Go-Getters: Meet the 2018 President’s Leadership Award Winners

Call it a participation trophy. The six recipients of the President’s Leadership Award, given annually by the Texas Exes, represent some the most active participants on the Forty Acres. Whether they’re starting nonprofits in their spare time, earning All-American honors aside from their honors-track degree plans, or leading student government between trips abroad, these students are what one could conservatively call active participants—not simply for showing up, but for taking charge, too. They set the pace on campus, and the way they see it, this is just the beginning.

Carolena “Gabby” Crank

Major: Business Honors, Plan II Honors

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Credentials: Academic All-American, All-Big 12 Rookie, FCA student leader, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative

Street cred: Studied abroad in Rome, human trafficking education volunteer in Thailand, former camp counselor, broke five school records as a high school senior

When she’s not attending classes for her dual majors, Gabby Crank is training. She’s lifting weights by 7:30 a.m. on weekdays, and attending track and field practices from 3–5 p.m. (which include a brisk 6–7 mile run). On Monday evenings, she bounces from a sorority meeting to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting before digging into homework. Then there are meetings with the athletic trainer and out-of-town track meets. “It’s always a nice surprise if I get to go home in the middle of the day or take a nap,” she remarks. Double-majoring in both business honors and Plan II honors leaves just a little time for helping roommates with catering gigs, or finding new restaurants around town. Of course, she’s always open to new opportunities. “I love to sing and lead worship with a few other athletes at FCA,” Crank notes, “and I just started learning to play the guitar.”


Karan Kathuria

Major: Biochemistry

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Credentials: Natural Science Council president, founder of Texas Undergraduate Core Facility/UT-ACC ABC, recipient of Unrestricted Endowed Presidential Scholarship

Street cred: Explorer of new taco joints, throws a killer networking event

The solutions to many problems lie in the intensive investigation of the “how” of things, according to Karan Kathuria. “I was craving answers to how things work at the molecular level rather than having a broad understanding of all of biology,” says Kathuria, the recipient of a bevy of scholarships with a steady involvement on the Natural Sciences Council, of which he was elected president last year. On the side, he’s helped establish the UT Austin Community College (UT-ACC) Applied Biosciences Certificate, a joint program intended to help students find careers in biotechnology. “It’s really special for me to see that growth and know that this student organization is helping make a difference.” When he graduates, he’s off to medical school. But in the meantime, he’s biking around Austin, bouncing between coffee shops, and taking dance classes. Through campus leadership positions, Kathuria has seen students come and go, learn and grow—and it’s made an impression as he looks forward.


Jacqueline Gibson

Major: Computer Science, African and African Diaspora Studies

Hometown: Cedar Hill, Texas

Credentials: Forty Acres Scholar, Co-founder of the Association of Black Computer Scientists, CNS Aspire Awards winner, Texas Orange Jacket

Street cred: Often found in the kitchen cooking and baking, crocheted hats for a domestic violence nonprofit

Jacqueline Gibson sees leadership as knowing when to get out front, and knowing when to fall back and let others use their talents. That’s why she’s working to develop tech skills in groups underrepresented in the STEM fields. Her path started in high school when she attended First Bytes, a weeklong program at UT aimed at getting girls interested in computer science. “First Bytes inspired me to become a member of The Senate of College Councils and advocate for academic change, more opportunities for STEM students, and for more affordable technology use,” she says. And what’s her proudest achievement? When her underclassman mentee told her he would have dropped out if not for Gibson. “I think we all hope that we will have a significant impact on someone’s life,” she says, “but actually having that moment was more meaningful than I can explain.”

Emily Yang

Major: Biomedical engineering

Hometown: Katy, Texas

Credentials: 4.0 GPA, Student Engineers Educating Kids (SEEK) mentor, developing an incubator to treat jaundice

Street cred: Pianist, hyper-competitive gamer (taking a break to focus on academics)

In only her second year as a student, Emily Yang is deeply involved in biomedical research, and mentoring. Her interest in her field of study started at birth, having been born with a congenital heart defect that limits oxygen in the blood. Despite open-heart surgery in her infancy, she later collapsed while climbing the stairs of her high school and received a pacemaker the next day. She credits her time going in and out of hospitals for inspiring her interest in medicine. Someday, Yang will need an artificial heart valve. “The idea that I could receive a transplant that I personally designed” she says, “makes the notion slightly less terrifying.”


Matthew “Micky” Wolf

Major: Honors Program, Plan II Honors, Psychology

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Credentials: Social Entrepreneurship Learning Lab founder, Texas for Expanding Opportunity co-founder, Forty Acres Scholar

Street cred: Interfraternity Council member, studied abroad in India and Italy, helped spearhead initiative to bring back UT/Texas A&M game

With three majors and a vice presidency in Student Government, Micky Wolf doesn’t slow down. “For me,” he says, “it’s about empowering students.” Like his fellow award winners, he’s staked out his place by working to bring things from idea to action, which he’s practiced not only in student leadership, but in his three—count ’em—three majors (two of which are honors programs). After college, he wants to be an entrepreneur. By being hyper-engaged, he’s honed skills he believes define leadership: empathy, hard work, and vision. “If you’re not looking at leadership as an opportunity to serve others, then I think I have a different view of leadership than you do.”


Valarie Cardenas

Major: Supply Chain Management

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Credentials: Undergraduate Business Council member, Texas BBA recruiter, Terry Scholar

Street cred: Sigma Delta Lambda recruitment chair, leadership programs and internships at Ernst & Young, AT&T, and Target

Valarie Cardenas never leaves home without her day planner. “A lot of people laugh because it seems too old school,” she says “but writing it down helps for it to stick in my head and once it’s in this book, it’s official.” It makes sense, considering how much the four-year business major manages to do in both official and unofficial capacities. A recruiter for the McCombs school, president of the Hispanic Business Student Association (HBSA), and a business leadership and mentoring programs participant, Cardenas has no trouble filling her planner. “If you were to ask my friends, they would probably say that my hobbies include joining other organizations,” she says. But that’s where some of her greatest achievements lie. At her final HBSA potluck last fall, she found herself surrounded by her fellow students. “Many said how they were so thankful for me reaching out a couple of years ago as a student recruiter but even more thankful in me being welcoming within HBSA,” she recalls. “That meant so much to me.”


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