10 x 10

Get to know 10 Wildcats for Life from the class of 2006

Katy Smith, UA Foundation

Ten years ago, they threw their caps in the air and collected their diplomas. Some had come to the UA directly from high school, while others began as mature adults starting new careers. Many were at a point somewhere in between. For each, 2006 was the year to finish a degree and begin something new. 

Our annual 10 by 10 feature presents 10 alumni who continue to give back to the UA a decade after graduating. In addition to financial contributions, many recruit for their companies on campus or serve on UA Alumni Association boards or committees. All treasure the vivid memories and personal connections they made at the UA. 

Learn who shaped their paths, what makes them feel nostalgic and why their days as UA students are never forgotten.

Nick Becker: enjoying lasting UA friendships
Finance and Business Management, B.S. and MBA  |  Senior Finance Specialist, Intel Corporation  |  Chandler

Motivation || “At the UA, I saw my friends getting involved and being successful, and it made me want to do more. It’s the same now that I’m in my career.”

A lifetime of Wildcat basketball || “As a kid, I watched the 1988 team that went to the Final Four. My freshman year, we won the 1997 national championship. You don’t forget that.”

Employer matches of UA donations || “It gives me that extra drive because I know it will increase the benefit.”

Recruiting from Eller || “I talk with students at the Career Showcase, and I’m always impressed when I see a freshman come through. They’re already figuring out which companies they’re interested in working for. I encourage them to be involved in clubs 
and activities. It’s important to be well-rounded and learn outside of the curriculum 
and textbooks.”

UA friends || “They’re more my family now. We go back to campus for sports events, and it keeps us together. I’m grateful for the connections I’ve made.”

Travis Burns: making UA connections
Journalism, B.A.  |  Certified Debt Specialist, National Debt Relief  |  New York

New York || “If anybody wants to leave Arizona, they’re going to have to buy a jacket to move up here. When we had a blizzard and the whole city was on lockdown, I got texts from friends in Tucson saying how beautiful it was there. I missed it badly then.”

How to meet other Wildcats || “Get involved with your local Alumni Association chapter. You already have one thing in common. It makes it easy to start that conversation.”

His degree || “I use it on a daily basis. I’m always going to need the ability to write and communicate.”

Favorite UA course || “Media law was actually the hardest class I took, but it was also the most informative.”

Why do you give back? || “The UA gave me the best times of my life, a platform for opportunities in the job market and lasting friendships.”

Sam Chang: recruiting fellow Wildcats
Marketing, B.S., and Juris Doctorate  |  Partner, Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP  |  Phoenix

How can you love the UA too much? || “My wife (Molly Dean-Chang ’04) jokes that I only have two types of clothing: work clothes and UA clothes.”

Recruiting Wildcats || “You can see their passion for the law. They learned it from the professors.”

Why do you give back? || “Throughout my time at the UA, and especially when I was a Bobcat, I saw so many alumni remaining involved and mentoring kids like me, and that always stuck with me. UA Chief of Police Brian Seastone and Thomas Keating ’00 are great examples and honorary Bobcats.”

Favorite UA memory || “Meeting my future wife. I helped her move into the dorm when she was a freshman. Brian Seastone officiated at our wedding.”

ASUA || “I was surrounded by talented people with differing opinions. Like so many other UA experiences, it helped me become what I am today.”

Dan Kruse: honoring a loved one
Fine Arts Studies, B.A., and Ethnomusicology, Master of Music  |  Senior Radio Announcer, Arizona Public Media  |  Tucson

What’s an ear worm? || “Many, many people always have music running around in their heads. With a grant from the UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, two faculty members and I studied this phenomenon. I produced a documentary you can find on YouTube by searching for Arizona Ear Worm Project.”

Supporting University Community Chorus || “I recently made a gift to honor my late wife, Gina Kruse. She was a member of the chorus for 18 years.”

Why ethnomusicology? || “Taking a study trip to West Africa, funded by an Undergraduate Research Grant from the UA Honors College, fulfilled a lifelong dream. That was when I realized I wanted to study the role music plays in our culture, relationships and lives. It’s a real joy to dive into that.”

Second home || “My 3-year-old grandson is in love with the UA campus. We often wander around the Fred Fox School of Music. It’s gratifying to see the towering palo verde trees in the College of Fine Arts courtyard and remember they were just being planted when I started at the UA.”

Cindy Leong: sharing her family’s love for the UA
Elementary Education, B.A.  |  Instructional Designer, Freeport-McMoran Inc.  |  Tucson

Why do you support athletics? || “I had a friend who was a member of the women’s basketball team. I learned it takes a lot to be a student-athlete and that donations help them succeed.”

