Editor's Note: The University Star will release two articles recognizing this year's Distinguished and Young Alumni honorees at Texas State. Part 1 highlights Dr. Deborah Bergeron, Gloria Campos Brown, Johnny Weisman and Kuro Tawil. Part 2, which will be released next week, will recognize John Navarrette, James Taylor, Mark Estrada and Cortney Lebens.
Every year Texas State recognizes alumni who have demonstrated significant impact through their professions, accomplishments and service, through the Distinguished Alumni and Young Alumni Rising Star Awards.
Gloria Campos Brown ('76), Dr. Deborah Bergeron ('87), Johnny Weisman ('72), John Navarrette ('87) and James Taylor ('81) are recognized as 2020 Distinguish Alumni Award honorees for their achievements in society and in their professions.
Kuro Tawil ('12), Mark Estrada ('06, '10) and Cortney Lebens ('10) have also been recognized as 2020 Young Alumni Rising Star honorees, an award presented to inspirational and impactful alumni under the age of 40.
Dr. Deborah Bergeron
The '80s at Texas State were marked by big hair, striped blazers, Rick Springfield and the time-honored tradition of floating the river. This is how Director of the Office of Head Start Deborah Bergeron remembers her years as a Bobcat when she was enrolled in what was, at the time, an experimental degree track.
The idea was that there needed to be more arts in schools, so Texas State made it possible for students to study theater while simultaneously earning a K-12 teaching certificate.
As part of this degree, Bergeron was cast in a play called Foxtales that was written by Dr. Chuck Pascoe, the theater director at the time. The cast of Foxtales would travel to rural parts of Texas and perform for kids who otherwise had no access to live theater.
“That was this fun opportunity but it was [also] direct exposure to elementary-age children,” Bergeron said. “I was able to, much later, tap into that knowledge base about development at the younger ages and working with younger children.”
Although Bergeron had always known she was interested in kids and education, she never imagined the type of career these interests would lead her to.
Head Start is a federal program established in 1965 under fellow Texas State alumnus President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his “War on Poverty”. The program provides early childhood education and family support to children at or below the poverty line. In her role as director, Bergeron oversees all the federal offices and the grants they provide.
“I never would have seen myself here,” Bergeron said. “I really think that opportunities present themselves when you are opening yourself up to new experiences and then putting as much into those experiences as you can.”
Bergeron emphasizes the importance of applying this openness and effort into everything one does. She spent time working as a waitress and bartender in college. Although these jobs were not directly related to her degree, she took advantage of them as a chance to cultivate skills that would serve her in future endeavors.
“If you just do what’s in front of you really well, things will unfold,” Bergeron said. “Opportunities will come your way. Be open to them. Be willing to try different things.”
Learning to approach all opportunities from a place of responsibility and integrity is a life skill she calls “priceless”. By remaining open to the unexpected, she has built a life beyond what she ever could have envisioned.
“I wouldn’t do anything differently,” Bergeron said. “I have really loved how eclectic my career has turned out to be. I couldn’t have planned that.”
Still, she understands the anxiety that comes with being a college student and not knowing what the future may hold. She warns against clinging to the idea of a certain destination, encouraging students to instead enjoy the ride.
“There isn’t an end game. That’s something I certainly wasn’t aware of at 21 or 22 years old. It’s a whole process. I think you have this vision that you arrive," Bergeron said. "But there’s no arrival, you’re just going to keep going. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I still have amazing new opportunities that I could’ve never created on my own.”
Gloria Campos Brown
When Gloria Campos Brown decided to study broadcast journalism after graduating from high school in 1972, she started thinking, like a lot of other high school seniors, where she wanted to go to college.
It was after a discussion with her high school journalism teacher, Gene Yates, a fellow Texas State alumna and former editor of The University Star that Campos Brown decided to attend Texas State.
Like Yates, Campos Brown worked at The Star where she reported on the local community, covered county commissioners court and designed the layout of the newspaper. Additionally, she worked for the university’s radio station, KTSW, as well as Texas State's in-house television newscast where she wrote scripts and anchored the show.
By her senior year, Campos Brown was an intern for WOAI Radio Station in San Antonio where she reported on-air and gained even more valuable experience.
After finishing her internship, Campos Brown went back to her hometown of Harlingen, Texas, in search of a summer job. Her mother, who was very active in the community, helped get her an interview at KGBT Harlingen, a station Campos Brown would work at for nine years after graduating in 1976.
After her time in Harlingen, Campos Brown moved to Dallas to work as a news reporter at WFAA-TV where she eventually worked her way up to a starting news anchor, a role she recently retired from after holding it for 30 years.
Campos Brown, whose career highlights include visiting President George W. Bush in the Oval Office and co-anchoring with Oprah, says one of her favorite parts about journalism is the freedom that comes with learning new things and playing a part in history.
