Alumni from around the world honored at Torch Awards

With 1920s flapper girls, a telebot and a first-ever Alumnus of the Year award, the 13th Annual Torch Awards Gala was an unforgettable celebration. The black-tie optional event honors FIU’s outstanding alumni and more than 600 were in attendance March 8 at the J.W. Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami.


In the spirit of the Roaring’20s theme for the evening, FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg came dressed in a snazzy white suit. “No, I’m not here for a KFC commercial,” he joked on stage. “I’m here for you tonight in white because I’m ready to celebrate and enjoy all the accomplishments of our Torch awardees.”

This year’s Torch winners hail from the White House and Abu Dhabi, the Netherlands and the Cayman Islands. They included a mayor and a regional bank president, a veterinarian and CEO. This year, in an effort to make connections across the Panther network, a student was assigned to escort each of the winners through the evening

“Listen to the students. Please take time to hear their stories,” Rosenberg urged the alumni. “I can assure you you will be as impressed by their stories as they are by your story.”

Rosenberg’s message for the evening was all about making an impact. He brought on stage the FIU Robocop, a student invention that has captured international media attention. The telebot allows disabled police and military personnel to serve as patrol officers. He spoke of FIU’s commitment to strengthening the local public school system, in particular the university’s partnerships with Miami Northwestern Senior High and Booker T. Washington High.

“We are about purpose and doing the right thing,” he said. “We are about getting things done and doing the right thing.”

A few months ago, a reporter asked Rosenberg what he obsesses about most in his work.  “I made it simple,” he said. “At FIU we have been obsessing on impact.”

Impact on students. Impact on the community. “We have an obligation,” he said, “to leave it better than we found it.”

Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations Duane Wiles shared the story of an alumna named Belinda, a  divorced single mother of two. “She was at a major crossroads in her life,” he said. “She decided to go back to college at the same time that her kids were in high school.”

Her family questioned that decision, Wiles said. “You know what she did? She walked across the stage at FIU at the same time her two teens received their diplomas. That’s the FIU spirit.”

In the same way, the Torch winners also refused to take no for an answer, Wiles said. “Sixteen awardees who went beyond what was expected.”

The biggest applause of the evening was saved for longtime FIU volunteer and donor Gerald Grant, recipient of the first-ever Alumnus of the Year Award. Most recently, he organized the week-long Panther Alumni Week, which brought more than 100 graduates back to campus for a week to interact with students.

“This is the least I can do to repay FIU,” Grant said of his volunteerism. “I was not always successful, but with the guidance and support of my professors, this kid from Liberty City has been successful.”

Here are this year’s Torch Award winners:

FIU Alumnus of the Year: Gerald C. Grant, Jr. ’78, MBA ’89 branch director of financial planning, AXA Advisors

Charles E. Perry Young Alumni Visionary Award: Katherine Vargas ’04 director of Hispanic media, the White House

Community Leadership Award: James S. Rosa ’78 director of Staff, United States Liaison Office

Outstanding Faculty Award: Gustavo Roig, Ph.D. professor, FIU

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Mayor Barbara M. Sharief ’97, MSN ’00, ARNP mayor and District 8 commissioner, Broward County Board of Commissioners

Pamela Silva Conde ’03, MBA ’12 news anchor, Univision Network

Marlene M. Liriano ’89 vice president and director of Interior Design, HOK

Gregory Bossart, Ph.D. ’95 senior vice president and chief veterinary officer, Georgia Aquariums

Ernie Diaz ’89 Florida regional president, TD Bank

Francisco Martin ’93 head men’s basketball coach, University of South Carolina

Carlos Duart, ’94, MS ’99 Chairman and CEO, Duart Enterprises Inc.

Ana Menéndez ’92 docent, Maastricht University

Louis Stervinou ’87 managing director and partner, Eastdil Secured

Abraham S. Ovadia, Esq. ’09 shareholder, Florida PIP Law Firm, PA

Dr. Vivian Obeso ’94 assistant dean for curriculum and medical education, FIU College of Medicine

Timothy E.D. McLaughlin-Munroe MPH ’02 public health surveillance officer and deputy national epidemiologist, Public Health Department-Health Services Authority