Our 2018 Outstanding Young Texas Exes on What’s Shaped Their Success

The Outstanding Young Texas Ex Award recognizes Texas Exes age 39 and younger who have made significant achievements in their careers and service to the university.

Nominations for 2020 Outstanding Young Texas Exes are due Oct. 1, 2020, and can be submitted here.

Michelle Carter, BS ’07, Life Member

A three-time Olympic shot putter, Michelle Carter won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics on her final throw of 20.63 meters, an American record. While a member of UT’s Track & Field team, Carter earned the nickname Shot Diva for her confident demeanor and glamorous look. That duality has become her personal brand. Also a certified makeup artist, Carter believes female athletes can compete in sports and feel sure of their beauty at the same time, a message she brings to the You Throw Girl Sports Confidence Camp, a program she launched in 2017 for female athletes in sixth-12th grades.

On being true to herself:
For awhile, people did not agree with how I was presenting myself. But I felt like I had to do what was true to my character. For me, getting dressed and looking my best is important. For a track meet, I’m getting my hair done, my nails are painted, I’m going to have my eyelashes and lipstick and go out there and look my best, feel my best, and do my best. And all my pictures are gonna be cute. [Laughs] We started making people choose; in order to be good, you have to look like this. If you’re too pretty, you’re not good. Whoever said that lied. We have to re-write what works for us.

On the value of sports:
Sports show you your weaknesses, and show you where you’re strong. And, from there, we have to make a choice. If there’s something you’re not good at, do you quit or do you keep going? I can’t win every meet, but I can do my best at every meet. It’s about the journey, and who you become through sports.

On what she tells young female athletes:
Don’t get fixated on what other people are doing—you could miss out on what you’re good at. Try different things. If I never tried shot put, I wouldn’t be here today. It wasn’t the pretty sport—it’s still not a pretty sport—but I’m pretty good at it!

Leon Chen, BBA ’01, Life Member

Leon Chen was a sophomore at UT when he and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Tiffany Chen, BS ’01, Life Member, launched Tiff’s Treats, the nation’s first-ever warm-cookie delivery service, out of a West Campus apartment. It has since grown across Texas, and into Georgia and Tennessee, with more than 45 locations and 800 employees. Over the past three years, Leon has raised more than $50 million in funding for expansion across the nation.

On how he gets it done:
The thing I think is most underrated in this day and age is just sheer hard work. If you truly believe in something and you want to go all in, you’re going to have to work hard to succeed. Even today at our company, there are other companies out there that may be better funded, or they might have smarter people. There are all these factors that we can’t control, but the one thing we can control is how hard each of us works.

On narrowing his focus:
I was dabbling in a lot of different things in college and my dad said, “You’re really one of these jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” That really hit me. When you are doing your business, focus on one thing. You get the most success if you’re absolutely dominant and an expert at one thing.

On having your spouse as your business partner:
Professional disagreements turn into personal disagreements and vice versa. Looking back now, I wouldn’t have it any other way because what we did together took a lot of trust. It took many years of practice, and we are not perfect at it even today, but we try to identify the problem, solve the problem, and don’t let it get personal.

Rosa Flores, BBA, MPA ’01, BJ ’05, Life Member

Rosa Flores, a CNN correspondent in the Miami bureau, has covered U.S. and international news in more than 10 countries for CNN’s TV and digital platforms. Flores is passionate about criminal justice. Her recent investigation into the death of a Chicago teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer led to the reopening of the city’s investigation and a three-episode CNNgo documentary called Beneath The Skin.

On finding stories:
Follow your gut. Be curious, because that’s how you’re going to find out if there’s something there-there. A lot of the time I start looking into something, I don’t know if it’s going to turn into a story or not. I start digging, asking questions, talking to people. Sometimes you don’t know that you have a pretty big story in your hands until weeks or months later.

On finding a work-life balance:
It’s a constant [balancing act] between the current assignment that I’m working on, and the curiosity of “Wait, what is that? Should I look into it?” Flexibility is key, and having family that is flexible is also key. I’ve been very lucky. My husband is a huge champion of the work that I do. Aside from juggling work, we live in two cities. We change the dates of holidays and birthdays. We have celebrated birthdays in airports. It’s more of a lifestyle—a lifestyle of juggling; of daily learning, curiosity, and family.

On giving back:
I read at schools in every state I’ve lived in. I didn’t know how to speak English when I was a kid. I learned how to do that in school. I’ve learned my way through getting here, where I am at CNN. I’ve always invested time in trying to share that love for learning with children, because I think that it’ll make for a great future generation. If you do that when children are young, then it’s like teaching them how to fish.

Bryan Jones, BS ’00, JD, MBA ’05, Life Member

While at UT, Bryan Jones was a 21-time All-American swimmer and captained the 2000 NCAA Championship team. Now, as an entrepreneur and technologist, he has started several companies and been issued multiple technology-based patents. He is currently the COO at uStudio.

On taking the leap:
Entrepreneurship is one of those things where until you take that leap, you’re never really going to know what it’s like. I made that jump, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past decade. The focus of startups is on where things will be in four to five years, so it really is the epitome of that Wayne Gretzky quote: “Skate to where the puck is going to be.”

On a favorite UT memory:
I don’t think there’s anything much better than winning a national title at UT. We hadn’t won my first three years, and so my senior year the pressure was on. We didn’t want to be one of the classes that doesn’t win—there hadn’t been very many that didn’t pull a national title together. We won pretty dominantly that year, and it was pretty exciting.

On success in and out of the pool:
Things that I think play a big part in success and life are just showing up, putting in the hard work, and being prepared for whatever may come. Swimming definitely helps to instill those values into everyday life.

Photographs by Matt Wright-Steel


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