Island University Summer 2022 Commencement Smashes Record with 715 Graduates

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The families and friends of a record-breaking 715 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi graduates gathered en masse at the American Bank Center as their favorite Islander crossed the stage to receive a diploma during the Summer 2022 Commencement ceremony on Aug. 6. It was the largest summer commencement class in the Island University’s 75-year history.

Islander students beamed joyfully in traditional cap and gown, many adorned with cords and stoles to represent their accomplishments. It was a fitting moment of pomp and circumstance to recognize the end of a long academic journey filled with both opportunities and challenges.

A chemist in her native country of Costa Rica, Jessie Matarrita Rodriguez ’22 came to TAMU-CC in fall 2020 on a Fulbright Latin American Scholarship Program of American Universities (LASPAU) to earn a Master of Science in Environmental Science. As a researcher working on pesticide analysis, she found a mentor in Dr. Hussain Abdulla, TAMU-CC Associate Professor of Chemistry who works specifically with an ion trap mass analyzer – the Orbitrap.

“I applied to five universities and was surprised that I got accepted to all five,” Rodriguez said. “The only program that interested me was the Master of Science from TAMU-CC because of its interdisciplinary approach and its use of the Orbitrap. During my time here, Dr. Abdulla has supported me in many ways. For example, he encouraged me to present two oral talks at prestigious conferences. Without his support, I could not have successfully finished my thesis.”

Benjamin Tudor ’22, who is a father and husband, says the road to completing his Master of Arts in English was an enriching educational experience.

“I have changed in many ways since my first day as an Islander,” Tudor said. “I have gained much more confidence, more knowledge, and had a transformative experience as a person overall, thanks to the support of the faculty. I managed to power through deadlines and workloads, balancing everything with family life and financial stress, and managed to maintain it all and strengthen my future prospects in the process.”

Tudor, who will graduate with a 4.0 GPA, has secured a job as a high school English teacher.

Dr. Kevin Nelson ’22, who earned a Ph.D. in Coastal and Marine System Science, was granted two internships with NASA during his doctoral studies. The first, at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where he worked on a new algorithm for identifying and characterizing extreme precipitation events from spaceborne precipitation retrievals. The second, at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where he worked on boundary layer heights over the Southern Great Plains. He also received the TAMU-CC Student Research Grant.

“I selected TAMU-CC because it provided a unique opportunity to study atmospheric science and remote sensing within a highly interdisciplinary program,” said Nelson, a Minnesota native. “Additionally, because my interests in atmospheric science lie in tropical cyclones, the proximity to the ocean and potential hurricane impact allowed for better experiences for both personal and academic goals.”

Nelson says he’s proud to have made an Islander Impact by helping to recruit and educate young students during Island Day presentations. Nelson has secured a prestigious post-doctoral fellowship at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and hopes to one day teach future generations of atmospheric scientists, as well as mentor future researchers, as a university professor.

Gretchen Wersterfer ’22 chose to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to fulfill her career goal of helping others. During her time on campus, she was in the Islander Sailing Club, worked as web editor of the Island Waves Student Newspaper, and studied abroad in Costa Rica.  

“From the start of high school, I knew that I wanted to attend college here and actually toured campus three separate times,” Wersterfer said. “I loved the environment of a close-knit community that fostered one-on-one relationships between students and faculty.”

Her career goals are to become a pediatric intensive care nurse and eventually return to TAMU-CC for a master’s degree.

Joseph (Jay) Wise Jr., Senior Resident Director/Senior Vice President of Investments at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, served as commencement speaker. Wise shared a few candid reflections about his early struggles to get on the right track and how his service in the U.S. Marine Corps was the game-changer in his life’s trajectory.

“It does not matter where you start. It matters where you finished,” Wise said, concluding: “Congratulations, graduates. Go get yourselves some more victories.”

A posthumous degree was awarded to the late Dr. Rose Mary Zuniga, an Island University staffer who worked in the College of Education and Human Development for the past 22 years. Zuniga was preparing to defend her dissertation for a Doctorate in Education Leadership – “Administrative Interpretations of Federal and State Policies Regulating Teaching Practices for Emergent Bilinguals in South Texas Schools” – when she died unexpectedly on June 28. Zuniga was a three-time Islander: She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 2006 and a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction in 2008.

Her daughter, Dolores, was an employee in the Student Activities office at the Island University when Rose began her tenure as a staff employee in the same office.

“Doctor Zuniga was extremely passionate about being an Islander. The Island University was her second home. She and I worked together in the Office of Student Activities – at that time, that's when she decided she was going to go for it and get her bachelor's degree and then her master's degree. She didn't stop,” Dolores Zuniga said. “My mother completed all three degrees at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi; she really loved being here.”

The Island University has been a part of the Zuniga family legacy, and includes degrees earned by three of Dr. Rose Zuniga’s children – Miguel Zuniga ’89, Dolores Zuniga ’00, and Grace Zuniga ’07 – as well as two of her grandchildren.  

To close the ceremony, Dr. Kelly M. Miller, President and CEO of A&M-Corpus Christi, thanked the graduates for the honor and prestige they have brought to the university during their time as students.

“Each of you has proven you are a leader. You are the future of this university, this state, this nation, and this world,” Miller said. “No matter where life may take you, no matter what level of success you achieve, never forget that you are an Islander forever.”