Alumni Spotlight

Meet a new crop of superstars: young alumni who are crushing it

Originally published on September 15, 2023 on


After months of anticipation, the FIU Alumni 5 Under 35 recipients have been announced. The 5 Under 35 recipients exemplify FIU’s core values.

“FIU is committed to engaging Panthers with their alma mater and recognizing them for their achievements and contributions in their professions and communities,” said Chief Alumni Officer Sara DuCuennois. “The 5 Under 35 Alumni Awards recognizes exceptional young alumni who exemplify FIU’s core values of truth, freedom, respect, responsibility and excellence in their professional lives. We congratulate all of the recipients for demonstrating excellence in all they do and representing the impact FIU has made on the world.”

Panthers are nominated by faculty, staff, students, fellow alumni and friends of FIU.

The 5 Under 35 Awards Reception to honor the recipients take place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the Graham Center, Room 243. All who wish to attend the the celebration are asked to RSVP.

Meet the standouts:

Giovanni Castro ’13
College of Business
Giovanni Castro is a public policy and communications manager for Uber Technologies. A member of the FIU President’s Council, Castro calls out the people and FIU organizations that helped develop the leadership qualities that have benefitted him throughout the course of his young career.

“FIU served as a professional and social promoter for my life through the experiences I was blessed to have, through my experiences with Greek life, student government and the student ambassador programs,” Castro said. He cited President Kenneth Jessell, former university Treasurer Tony Vu and former SGA Vice President Sanjeev Udhnani.

The influence and inspiration that FIU offered Castro has encouraged him to remain involved with the university. He remembers the late Dan Salzverg, who served as the manager of the FIU bookstore and “instilled a passion for FIU the day I met him when I was purchasing textbooks. His FIU spirit lives in me every day. I was lucky enough to befriend his son Joseph, who nominated me to the FIU President’s Council where I am still an active member.”

Read more about Giovanni Castro.

Katherine Passley ’20
Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs
Katherine Beltres-Passley is the co-executive director of Beyond the Bars (BTB), is a worker center in Miami-Dade County dedicated to breaking the cycle of low-wage jobs and incarceration. She is committed to building a world where all people have the resources they need to thrive.

Beltres-Passley joined BTB in 2020 and quickly took on a leadership role within the organization. As the then-deputy director, she shared her knowledge about the criminal court system, through her experience as a field paralegal in the domestic violence task force at the state attorney’s office and administrative specialist at the Margate police department.

Beltres-Passley has supported BTB’s successful campaign in Miami to make all jail calls free and worked on the successful elimation of a daily $2 charge to each incarcerated person for room and board fees, charges that collectively grew to some $72 million of unpaid debt before their dismissal last year.

Read more about Katherine Passley.


Isabel Griffin Ph.D. ’19
Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work

Epidemiologist Isabel Griffin could never have progressed as quickly as she has at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were it not for the unique opportunity offered by FIU: to work full time at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County and pursue a Ph.D. in public health.

“This dual focus allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom while in the field investigating outbreaks at the Health Department,” Griffin said. “I was also able to use my network of faculty and staff at FIU to answer public health questions that arose in my work.”

Griffin cites her Ph.D. advisor Gladys Ibañez as an influential figure in her academic journey. “She always encouraged me to excel in my coursework and keep writing my dissertation, even during the Zika virus outbreak!” Griffin mentions both the wealth of knowledge and the partnerships Ibañez offered so that she could obtain data to use used for her dissertation.

Read more about Isabel Griffin.


Thomas Trabue JD ’21
College of Law

Thomas Trabue JD cites FIU and the mentorship of the late Dean John F. Stack Jr. as critical to his success. Stack was his first professor at FIU, teaching him constitutional law.

“Before he passed away, he told me that he believed in me and in my capacity to succeed,” said Trabue. Stack, told him “to always choose the ethical route, to use my experiences, especially those from being a police officer, because those experiences would give me insight, and that despite the enormity of challenges confronting me, I have the ability to succeed.” Trabue worked for more than 10 years as a law enforcement officer.

The legal education that Trabue received from the FIU College of Law opened doors for him in every aspect of life. “My education has helped me with professional and personal development, and I owe that to FIU,” Trabue shared. “I look forward to remaining active amongst my FIU peers, and community as a whole, and to give back to the next generation of lawyers.”

Read more about Thomas Trabue.


Allie Raffa ’14
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts | Honors College

Allie Raffa is a White House correspondent for NBC News, contributing coverage of the Biden administration to network platforms like “TODAY,” “Nightly News,” MSNBC and NBC News NOW.

She graduated from FIU’s Honors College in 2014 and is now a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Before joining NBC, Raffa spent five years at FOX News Channel, where she traveled across 35 states to provide on-the-ground coverage of the 2020 Election, as an embedded reporter with then-candidate Joe Biden’s campaign. She provided coverage for the network as well as multiple FOX Platforms and affiliates daily.

Read more about Allie Raffa.

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