ‘You are at the best place for pre-professional programs. Because these guys prepare you so well. You have no idea.’ A lot of classes I took in my first semester of optometry school, I was like, ‘Yep, I know this anatomy. I know this histology. I know this pharmacology.’”

Dr. Wong-Powell is one of many young alumni – 30-years-old and under – who are rising quickly in their professions. Others include:


 Arantxa Loizaga

Arantxa Loizaga (BA Multimedia Journalism 2012) –
Univision news anchor, a two-time Lone Star Emmy Award winner and a tough reporter. In February, she surprised President Obama with a pointed question during a one-on-one interview: Would he end deportations of undocumented immigrants while working on comprehensive immigration reform? For forcing the President to deliver an awkward, “No,” the Columbia Journalism Review gave her a “Laurel” for “making good use of the familiar, local-anchor-goes-to-White House encounter.”


 John Valencia

John Valencia (MS Non-Profit Management 2010) –
Associate Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Communications for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in California. Before starting his current position on Sept. 1, John served with distinction as the executive director of the non-profit San Diego Oceans Foundation. During his tenure, John tripled the foundation’s revenue growth, increased volunteer participation from 3,700 to 30,000, grew the membership base by 1,000 percent and obtained more than $3.5 million in new grants and private funds.


 Isidro Reyna

Isidro Reyna (BA Communication Arts 2006) –
Deputy Chief, Public Affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District. His work in maintaining internal and external communications and managing the district’s community relations program is stellar. In June. the district’s public affairs office received six Excalibur Awards from the Houston Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Previously, Isidro worked as a public affairs specialist in the U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.


 Greg Kitchen

Greg Kitchen (BBA e-Business and Entrepreneurship 2006) –
Enterprise Competitive Intelligence Analyst for USAA. The financial services company that serves eight million plus members created the position for Greg in 2012. His job is to analyze what USAA’s competitors do in investments, insurance and banking. Before joining USAA, Greg worked for the San Antonio branch of a Wall Street investment firm. “The University inspired me to do a lot with my life,” he says, “and I feel like I’ve accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time.”


 Vanessa Rodriguez

Vanessa Rodriguez (BA Business Administration 2007) –
Cost estimator for Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest defense contractors. She consults with several departments at Kelly Aviation Center in San Antonio to provide competitive prices for customer proposals. Vanessa started as a cost analyst immediately after graduating from OLLU and entered a three-year finance leadership program at Lockheed in Fort Worth. She returned to San Antonio to help expand the leadership program, became a financial analyst, then moved into her current position.


 Amanda Brown

Amanda Brown (BA Communication Arts 2009) –
News anchor and producer for KAVU-TV in Victoria. She also teaches Interpersonal Communications at Victoria College. After graduating cum laude from OLLU, Amanda began reporting for KXII, a television station that covers news in Ardmore, Okla. and Sherman, Texas. In August 2012, she joined KAVU as a reporter and soon became a weekday anchor. “The professors at The Lake are incomparable,” she says “Sister Margit Nagy and professors Robert Hines and Antoinette Winstead are just some of many whom I admired.”


 Natalie Reyes

Natalie Reyes (BBA International Business 2010) –
Field Marketing Analyst with State Farm Insurance in Austin. She analyzes current trends and production levels in several Texas markets -- San Antonio, Austin, and the Rio Grande Valley, to name a few. An OLLU professor encouraged Natalie to apply for an internship with State Farm. “My first day I was given a laptop, cell phone, company car and set up at a hotel in Austin for orientation,” she says. “I thought, ‘If they do this for interns, I can only imagine what they do for their employees!’ … I am forever grateful to OLLU.”


 Stephanie Sanchez Sinclair

Stephanie Sanchez Sinclair (MS Non-Profit Management 2012) –
Director of Philanthropy for the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas. She oversees a team that cultivates donors, writes grants, engages alumni, organizes events and plans individual giving campaigns. OLLU’s online master’s program allowed Stephanie to travel with her husband, a minor league baseball player. She says: “I was able to complete coursework from places such as Reno, Phoenix, New York City, all over Florida, and even two semesters in Venezuela.”


 Cynthia Sanchez

Cynthia Sanchez (BA Biology 2006) –
Veterinarian at the Northeast Veterinary Clinic in El Paso, her hometown. Dr. Sanchez treats small animals, primarily domestic dogs and cats, administers vaccinations and performs routine and emergency surgeries. She interned at the Northeast Veterinary Clinic while studying veterinary medicine at Texas A&M and began full-time work after she graduated in 2010. Dr. Sanchez has three pets. When her German shepherd, Tulum, fell ill two years ago, she assisted with emergency gallbladder surgery. Tulum survived and is 14-years-old.

Sanchez did not decide on a career in veterinary medicine until her second year at OLLU. Dr. Wong-Powell discovered a passion for optometry at age 8. Her father died when she was young and her mother remarried an optometrist. “I would be with him on the weekends and help him a little bit with fixing glasses,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh that’s what I want to do!’ Because when he talked to people, everybody liked him. He was so charismatic and people were always so happy to be able to see him.”

Though she did not know English, her passion for a quality school in optometry led her to the U.S. After learning a new language and studying at Laredo Community College, Dr. Powell met a recruiter from OLLU. Brochure pictures of the University’s historic architecture gripped her. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is definitely a place that you can be proud of and say, ‘This is where I go to school.’”

The University offered a strong financial aid package. A blessing from her grandmother to leave Laredo followed. Years later, she fulfilled her dream. “I wouldn’t be here,” she says, “if it wasn’t for Our Lady of the Lake.”