Music has always been a core component of alumnus Gerald Guilbeaux’s life.
Alex Zappi is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Outstanding Graduate.
Zappi is among eight award finalists who will be recognized Friday and Saturday during Spring 2021 Commencement ceremonies.
Individual ceremonies for the University’s eight academic colleges and Graduate School will be held on Friday and Saturday at the Cajundome and the Cajundome Convention Center.
Each spring and fall semester, deans from UL Lafayette’s academic colleges nominate a student as Outstanding Graduate. Nominations are based on leadership, scholarship and service. An Alumni Association committee interviews candidates and selects one to receive the overall award.
In addition to being the fall semester’s overall honoree, Zappi represents the College of Engineering as its Outstanding Graduate. He is a chemical engineering major with a 4.0 GPA.
Zappi, who completed more than 1,900 research hours, has authored two publications. He has also coauthored two publications.
Zappi served as president, vice president and secretary of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. He was also president of the Louisiana Engineering Society and treasurer of the Omega Chi Epsilon Chemical Engineering Honor Society.
Zappi volunteered at the University’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics summer camp for underrepresented students. He also volunteered at the University’s Ecology Research Center. The center provides resources for research, education, and community activities in ecology and environmental biology.
He plans to attend graduate school. Zappi has been accepted into numerous chemical engineering doctoral programs, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Columbia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Princeton, Penn State, Stanford, and Yale universities; and the universities of Florida and Michigan.
He envisions researching and developing sustainable systems at a university.
His parents are Mark and Melinda Zappi of Lafayette, La.
Here’s a look at the remaining Fall 2021 Outstanding Graduates.
Mateo Chavez is the Outstanding Graduate for the College of Liberal Arts. He is a psychology major with a 3.97 GPA.
Chavez has worked as a researcher in three Department of Psychology laboratories: the Cognition and Psycholinguistic Lab, the Developmental Science Lab, and the Psychology Music Lab.
He belongs to the Southwestern Psychological Association. Chavez received the Future Business Leader of the Year Award from the Phi Beta Lambda national honor society.
He earned a Best Community Director Award as a resident assistant for the University’s Office of University Housing and Residential Life.
Among hundreds of hours of community service, Chavez, a pianist, has performed for retirement home residents, and given lessons to high school students.
Chavez is applying to graduate schools. His plans include starting an applied psychology practice and becoming a faculty member at a university.
He is the son of Stephanie and Marco Chavez of Castor, La.
Julianne DeBlieux is the Outstanding Graduate for the College of Education. She is an exercise science major. Her GPA is 3.96.
DeBlieux was a captain on the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns soccer team. She represented the team as a Scholar-Athlete of the Year. DeBlieux was named to the Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s List, which recognizes student-athletes for academic achievement. She attended the Sun Belt Conference Summit and served as the University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president.
DeBlieux was a panelist during the University’s Women's Leadership Conference earlier this year for the “More Than Enough: Perspectives and Experiences in Leadership from Women Student-Athletes.”
She is a member of the University’s Kinesiology Professional Association and Delta Delta Delta Sorority. DeBlieux was a member of the Homecoming Court in 2020.
She will pursue a doctorate of physical therapy at Texas Woman’s University in Dallas.
Her parents are John and Monique DeBlieux of Houma, La.
Britney Hatfield is the Outstanding Graduate for the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration. She is double-majoring in accounting and finance. Hatfield has a 4.0 GPA.
She is a member of the Society of Louisiana CPAs, UL Lafayette’s Association of Future Alumni, and the campus chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. Hatfield served as treasurer of the Beta Alpha Psi Honor Society and Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority.
She was marketing director for The Big Event, which encourages service projects among the University’s student body. Her other community service work includes tutoring her peers in accounting. She also volunteered for Freshman Move-In Day, the D.R.E.A.M.S. Foundation of Acadiana, St. Joseph Diner and Faith House.
Hatfield has interned at local accounting firms for several years. She plans to pursue a full-time career as a certified public accountant, and obtain certification as a certified financial planner.
