Island University Summer 2023 Commencement Smashes Record with 740 Graduates

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A record-breaking 740 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi graduates Islander students earned degrees during the Summer 2023 Commencement ceremony on Aug. 12 at the American Bank Center. Students beamed joyfully in traditional caps and gowns, many adorned with cords and stoles to represent their accomplishments, as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. It was the largest summer commencement class in the Island University’s 76-year history and a fitting moment of pomp and circumstance to recognize the end of a long academic journey.

During his time as an Islander, nursing major Tyler Bourdo ’23 worked hard to not only ensure his own success but the success of fellow nursing majors as well. Bourdo served as TRIO SSS-STEM’s nursing academic coach; the opportunity allowed him to tutor and mentor first-generation and disadvantaged pre-nursing and nursing students. He also served as president of the Student Nurses Association (SNA), which has more than 250 members.

Bourdo, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, found his calling to become a nurse after a life-altering medical diagnosis at age 7.

“During my countless hospital stays, I had the opportunity to receive the most compassionate and supportive care from my medical staff. Because of them, I aspired to provide the same level of compassion, empathy, and respect for pediatric patients and their families that I once received,” Bourdo said. “Upon graduation, I accepted a job offer at the same hospital where I was once a patient and will soon be working as a nurse in the pediatric surgical-trauma unit. The Island University has helped me achieve my lifelong goals.”

For graduate student Nathan Black ’21, ’23, building on the incredible success he had as an undergraduate at the Island University was a top priority. A whiz at chemistry, Black graduated from Flour Bluff High School in only three years. He finished his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from TAMU-CC as an Honors student with a 4.0 GPA in only a year and a half. Through the rigor of earning a Master of Science in Chemistry, Black found a strong support system in his mentor and thesis advisor, Dr. Eugene Billiot, TAMU-CC Professor of Chemistry.

“Dr. Billiot has been a secondary father figure and he has helped me develop the necessary coping skills to deal with the stresses of graduate school and a future in academia,” Black said. “His main contribution to my success, however, was his willingness to allow me to develop independently as a researcher and educator with minimal supervision. He was always available to provide help whenever I requested it, but my experience in implementing new ideas, as well as learning from their failures, has enabled me to gain confidence that I would not have otherwise.”

Dr. Eugene Billiot, along with Dr. Feri Billiot, TAMU-CC Professor of Chemistry, described the 20-year-old Black as a leader, trainer, and mentor.

“Collectively, we have mentored over 100 students in the past 20 years, and we both agree that Nathan is one of the best students we have ever had. He is currently the author of four peer-reviewed publications, the second author of one peer-reviewed publication, and co-author of 11 American chemical society presentations,” they said. “He is very smart and learns everything very quickly. But what makes Nathan stand out is that he cares about others. He cares about the lab and the program that he is a part of. He is a great mentor and most people he is mentoring are even older than him.”

For Spencer McElwee ’23, selecting her Islander Impact was easy: she helped start the Criminal Justice Club and helped organize the very first nationally accredited Alpha Phi Sigma-Criminal Justice Honors Society Chapter at TAMU-CC. Her passion for criminal justice stretches all the way back to the fifth grade when she first discovered the field. Her eventual goal is to work for the FBI.

Dr. Callie Shaw, TAMU-CC Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, is one of two faculty advisors for Alpha Phi Sigma.

“Spencer was an extraordinary student whose impact resonates beyond academia; she stands as a beacon of inspiration for her exceptional contributions,” Shaw said. “With the establishment of not one, but two nationally accredited criminal justice organizations, her legacy is one of tenacity and dedication. As she embarks on her journey towards success, there's no doubt that she will magnificently represent Islanders, showcasing the true essence of excellence.”

While on campus, McElwee worked as a student employee for the Enrollment Management team. As a result of her exemplary work ethic, she was named Student Employee of the Year and Student Newcomer of the Year. McElwee says she recognizes the personal growth she has experienced during her time at the Island University.

“When I first started at TAMU-CC, I was meek and nervous. I did not know what would be in store for me or if I was on the right path, but each of my steps in this journey at the university has made me feel like I have joined something quite special,” McElwee said. “As each semester passed, I began to grow into myself. I have matured and take pride in my education — I have found my correct path.”

The commencement ceremony was presided over by Dr. Kelly M. Miller, TAMU-CC President and CEO, and the commencement speaker was Dana Sisk ’01, who earned a Master of Accountancy from TAMU-CC and is President and CEO of Rally, the largest credit union in South Texas. Sisk is also a member of the National Islander Alumni Association board of directors and was the 2023 Outstanding Alumni Award honoree at the Homecoming Honors Banquet. Her husband and daughters are also Island University alumni.

Sisk drew from her own life story to provide valuable kernels of wisdom that only experience can provide. She recounted her mother’s working life  from waiting tables as a 10th-grade dropout at a Tennessee diner to a 30-year career with the IRS that began as a temporary employee and ended as Commissioner of Wage and Investment.

“She summed up her career in three words: ‘Let nothing slide,’ ” Sisk shared. “By that, she meant to always pursue excellence, to always give your best on your good days and your bad, and to ask more questions and dig deeper when the facts don’t add up.”

She offered a few pro tips such as following up with a phone call applying for a job online and sending a handwritten thank-you note instead of an email after a job interview.

“ ‘Let nothing slide’ is not about perfection, but about bringing your very best, your a-game. As a leader, it’s about expecting your team to do the same,” Sisk said.  

To view a live recording of the Summer 2023 Commencement ceremony, visit