FIU to graduate thousands May 2-3

Prodigy, Paralympics swimmer, budding researcher among those graduating in recycled gowns

A boy genius, a Paralympics swimmer, and a woman determined to honor her mother’s memory though breast cancer research will be among the 3,300 graduates who will attend Florida International University’s spring commencement. For the first time, the graduates will be wearing gowns made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.

“The one thing our diverse student body has in common is their desire to succeed against all odds,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “The hallmark of a Panther is the ability to turn the impossible into the inevitable.”

Six commencement ceremonies will take place Monday, May 2 and Tuesday, May 3 2011 at the U.S. Century Bank Arena, located at FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus, 11200 SW 8th Street in southwest Miami-Dade County.

All undergraduate and graduate students will wear environmentally-friendly gowns made solely out of recycled plastic bottles. The regalia, made by Virginia-based Oak Hall Cap & Gown, is called GreenWeaver and made from a fabric spun from molten plastic pellets. Each gown is made from an average of 23 plastic bottles and looks and feels like traditional fabric. The gowns are part of FIU’s commitment to creating a sustainable environment.

Among FIU’s outstanding graduates this spring:

Kristian Herrera, 18, will be among the youngest students FIU has ever graduated when he receives his bachelor’s degree in physics with minors in chemistry, biology and mathematics. The Hallandale Beach resident arrived at FIU when he was 14 years old, a home school student whose parents realized they could no longer satiate his thirst for knowledge, especially in physics, chemistry and biology.

Professors say Herrera quickly surpassed his fellow students, eventually performing research normally reserved for doctoral candidates and earning the reputation as a hardworking genius.

He will continue his meteoric trajectory this summer as he enrolls at Harvard University’s graduate school, where Herrera will pursue a doctoral degree. He will graduate on Tuesday, May 3 at 10 a.m. For a video on Herrera, click here.

At the age of 13, Ileana Rodriguez was told that she would never walk again. It was a devastating diagnosis for the competitive swimmer and ballerina who developed Arterial Venus Malformation (AVM) inside her spinal cord.

Today, she is a competitive swimmer who will represent the United States in Guadalajara, Mexico at the Parapan American Games, an international competition for athletes with physical disabilities. Rodriguez currently holds the American record in the 200-meter breaststroke.

She will receive her master’s degree in architecture on Tuesday, May 3 at 3 p.m.

After her mother died of breast cancer, Sarah Erickson knew what she had to do. Already on her way to receiving a bachelor’s in fine arts in theater, Erickson went back to get a second undergraduate degree, this time in physics. She then enrolled at FIU as a doctoral student in biomedical engineering, helping in the research and development of an innovative imaging device that would more accurately detect breast cancer in its early stages.

As she walks on stage to be hooded, Erickson says she knows her mother would be very proud of her success. She plans to continue working on the development of the imaging device and research better methods to detect cancer—all types—as early as possible. Erickson will graduate Monday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m.

For more on these and other Worlds Ahead graduates, please click here.

The full commencement schedule, including honorees at each ceremony, is as follows:

MONDAY, May 2, 2011

Ceremony 1:  10:00 a.m.

School of Hospitality and Tourism Management
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
College of Education

Honoree: Frank van der Post ’84, managing director of Brands & Customer Experience for British Airways, will receive the FIU Medallion – Outstanding Alumnus. Van der Post previously spent 21 years with the InterContinental Hotels Group in Europe and North America, which recruited him after graduation. His last position with them was vice president for the East Coast of the United States and the Caribbean and general manager of The Barclay in New York.

Ceremony 2:  3:00 p.m.

College of Business Administration (Landon Undergraduate School of Business)

Honoree: David Alfonso ’96, founder, chairman and CEO of Empire Investment Holdings, will receive the FIU Medallion – Outstanding Alumnus. Prior to establishing Empire Investment Holdings in 2003, he was senior vice president and principal of Platinum Equity; managing director of Hartford Life International; and director of sales and marketing with the American Bankers Insurance Group.

Ceremony 3:  7:30 p.m.

College of Business Administration (Chapman Graduate School of Business)
College of Engineering and Computing

Honoree: Carlos Duart ’94, ’99, president and CEO of Metric Engineering Groups, will receive the FIU Medallion – Outstanding Alumnus. A 2010 inductee to the FIU College of Business Administration’s Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, Duart is involved with several of his alma mater’s organizations, including the FIU Foundation as vice chairman of Development, and dean’s councils for the schools of Business Administration and Engineering. He is also a council member of the FIU Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center.

TUESDAY, May 3, 2011

Ceremony 4:  10:00 a.m.

College of Arts and Sciences (except SIPA)

Honoree: Allan Phipps ’00, an advanced placement teacher in environmental science and alternative energies at South Plantation High’s Everglades Restoration & Environmental Science Magnet Program, will receive the FIU Medallion – Outstanding Alumnus. Known for engaging his students in hands-on, project-based learning, Phipps mentors his young charges in numerous environmental projects, including the deployment of artificial reefs and a student-built solar car that his class races every year. The team clinched the national championship in 2009.

Ceremony 5:  3:00 p.m.

College of Architecture + The Arts
College of Arts and Sciences (SIPA only)

Honoree: Jaime Canaves, founding member of FIU’s architecture and design programs, will receive the FIU Medallion – University Service. Twenty years ago, Canavés created one of FIU’s most enduring traditions, the popular Walk-on Water student competition that is part class assignment, part university gathering, the event that brings hundreds of students, architects, alumni and community members to campus each fall.

Ceremony 6:  7:30 p.m.

Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work
College of Nursing and Health Sciences

Honoree: Pedro Jose “Joe” Greer, a founding faculty member of the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, the founder of Camillus Health Concern and the founder and medical director of the Saint John Bosco clinic, will receive FIU Medallion – Cal Kovens Distinguished Community Service Award. His concern for those without health care has fueled his passion to work on their behalf and in 2009, President Obama presented him with a prestigious Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

For more details about FIU’s spring commencement, honorees and other Worlds Ahead graduates, please visit

Media Contact: Jean-Paul Renaud at 305-348-2716.

Comments are closed.