Homecoming 2019 Distinguished Honorees

September 13, 2019

 Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands University is recognizing four outstanding individuals for Homecoming 2019.

Photo of Hector Hernández

Hector Hernández, Distinguished Alumnus

Hector Hernández, Distinguished Alumnus

Hector Hernández’ distinguished career with the United States Secret Service has spanned 28 years, including protecting three U.S. presidents and serving now as the special agent in charge of the protective detail for Vice President Mike Pence.

Hernández is the first Hispanic to hold this top position. In May 2019, he received the Aguila Award from the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association.

“Hector Hernández is a professional to his very core,” Vice President Pence told the Baltimore Sun newspaper after presenting the award to Hernández.

Hernández was a special agent with U.S. Health and Human Services when the Secret Service recruited him. He completed Secret Service training in 1992 and rose through the ranks to become part of the prestigious Presidential Protective Division. He protected President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama.

“First and foremost, I have a sense of pride in my work,” Hernández said. “The protection aspect of my career is very altruistic, and I’ve really enjoyed that. Being a public servant is one of the greatest things God has allowed me to do.”

Hernández said he has had the opportunity to travel the globe as a secret service agent.

“And as a proud American, I’ve also visited every state in the country,” Hernández said.

He said one of his most memorable experiences in the Secret Service was when he was a first responder for the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995.

“One-hundred and sixty-eight innocent people died that day, and I was tasked with helping the recovery effort. The secret service lost six employees in this tragedy. It was one of the most emotional and physically challenging times in my career,” Hernández said.

Hernández spent a number of years supervising multiple departments at the Secret Service Training Academy and held other leadership positions such as supervisor of the Secret Service Recruitment Program.

In 2018, Hernández joined the senior executive service ranks of the Secret Service.

Hernández graduated from Highlands in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology and completed a master’s in public affairs in 1989.

“My education at Highlands helped form me and build my character to go on to have a successful career and family. I always want to give Highlands the credit it deserves for an excellent education. I’ll always be indebted to Highlands and the citizens of Las Vegas, who are phenomenal and adopted me as one of their own,” Hernández said.

Hernández, an El Paso, Texas native, came to Highlands on a full wrestling scholarship. He was inducted into the Highlands Hall of Fame in 2002 and the RMAC Hall of Fame in 2003.

“It was exciting to wrestle at Highlands for coach Steve Sanchez. It was one of the proudest times in my life to bring back the first wrestling national championship to Highlands,” Hernández said.

Hernández and his wife, Jodi, met at the New Mexico Fellowship Program and have been married 26 years. They have two children, Sarah, 22, and Sammy, 20.


Julio P. García, Distinguished Young Alumnus

Photo of Julio P. García, Distinguished Young Alumnus

Julio P. García, Distinguished Young Alumnus

Julio P. García is an attorney for Robles, Rael & Anaya, P.C., a law firm in Albuquerque. García stands out as a Highlands success story despite facing much adversity from a young age. He is the Distinguished Young Alumnus for 2019.

García, a Las Vegas, New Mexico native, was born to a teenage mother and grew up in public housing projects until he was 14. While he experienced poverty and many of its effects first-hand, he never lost sight of his goals.

“I’ve always had a go-getter personality that enabled me to persevere against all odds,” García said. “When times were tough, I managed to stay focused and keep grinding.

“Early outreach, dedicated professors, and staff at Highlands provided the opportunity to help me change the narrative for those like me who come from poverty. I’m very appreciative of all the people at Highlands who helped me prove that success is not dependent on a person’s upbringing,” García said.

García is the first in his family to obtain a professional degree and become a lawyer.

“Becoming a lawyer has opened many doors for my family and me,” García said.

In 2013, García earned his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in English from Highlands. He went on to complete a 2015 master’s degree in public affairs with an emphasis in political and governmental processes.

“Programs like Student Support Services at Highlands helped me be successful in my college journey and also gave me the chance to give back through being a mentor to other students,” García said.

Outside the classroom, García was a leader in student senate at Highlands.

“Student senate gave me the opportunity to be a voice for students,” García said.

While at Highlands, García completed multiple internships to gain legal experience. He worked in the City of Las Vegas Attorney’s Office, the Fourth Judicial District Court of New Mexico, and at the New Mexico Legislature.

“These legal jobs and internships gave me a real-world perspective of practicing law,” García said.

In May 2018, García received his law degree from the University of New Mexico. In September 2018, he was admitted to the State Bar of New Mexico.

García joined Robles, Rael & Anaya, P.C. as an attorney in September 2018. During law school, he was a legal assistant and law clerk at the law firm.

“It’s a civil defense firm and I practice in areas such as civil rights, employment and labor law, government and public entities law, land use law, and business law. My work is rewarding because we deal with issues that not only impact our clients, but the community as a whole,” García said.

Aside from practicing law, García said he plans to tap into the entrepreneurial world with the ultimate goal of giving back to the individuals and communities that have helped him along the way.

García met his wife, Brianna García-Alderete, when they were students at Highlands.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in media arts. The newlyweds married in May 2019.