“The freedom that you have in journalism, to meet people, interview people, go places that you normally wouldn’t, it’s a learning experience every day, and I love that part of it,” Campos Brown said. “I was a history minor so I like to say the news business is a front row to history.”
Since her retirement, Campos Brown has become active in Texas State's community and serves on the development board where she helps raise money for scholarships. She also has her own scholarship, the Gloria Campos Endowed Scholarship in Mass Communication.
“My aim is to help more minority students like myself realize their dreams,” Campos Brown said. “Somebody helped me, and I love being a Bobcat and so I want to help my fellow Bobcats, and so that is my legacy there at the university.”
Campos Brown says she continues to carry Texas State with her in all that she does by promoting and advocating for the university through her work today.
“There’s a lot to be proud of, being a Bobcat and I just want to help spread that news, and my job now is to be a bullhorn for students and the university itself," Campos Brown said. "Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat.”
Graduating from Southwest Texas State University in the winter of 1972, a young Johnny Weisman entered the real world filled with dedication and a desire to succeed.
From the time he was 16 years old, Weisman would spend his summers working in construction and road construction; he says his decision to major in business stems from his previous experience in the field.
"I figured I would end up somewhere in the business world when I was working on road jobs," Weisman said. "I figured that would be the best thing I could do is have a business."
After college, Weisman put his business degree to use and landed the position as a cost accountant for a highway construction company and moved to work as an office manager three months later.
Weisman says his role in both of the companies depended widely on the education he earned through the university's business program.
"I went in there, in the office, and their accounting and everything was about four to five months behind," Weisman said. "And so, the education and my 33 hours of accounting at Texas State became very important."
It was not until after Weisman helped revive the highway construction company that he made the decision to build his own business, Hunter Industries, Ltd.
Following what he is most familiar with, Weisman decided to base his business on supporting the construction and expansion of roadways in Texas and federal highway systems.
Weisman and his business have been widely recognized for their efforts, as Weisman has been awarded the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) Pete Gilvin Award; an award granted to those who have generously helped their community.
Although Weisman is humbled by the awards he has gained over the years, he says everything he has accomplished did not happen to receive recognition.
"I've done things in my life to make things better, and I think I've been very generous with the successes that I've had," Weisman said. "But I didn't do things just to get an award, I did things because I thought there were challenges there to do, and whether there was an award that resulted in it, I think I've been very generous and helped a lot of people out."
Looking back at all he has accomplished, Weisman says he often finds himself proud of the difference he has made.
“I could go back today and look over miles and miles of highways that I’ve built over my career and think, at the end of my time I’ve left this place better than when I started here,” Weisman said.
While working in the business industry for over 40 years, Weisman says he has mindfully seen the ups and downs of the industry and has equally experienced both failures and successes.
"You learn more by your failures than you do your successes," Weisman said. "You can't be afraid to fail at something; it takes that willingness to take a risk to see what kind of limits you can push yourself to [and] see the different things you desire to do.”
48 years after graduating from Texas State, Weisman does not plan on slowing down; he hopes to further the growth of Hunter Industries and continue to embody the characteristics defined by the Distinguished Alumni Award.
When Kuro Tawil was in his final semester at Texas State, he realized he had to face the challenge of figuring out what to do after graduation. Ultimately, he decided to travel.
After graduating in 2012 with a degree in communication studies, Tawil embarked on a solo backpacking trip from Pakistan across India. On his trip, Tawil, who is recognized as one of the three 2020 Young Alumni Rising Star honorees, heard first-hand accounts and stories of gender-based violence against women working and living in the countries he visited.
He thought back to his time at Texas State where he saw people carry around pepper spray which motivated him to do something to combat the issue he saw in other countries. Several months later, KUROS was born with a mission to be a sustainable company that provided pepper spray to at-risk women in need.
KUROS pepper sprays have helped women in South Africa, India, El Salvador and the Philippines. Tawil says despite the company's success, at the end of the day, he is just glad to be doing something to combat violence against women.
"It's not something we do to feel good," Tawil said. "It's something we do because it needs to be done."
Tawil credits his success to the Department of Communication Studies. In fact, he says the Young Alumni Rising Star Award is not just for him but the entire department for teaching him how to approach an issue like gender-based violence and find a solution to it.
Tawil says there are so many amazing alumni and professors that have gone before him and he is thankful to carry that with him every day. He keeps in touch with his professors and encourages other students to do the same, especially at Texas State where many professors are nationally or internationally recognized.
However, his advice to current students is to know that they don't need to have their lives figured out right away.
"You've got your entire life ahead of you," Tawil said. "Don't be stressed. Just because you're not doing what you want to do right out of college doesn't mean it's the end of the world."
For more information about the Distinguish Alumni and Young Alumni Rising Star Awards visit Texas State's alumni website.