Her parents are Dan and Vicki Hatfield of Luling, La.
Blake Hightower is the Outstanding Graduate for the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions. She is a nursing major with a 3.49 GPA.
Hightower conducted research related to the effects of COVID-19 on students who are also parents. She also participated in a study about preventing dog bites among children.
She was a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, the University’s Biology Society, and the campus chapter of the Pre-Professional Society. Hightower was parliamentarian of the UL Lafayette Student Nurses' Association; she participated in a Hurricane Laura relief effort that was coordinated by the association.
Hightower served on the College of Nursing and Allied Health Profession’s Dean’s Advisory Council.
She plans to work as a registered nurse in the field of behavioral health. She also intends to pursue a master’s degree to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
Hightower is the daughter of Kristine and Ben Pontiff of Lafayette, La.
Mina Juneau is the Outstanding Graduate for University College. She is a general studies major with a concentration in behavioral science. Juneau has a 3.96 GPA.
Juneau received numerous scholarships, including the Jesse and Irma Jewell Endowed Scholarship, Dr. Ben and Clare Roy Thibodeaux Scholarship, and the Dr. Ray P. Authement Valedictorian Scholarship.
Juneau was spirit chair for the campus chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi, an international women’s fraternity.
As a member of Ragin’ Cajun Catholics, she has been active with retreats, prayer teams, and Bible study groups. Juneau has sung with the Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church choir.
In 2019, she volunteered with FOCUS, a Catholic collegiate outreach, in Estes Park, Colorado. She has also been an after-school care teacher for elementary students.
Following graduation, she plans to serve as a Catholic missionary with Damascus Catholic Mission Campus in Centerburg, Ohio.
Her parents are Charles and Mina Morrison of Lafayette, La.
Maxwell Kane is the Outstanding Graduate for the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences. He is a mathematics major with a 4.0 GPA.
Kane was among eight University students who earned first- and second-place finishes in 2020 and 2021, respectively, in Mathematical Association of America team competitions. Each of those years, he placed first in individual competitions for research presentations about biomathematics and game theory.
Kane has also presented research during the Louisiana Council on Excellence in Undergraduate Research Conference.
He contributed research in applied mathematics to two papers that will be submitted for publication to peer-reviewed academic journals. Kane was twice chosen a Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics scholar. CURM scholars conduct research in applied mathematics.
He will pursue a master’s degree in economics through the MAPSS program at the University of Chicago. Kane also intends to earn a Ph.D. in economics.
His parents are Michael and Kimberly Kane of Cookeville, Tennessee.
Adam Ortego is the Outstanding Graduate for the College of the Arts. He is an architectural studies major with a 3.88 GPA.
Ortego served as vice president and treasurer of the campus chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students.
He and other School of Architecture and Design students collaborated on an interactive sculpture in Parc Sans Souci; Ortego assisted with filming and documenting the project.
He worked with faculty members as a design assistant for the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway Systems Interpretive Panels Project. He also volunteered with CREATE Lafayette, a cultural economic development effort.
Ortego received the Fluidity Endowed Prize for Architectural Travel. It enables undergraduate students in the School of Architecture and Design to study architecture in Chicago. He also earned the school’s undergraduate writing award and its design excellence award.
Ortego will begin pursing a master’s degree in architecture at UL Lafayette this fall.
His parents are Harvette and Jody Ortego of Lafayette, La.
Learn more about Spring 2021 Commencement.
Photo caption: The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Spring 2021 Outstanding Graduates are, from left: Mateo Chavez, College of Liberal Arts; Overall Outstanding Graduate Alex Zappi, College of Engineering; Mina Juneau, University College; Adam Ortego, College of the Arts; Britney Hatfield, B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration; Julianne DeBlieux, College of Education; Maxwell Kane, Ray P. Authement College of Sciences; and Blake Hightower, College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions. (Photo credit: Rachel Rafati / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)