Keeping tradition alive || “My dad (Thomas Leong ’75), who has passed away, was a huge Wildcats fan. The UA has always been a part of my family, and that continues to grow with us.” 

Learning to balance || “My education at the UA taught me how to manage my time to do my best without being completely consumed by school. Those skills are still useful in my career.”

Favorite away-game trip || “My dad took me to Minneapolis in 2001 when the Wildcats made the Final Four.”

The Wildcat connection || “In each job, I’ve always met at least a few alums. Talking about our UA experiences helps to build personal and working relationships.”

Nick Nowaczyk: supporting higher education
Business Economics, B.S.  |  Vice President, Compete Consulting Group  |  Scottsdale

Favorite class || “Economics 200 with Gerald Swanson. It was at 8 a.m. with 200 people and no one fell asleep once. He had an ability to take a subject a lot of people could find boring and make it entertaining.”

While training to be a resident assistant || “My group performed an interpretive dance routine. We had so much fun doing that.”

Role model || “I’ve always looked up to my dad (Joseph Nowaczyk ’84). When I was in high school, he asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to be like him. He said ‘I don’t want you to be like me; I want you to be better.’ He instilled in me the possibility of success.”

Why do you give back? || “It’s bigger than just the UA. I want to see our state prosper, and I believe education is the biggest contributor to that.”

Lori Stratton: giving to children’s medicine 
Marketing, B.S., and Master of Public Health   |  Director of Development, UA Steele Children’s Research Center  |  Tucson

Fundraising as a career || “I get to help create a better future for my daughter and other kids with Type 1 diabetes. When I go to work, I feel like I’m making a difference.”
More to discover || “The UA opens its arms to the community in a million ways. There’s a lot more here than what people know.”
Looking ahead || “My husband (Chip Stratton ’97) and I are including the UA in our will. I’ve seen firsthand the huge impact of estate gifts. It’s inspired me to help ensure the Steele Center is there down the road for families who need it, as my family did.”
Chi Omega membership || “It was an important part of my campus experience. Heather Denning Kleider ’85 and I were in every single activity together, all four years.”
UA leadership || “Steele Center Director Fayez Ghishan is the smartest man I know, with the highest ethical values.”

Janet Vargas: serving the University community
Doctor of Medicine  |  Psychiatrist in private practice  |  Tucson

Career inspiration || “As a child, I got pneumonia a couple of times and my parents couldn’t afford to put me in the hospital. Our neighborhood doctor came to see me every day while I was sick. I wanted to be like Dr. Hall. He lives on through my mentoring of students.”

Medical school’s biggest surprise || “The time commitment. I was at the library as the sun was rising and leaving well after the sun had set.”

Changing careers || “Having a background as a teacher is a blessing that helps in all areas of my life. I’m also happy to see my dream fulfilled now. I’m married to a fantastic man who supported my career change.”

Membership in four alumni groups || “It’s an opportunity to focus not only on the UA, but also on the community and how they work well together to support each other and the students.”

Jennifer and Trey Wagner: paying it forward for geosciences students
Geosciences, Ph.D. (both)  |  Jennifer: Stay-at-home mom  |  Trey: Staff Geophysicist, ConocoPhillips  |  Houston

Favorite spot to meet for lunch || “Main Gate Square, especially Frog & Firkin.”

Why the UA? || “It’s a top geology school, and we both love mountains and the outdoor environment there.”

Jennifer’s current project || “Planning a school carnival as president of the parent teacher organization. It was a good year to be president because all three kids — ages 11, 8 and 6 — are in the same elementary school.”

Trey’s favorite professor || “My adviser, Roy Johnson. He was both a mentor and a friend. I still keep up with him.”

Why do you give back? || “The UA gave a lot to us. We were employed as teaching and research assistants and received scholarships. We want other graduate students to be able to have those experiences.”

Missing Tucson || “We were sad to leave. Texas has its advantages, but Houston is very flat.”

Ben Wilder: conserving the desert he loves
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, B.S.  |  UA Research Scientist, Consortium for Arizona-Mexico Arid Environments  |  Tucson 

The academic experience || “I had incredible opportunities to work directly with researchers, particularly at the desert lab on Tumamoc Hill, where I had my first job. It’s the mecca for desert ecology.” 

Earliest UA memories || “Going to basketball games and practices with my parents (restaurateur Janos Wilder and Rebecca Wilder ’76). My first words were ‘Steve Kerr,’ because I heard fans chanting it. I pronounced it ‘Ee Err.’”

Returning to the UA after grad school || “It’s a dream come true. Tucson and the UA are at the core of my world. Scientific understanding of this region has been anchored here for 100 years. I hope to play a part in extending that into the future.”

Contributing to the UA || “By supporting projects and also by having my career here, I’m able to directly advance what I hold very dear.”