UT Dallas Awards Gala Celebrates Distinguished Alumni, Supporters

  • UT Dallas President Richard Benson (third from left) posed with gala honorees (from left) Mike Brodie BS'76, Tahir Hussain BS'94, Deborah Hankinson MS'77, Russell Cleveland, Dr. Solomon C. Luo MS'78 and Dr. Peter Balyta MBA'03.

Six distinguished honorees shared the spotlight at the 2017 UT Dallas Awards Gala, the 15th annual event recognizing alumni and community leaders.

During the ceremony, Russell Cleveland, founder, president and CEO of RENN Capital Group Inc., received the Gifford K. Johnson Community Leadership Award, a recognition named for the one-time president of the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies, the precursor of UT Dallas.

“I actually knew Gifford very well,” said Cleveland, who served on the board of directors of American Biomedical Corp. when Johnson was president of the company.

Cleveland, an ardent supporter whose contributions have helped shape the guitar studies program at UT Dallas, attributed much of the University’s success to leadership and a dedication to learning.

2017 Awards Gala Honorees

Gifford K. Johnson Community Leadership Award

Russell Cleveland — founder, president and CEO, RENN Capital Group Inc.

Green and Orange Award for Alumni Service

Dr. Peter Balyta MBA’03 — vice president, academic engagement and corporate citizenship, and president, education technology, Texas Instruments

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Mike Brodie BS’76 — broker/owner, Keller Williams Realty

Deborah Hankinson MS’77 — partner, Hankinson LLP

Tahir Hussain BS’94 — CEO and managing partner, Collide Village LLC

Dr. Solomon C. Luo MS’78 — partner, president and CEO, Progressive Vision Institute

See the Alumni Link newsletter for full profiles of the honorees.

“I believe the whole mission of UT Dallas and every university is to create lifetime students — always learning, always growing and remembering those who taught us,” he said.

Dr. Peter Balyta MBA’03, vice president of academic engagement and corporate citizenship and president of education technology at Texas Instruments, earned the Green and Orange Award for Alumni Service.

“For whatever mark I may have left on the University through volunteerism, UT Dallas has forever left a mark on me,” said Balyta, a member of the UT Dallas Development Board

He said he volunteers at the University as a way to pay forward the gift of education, and he challenged others to give back.

“The time you spend volunteering will help make UT Dallas, our community and our industries stronger,” he said. “And that, I assure you, will leave a mark on you.”

Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Mike Brodie BS’76, broker/owner at Keller Williams Realty, came to UT Dallas intending to study computer science, but “quickly learned that Fortran and COBOL were not my languages.” He switched his focus to business and finance and now credits his UT Dallas experiences with helping him achieve a life goal.

“Freedom. That’s my big why — the freedom to choose my faith, where I worship, the things I want to do with my beautiful family, the choices I get to make in business,” Brodie said. “And The University of Texas at Dallas was a big part of me being able to create some freedom in my life.”

Deborah Hankinson MS’77, a partner at Hankinson LLP and Distinguished Alumni Award honoree, began her career with the Plano Independent School District, educating students with severe and profound disabilities in a field that, at the time, was relatively new.

“My work as a teacher was rewarding in a way that is difficult to express, and it was made possible by the education I received at The University of Texas at Dallas,” she said. “Not only did my education help make me a better teacher, it helped lay the foundation for my decision to attend law school.”

Hankinson, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, is nationally recognized for her commitment to equal access to justice.

Similarly committed to pursuing his passions, Tahir Hussain BS’94, CEO and managing partner at Collide Village LLC, relocated to Dallas in 1991. He dreamed of launching a business in the vibrant city, and by 2000, he founded his first venture.

“In order to follow your passion and desire to be successful, you need to have knowledge,” said Hussain, a Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. “I strongly believe that the program that UT Dallas has offered here to me actually created a foundation for what I am today.”

I believe the whole mission of UT Dallas and every university is to create lifetime students — always learning, always growing and remembering those who taught us.

Russell Cleveland,
Gifford K. Johnson Community Leadership Award recipient

Honoree Dr. Solomon C. Luo MS’78 also built a foundation during his time as a student. A first-generation immigrant, he left Taiwan to study at the University, where he found the support of longtime professor Dr. John Jagger.

“John Jagger gave me opportunity,” said Luo, partner, president and CEO at Progressive Vision Institute.

He credits Jagger’s unfailing encouragement with his decision to attend medical school.

In recognition of the professor’s influence, Luo established the John Jagger Scholarship for Natural Sciences and Mathematics in 2014.

“When we have achieved, we have enough, and it is time to give it back,” he said.

Sponsors of the 2017 gala were Axxess, Central Market, Ericsson, State Farm, Texas Instruments and Toyota. See video from this year’s event and learn more about previous honorees here.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].