Known as the “Mother Teresa of South Texas”, this individual gives migrant families a chance to catch their breath, along with a shower, meal, change of clothes, and travel assistance as they travel north into our country. She is the Executive Director of The Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She has been featured in Forbes, Fortune Magazine and had been named World’s Greatest Leaders.
One time she was addressed by Pope Francis and in his words, he said, “is it appropriate for the pope to say this? I love you all very much”
Policy Scholar and Advisor
Our next speaker resides in New York City where he is a Lecturer of Urban Studies at CUNY Queens College and is a Doctoral student at The New School For Public Engagement, Division of Policy Management and Environment. His research focuses on the Green New Deal as a site of political communication and policy analysis. He was raised in McAllen, Texas and regularly frequents the RGV.
A courageous bilingual advocate who proudly serves more than 160,000 bilingual students in deep South Texas. She is an Ex-A-Tec originally from Monterrey, Mexico. She is currently the Language Proficiency, Biliteracy and Cultural Diversity Director at Region One Education Service Center. She is also the Legislative Chair for the Texas Association for Bilingual Education and the Parliamentarian for RGV-TABE. She has dedicated 18 years of her professional career to empowering bilingual education students, teachers, and administrators in the deep South Texas border.
Evelyn is committed to the philosophy that accessibility and inclusion are everyone's responsibility. All people, regardless of whether or not they have a disability, deserve the opportunity to live a full and productive life in their community where they can live, learn, and work alongside each other through all stages of life. She is the parent of a son with Autism, a non-profit executive director and sits on the Texas Governors Committee for People with Disabilities.
She made her solo debut at the age of 9 in Moscow, Russia, performing as a soloist with the Chamber Orchestra. After graduating from Tchaikovsky Moscow Conservatory with a Bachelors in Violin Performance, she fled her Homeland due to severe ethnic persecution. Accepting an invitation from the US government, she continued her performing career and studies in the United States. She is presently serving as the Assistant Professor of Applied Violin at the UTRGV School of Music. Our next speaker is recognized nationally and internationally as a pedagogue, soloist, chamber and orchestral musician and next year she will be debuting at Carnegie Hall.
A Julia Beecherl Endowed Professor in mechanical engineering at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. In 2019 she received the Presidental Excellence Award from the White House in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. She was the first Mexican national to earn an engineering PhD from Rice University, invented a spinning technology while working at UT-Pan American that could manufacture nanofibers 900 times faster than technologies currently on the market.
Youth Organizer, Advocate
Sydney is the founder of The RGV Matters, a youth-led organization that fosters youth leadership and empowers community members through education, communication, and collaboration. She is a first-year Political Science major at Texas A&M University in College Station and a recent 2019 graduate of Mcallen Memorial High School. Throughout her high school career, she was heavily involved in the McAllen Mayors Youth Advisory Council, National Honor Society, President of her local church youth council, and served as the Head Coach for the National Hispanic Institute at the Rio Grande Valley.
In 2018, he competed in the Winter Olympics as a Cross Country Skier. His celebratory finish grabbed the world’s attention and made him an international icon that represents passion and dedication. He is a local business owner and an inspiration to all.
A passionate educator known for inspiring students to become change agents in their communities, our next speaker is a high school teacher in McAllen, TX. She has the great privilege of pursuing a passion while working relentlessly towards educational equity and elevating the teaching profession. She was also named 2019 Teacher of the Year for McAllen ISD
Pilar believed in her family recipe, prepared it in her kitchen and the results have been amazing. She is the creator of the yogurt based dip called “dip it” and her product has placed her as a Ruby Red Venture recipient for two years. It’s H-E-B’s 2nd grand prize-winning that has provided the opportunity to begin mass production in a commercial kitchen and distribute “dip it” on H-E-B shelves in stores across Texas and it will soon be sold internationally.
Verónica G. Cárdenas
This speaker is a documentary photographer based in the RGV. Migration issues are a recurring theme that she explores. Her work has been shown and featured at the United Nations, TIME Magazine, Buzzfeed, Rolling Stone, The New York Times and other major publications. She has ridden the Bestia twice and her photos have captured the eyes of the world.
Author, Mental Health Advocate
Shawn Elliot Russell
Shawn went from being jobless and homebound with crippling anxiety to an award-winning author and speaker. He is passionate about helping others by sharing what he's learned on his journey from fear to freedom.