Outstanding students persevere to find ways to help others

When Courtney Soliz was in a terrible car wreck in high school, she got an up-close look at the medical field. That experience inspired her to pursue a career in medicine to help others the same way doctors and nurses helped her.

Courtney Soliz

“Everyone, from doctors and nurses to my physical therapists, made it a personal goal to see me recover,” Soliz said. “They put in so much effort and pushed me to heal. They never let me fall, and it really showed me how being there for others is so important.”

Soliz, who lives in Victoria, recently was named the Fall 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Student for the University of Houston-Victoria School of Arts & Sciences. Kaila Sevilla of Houston was named the school’s Outstanding Graduate Student.

“Courtney and Kaila are two examples of the many incredible, intelligent students we have at UHV,” said Beverly Tomek, interim dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “They have put so much effort into earning their degrees, and I am proud to see them and all of our graduates move into the next phase of their lives.”

Beverly Tomek

Each semester, professors from UHV’s three schools select outstanding graduates to be honored during commencement. UHV will hold two sets of commencement ceremonies for 2020 graduates after the spring ceremonies were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first three ceremonies will be Dec. 12 at the Leonard E. Merrell Center, 6301 S. Stadium Lane in Katy. The second set of ceremonies will be Jan. 9 at Faith Family Church, 2002 E. Mockingbird Lane in Victoria. Ceremonies at each location will be at 10 a.m. for UHV School of Arts & Sciences graduates, followed by School of Business Administration graduates at 1 p.m. and School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development graduates at 4 p.m. A livestream of the ceremonies will be available at

Looking back at her life after the wreck, Soliz is amazed at how far she’s come. When it happened, she was four months away from graduating from Victoria West High School. Instead, she had to homeschool the last part of high school while she was recovering.

After she received her diploma, she spent her freshman year at Victoria College in a wheelchair. In addition, some of the medications she was taking made it difficult to stay awake during the day. But through it all, she continued working toward her degree. Although she originally planned to transfer to the University of Texas at San Antonio, Soliz decided to go to UHV after she took a few classes while also enrolled at VC.

“UHV’s faculty members are wonderful because they push their students while also helping them understand and apply difficult concepts,” she said. “The biology faculty, especially Daniel White and Hashimul Ehsan, taught me how to study well and see how everything was connected. It was clear that their main goal is to help their students reach graduation and succeed.”

When she transferred to UHV halfway through her sophomore year, Soliz began studying every morning on the third floor of the UHV University Center, where she became friends with Jesse Pisors, vice president for advancement and external relations. Pisors helped her make other connections on campus, and she eventually worked as a tutor for other students and even spoke during a UHV donor event.

At the end of the fall semester, Soliz will receive a Bachelor of Science in biology. After she graduates, she plans to take the Medical College Admission Test in March so she can apply to medical school. She wants to go into emergency medicine.

Kaila Sevilla

For Sevilla of Houston, UHV was the only school to which she applied because she wanted to study forensic psychology. However, the program was different than what she expected.

“I had studied forensic science and psychology separately, so I was expecting some focus on criminology and looking at how and why someone commits crimes,” Sevilla said. “Instead, the program was more focused on mental health and how to offer treatment to people, which is something I want to do.”

As part of her practicum, Sevilla worked at the Jester prison unit in Sugar Land. During her time there, she did interviews with inmates and took part in mental health examinations, checkups and checked how medication was affecting them. The overall goal was to ensure that prisoners adjusted to prison with few issues.

The experiences she had during her practicum were eye-opening and helped Sevilla set a goal for her future career. When she graduates at the end of the fall semester with a Master of Arts in forensic psychology, she plans to apply to doctoral programs in clinical psychology. Eventually, she hopes to work at a hospital, mental health clinic or prison.

“I’ll be happy as long as I can help underprivileged people move forward,” she said. “I’ll be taking what I learned at UHV and my practicum experience with me as I pursue my doctorate, and I’m looking forward to being able to help people who really need it.”

Receiving the Outstanding Graduate Student award was a welcome surprise for Sevilla, and she is grateful for everyone who supported her through her studies, especially her classmate, Kathy Crumpler, and her practicum supervisor, Danielle Todaro, a UHV adjunct faculty member.

Soliz also is grateful to those who have supported her, including her classmate, Keir Walker; Sara Thurmond, a UHV Student Success coach and foster care liaison; her boyfriend, Alfred Garcia; and her family. She is one of four graduates in her family this semester. Her mother will be graduating from college, and two of her siblings will be graduating from high school and middle school.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me and to UHV,” Soliz said. “The environment at UHV is so welcoming, and I can tell that everyone wants to see the students succeed.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.