3 UT employees receive Texas Parents Staff Merit Award

Hannah Ortega

Andrew Mendoza said when his boss called him into her office, he figured there was a problem they needed to solve. Instead, he received news that he had won a Texas Parents Staff Merit Award.

Mendoza, art director for the both the Counseling and Mental Health Center and University Health Services, accepted the award at the Division-wide meeting last week alongside Joan Long, clinical social worker and clinical team coordinator for the Counseling and Mental Health Center, and Rita Miller, director of data and analytics for the Vice President of Student Affairs Office.

“It’s truly an honor,” Miller said. “I’ve known about the award for a long period of time, and it’s something that’s celebrated really greatly across the division, and … the people who received it before me I have a lot of respect for. … So to be put in that category was an honor. It’s not a place that I’d put myself, so it’s nice that other people see it.”


The award honors employees of the nine Division of Student Affairs departments, which includes Texas Parents, University Housing and Dining, and the Counseling and Mental Health Center. Texas Parents, the creators of the award, gives each of the winners $1,500 and a plaque. 

“This award was created … as a way of just showing appreciation for the countless folks that are here on campus helping their students in ways that parents and families are no longer really able to because they’re not with their students on a day-to-day basis,” Texas Parents director Susie Smith said.

Students, faculty and staff were welcome to nominate an employee for the award by completing an application that asked how their nominee influenced others to fulfill the division’s motto of “Living the Longhorn Life.”

“The committee really tried to look at who was making an impact in that stance of helping people look at what does ‘Living the Longhorn Life’ look like, and how did they support it through their day-to-day roles and attitude?” Smith said.

The three winners had a chance to speak in front of division’s employees at an award ceremony, and Long said she recognized her coworkers in her remarks.

“It’s lovely to be noticed, but we work in teams so much here that it feels kind of weird to be singled out as an individual,” Long said. “When I spoke about receiving the award to the assembly, I very much wanted to talk about all the teams that I interface with because our senior administrators have done just a wonderful job setting up all these teams so that we can do our work.” 

Mendoza said working with students and hearing of their success after graduation “makes a world of difference,” and he has greatly enjoyed his time at UT since he started in February 1994.

“I came here because I simply needed a job, and I was 24 years old and came in pretty much a shell of a person and (with) not much direction, but I knew I had skills, I knew I had talent,” Mendoza said. “And the people here at the time … they gave me the opportunity. They helped me make a career.”

Editor's note: This story was updated to correctly refer to the Division of Student Affairs.