Photo of Jake Covington Forever Cowboy Student Award

Jake Covington, Forever Cowboy Student Award

Jake Covington, Forever Cowboy Student Award

Jake Covington, who is proud to be a third generation Highlands University cowboy and was the captain of the 2019 Highlands Vatos rugby club national champions, is the Forever Cowboy Student Award winner.

Covington’s grandfather, Frank Marchi, serves on the Highlands Board of Regents and is an alumnus. Jake’s parents, Jay and Jackie, also graduated from HU.

Covington said he grew up hearing about Highlands.

“My family told me that Highlands is a family-oriented university, and that the level of support you get is hard to find at larger universities. I like having the one-on-one connection you get with your professors at Highlands,” Covington said.

Covington is majoring in history with a minor in secondary education. He is on track to graduate in May 2020.

“My professional goal is to be a high school history teacher and wrestling coach. With history, I like the fact that something society thinks is so solidified historically can change as we learn more and have different viewpoints about events. History fascinates me, especially the rich history and culture of the American Southwest.”

Covington said he has had many excellent professors at Highlands like history professor Peter Linder.

“I really like Dr. Linder because he’s very methodical in his teaching and there’s so much depth in the historical information he shares,” Covington said.

Covington, who was a high school wrestling champion in his hometown of Pasco, Washington, switched to rugby when he came to Highlands in 2016. He was wearing a Washington wrestling sweatshirt when a Vatos rugby club member recruited him to practice the next day at 5:30 a.m.

“With the Vatos, I’ve never been around a group of so many men who compete at a sport at the highest level out of pure love for the sport. As a history major, I was drawn to the Vatos’ history of winning two national championships, and producing top-tier athletes and scholars,” Covington said.

He said every time he thinks about winning the National Small College Rugby Organization sevens championship in June 2019, he gets awestruck.

“With the Vatos, I feel like I’m part of something unique that is bigger than who we are as individuals. This is true every time we step on the field, lift weights, or run together,” said Covington, who plays the half-scrum position.

“My job is to help control the pace of the game and the direction of the attack on offense,” Covington said.

He said he likes how the Vatos place a high value on volunteer community service.

“Whether we’re helping with a children’s carnival or moving furniture, it’s fun,” Covington said.

Covington, an avid outdoor enthusiast, has played a key role in the university’s successful Outdoor Recreation Center programming since its inception in 2016.

“I really enjoy taking Highlands students on trips around New Mexico, helping them learn skills to explore the outdoors. I’ve led more than 60 excursions to places like Hermit’s Peak, Tent Rocks, the Pecos Wilderness, and White Sands National Monument. Highlands is near exceptional natural beauty,” Covington said.


Michael Shivers, Spirit Award

Photo of Michael Shivers, Spirit Award

Michael Shivers, Spirit Award

Michael Shivers of the custodial staff at Highlands received the homecoming Spirit Award for his kindness, thoughtfulness and positive spirit. The Office of Alumni Affairs nominated him for the award.

“When considering the theme for this year’s Homecoming ‘The Heart of Highlands,’ Michael’s name was the first to come to mind,” said Juli Salman, Alumni Affairs director. “He’s hardworking, unfailingly positive, an ambassador with integrity, and humble as well.”

Shivers works in Kennedy Hall, which includes a residence hall as well as the Alumni Office. He has worked at Highlands since 2013.

“Michael goes out of his way to offer help to everyone he meets. He tries to always say something positive and encouraging to each student because one never knows the difficulties they are facing on any given day,” Salman said.

Salman added, “Michael takes the initiative to get to know each student living in his dormitory and keeps a watchful eye on their well-being.”

Shivers said: “The award caught me off guard and I’m very honored. I just do what I feel needs to be done. My title says custodian, but I think of myself as an ambassador for Highlands. My job is part of the bigger spectrum of the university and is important because I help students feel welcome and comfortable. I love my job and coming to work every day.”

Shivers said his ambassador skills come from his experience in the hotel industry where he once won Concierge of the Year at Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe.

Shivers said his philosophy is everything can be fixed, and borrows from the Star Trek line, “make it so.”

“If something needs fixing, I fix it whether it’s technically part of my job or not,” Shivers said.

Shivers said little miracles happen all the time.

“For example, when Highlands President Sam Minner stopped and spoke to me outside Kennedy Hall one day it changed me because I felt like an important part of Highlands. I care about where I work and take pride in making Kennedy Hall a home away from home,” Shivers said.

Shivers said that working at Highlands is like being part of a family.

“The other employees are like my family because they truly care, and if I need something done, they deliver,” Shivers said.

The San Francisco native said Highlands is a vital part of the Las Vegas community.

“I’m proud to be a Highlands employee because it’s an institution of higher learning that transforms people’s lives. It feels good to be a positive part of that. It’s very exciting to see students I knew as freshman graduating or chasing master’s degrees,” Shivers said.

Shivers also said he enjoys students returning after graduation and hearing about their successes.

“They sometimes call me Uncle Mike when they share their stories,” Shivers said.

Shivers said you can travel through people because everyone is from somewhere different.

“Our students at Highlands come from all over the globe and they share their culture with me. It’s fascinating and always rewarding,” Shivers said.