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Rising Stars Shining With Purpose

Front Row (L-R): Jailene Maldonado, Kariel Slusher, Julianna Figueroa-Rojas, Galilea Nuñez.
Back Row (L-R): Henry Phavorachit, Juan Avalos, Luis Montes, Megan Cruz, Curtis Huff

At the heart of the University of St. Thomas-Houston is the commitment to serve people, especially those with limited access to educational excellence. Beginning with an initial cohort of five students in 2019, the Rising Stars Internship Program quickly grew to an astonishing 178 students enrolled in the program during the 2022-2023 academic year. The inaugural class for this innovative program graduated in May. There are currently over 260 students set for the 2023-2024 academic year, which is about 10% of the student undergraduate population at UST.  

Rising Stars Program Launches Emerging Talent 

Three of the original five Rising Stars who began their college journey in the pilot program walked across the stage this May as the first graduates in their families. With over four years of work experience under their belts, these graduates are set to begin their illustrious careers. Many of these young men and women have already accepted job offers or gained admission to graduate programs to continue their education.  

“These students have worked hard and gained invaluable experiences both in the UST classroom and in corporate America,” said Mallory Peterson ’11, director of Corporate Relations. “The success of this program is a reflection of our incredible students and the corporate and community sponsors who have supported them on their academic journeys.”

* Indicates first-generation students.

Julianna Figueroa-Rojas* earned a B.A. in International Business with a minor in Political Science. She will attend St. Mary’s University School of Law. Her goal is to become an immigration lawyer.  

Galilea Nuñez* earned a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Criminology, Law and Society. She accepted a job offer from M.D. Anderson, where she interned for the last four years. Her goal is to become a pediatric psychologist.  

Juan Avalos* earned a BBA in Marketing and is interviewing with several companies. His corporate sponsor his senior year was Pennebaker, a branding, strategy and digital marketing agency.  

Luis Montes earned a BBA in Accounting and accepted a position at Plains All American Pipeline in the Accounting Department where he interned during his senior year. 

Megan Cruz earned a B.A. in Education and accepted a position at Stevens Elementary in HISD as a first grade teacher.  

Kariel Slusher earned a BBA in Finance with a minor in Economics. She accepted a position as a portfolio manager at Hancock Whitney Bank. 

Jailene Maldonado earned a B.A. in Communications with the goal of one day working for

The New York Times in her hometown of New York City. 

Luke Stein (not pictured above) earned a B.A. in Political Science with the goal of continuing his education at law school.  

Henry Phavorachit earned a BBA in Finance and MBA in Accounting. Henry was also an athlete on the men’s golf team leading the Celts to their first-ever SCAC Championship. He accepted a position at BDO USA. 

Rising Stars Open House Celebrates Graduating Cohort  

At a recent Rising Stars Open House, nine smiling graduates stood beaming as UST Board Chair Curtis Huff, Mallory Peterson ’11, and Rising Stars Program Director Dan Garcia ’01, MBA ’09, announced each graduate’s name, major and future plans, including graduate school or full-time employment. Cheers of congratulations erupted from the crowd along with a round of applause. 

More about Rising Stars  

The program provides direct scholarship assistance to first-generation and low-income college students through internship placements with corporations and nonprofit organizations in Houston, which allows these young men and women to graduate without incurring significant debt while gaining real-world professional development experience. At the same time, the program provides a much-needed springboard from which to begin their professional careers.  

Because of Huff’s own experiences growing up in a low-income neighborhood, he knows the importance of an education and its life-changing impact on those who are dealt a challenging hand. “I want to see students with limited access to educational excellence now have the opportunity to attend a four-year, private Catholic university,” Huff said. “Moreover, the Rising Stars Program isn’t aimed at just helping the students, but it also helps the entire community.”   

About the Author — Mallory Wendel ‘11

AvatarUniversity of St. Thomas alumna, Mallory Wendel ’11, is UST’s first director of corporate relations. Serving as a strategic brand ambassador for the university, Wendel engages with corporations of all shapes and sizes to establish innovative partnerships.

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