Torch Awards Gala showcases the best and brightest

This story originally appeared in FIU Magazine.

The 2018 Torch Awards Gala attracted a record-breaking 1,000 attendees to make it the largest in FIU history.

The November event, held at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus, honored 15 alumni and one faculty member who are each making a difference in their professions, in the community and at the university. Proceeds from the event benefit the First Generation Scholarship Program, which supports students who are the first in their families to obtain college degrees, and the future construction of the FIU Alumni Center.

“Each new class of Torch Awards recipients joins an elite group of FIU torchbearers, leaders who exemplify the best of the university and serve as an inspiration to all,” said Duane Wiles, executive director of the FIU Alumni Association. “The Torch Awards celebrate their many achievements while supporting the next generation of Panthers.”

Alumna of the Year Diane M. Faulconer ’74, MSM ’74 with President Mark B. Rosenberg

The Alumni Association named Diane M. Faulconer ’74, MSM ’74 the 2018 Alumna of the Year. Faulconer was a nurse administrator and health care consultant for more than 30 years. The author of dozens of professional journal articles, she traveled extensively to developing countries to share her expertise in surgical services, operating room management, post-anesthesia care, emergency medicine and ambulatory services.

Joined by her late husband, Prentiss Faulconer, Diane Faulconer has dedicated her later life to philanthropy. The couple have supported scholarships for students in the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences as well as other areas of need.

“[Receiving] this award means that I have led a very blessed and meaningful life,” Faulconer said from the stage. She encouraged other alumni to consider giving to their alma mater, just as she has done in recognition of FIU’s pivotal role in helping her achieve her life goals.

“We all have it within us to be compassionate futurists,” she said, “because each one of us can appreciate the people and circumstances that have contributed to the lives we lead today.” 

Two-time alumnus Armando Diaz II ’09, MS ’10 was one of a pair of recipients of the Charles E. Perry Young Alumni Visionary Award. At just 31 years old, Diaz became a general superintendent at Suffolk, the firm currently overseeing construction of the Brightline train station in downtown Miami. Diaz has won numerous accolades in his young career, including being named one of the South Florida Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” top business executives in 2018.

“This award is the most important achievement of my young professional career,” Diaz said of his Torch honor.

1975 hospitality alumnus Duffy Keys (in tux) was honored at the 2018 Torch Awards. He is flanked here, from left, by Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management Executive Director of Development Simone Champagnie, wife Judy Keys and Rene Diaz.

College of Business alumna Misha Kuryla MIB ’04, founder of the popular South Florida bakery chain Misha’s Cupcakes, received this year’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Award. Kuryla’s company was born in her home in 2005. Today, it produces more than 10,000 cupcakes per day in 36 flavors and has locations throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. In 2017 alone, she donated more than 80,000 cupcakes to philanthropic efforts in Miami.

“What an amazing feeling to have my FIU take such a profound interest in my success – initially as a student, and then an alum, businesswoman and member of our South Florida community,” Kurlya said. “It validates and solidifies my desire to continue to be a part of FIU’s growth and success through my personal and professional contribution.”

The night honored 15 alumni, but it also paid tribute to one special faculty member: Fiorella Terenzi, a physics instructor in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education who received this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award.

Through her research in astrophysics, Terenzi pioneered a technique to convert radio waves from galaxies into sound. The result was released by Island Records as “Music from the Galaxies.” Her goal: weave astronomy and music, science and art into a tapestry for the senses.

Currently, Terenzi is working to raise fund for a 360-degree, full-immersion planetarium as part of the FIU faculty-and-staff giving campaign called Ignite.

“All my life I have worked to blend science and art, knowledge and emotion,” Terenzi said. “I hope to continue to inspire new connections with the universe for FIU students and alumni, where reason and imagination are not enemies, but rather partners in advancing an appreciation of the wonders of our universe.” 

See more photos on flickr.

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