Al Encinias ’72, Spanish and Portuguese
Thrown into a Tijuana jail for attempting to smuggle contraband across the border, Al Encinias assumed his academic career was toast. Instead, Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. and two professors showed up to bail him out after learning of the arrest from other students, he recalls. “I owe my life to UCI,” says the East L.A. transplant, who credits the university with setting him on the straight and narrow. After graduation, Encinias taught English as a second language to Santa Ana eighth-graders, became a Newport Beach cop for nearly a decade, then returned to teaching. Now retired, he recently established an endowment – named after his parents, José and Susana, who never learned to read or write – that provides scholarships to students in UCI’s M.F.A. creative writing program. “I wanted to pay back my alma mater,” says Encinias, who is part Mescalero Apache and goes by the nickname Dream Dancer because he sometimes grooves in his sleep.
Nikki Iravani ’86, biological sciences
When she posted a sign three decades ago about forming a campus club for aspiring optometrists, Nikki Iravani expected one or two classmates to show up. Instead, 88 students flocked to the inaugural meeting of UCI’s U See Eyes group. After graduating, she earned a Doctor of Optometry degree at the University of Houston, became a contact lens industry executive and later launched EyeXam, a mobile app that tests users’ vision and directs them to nearby eyesight specialists. With nearly 2 million downloads and national media coverage, the app now has a brick-and-mortar spinoff in Santa Clara. The center features virtual reality eyewear and other high-tech optical products, as well as an optometry clinic where Iravani cares for patients. Off duty, she serves on several boards, including the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences’ Dean’s Leadership Council.
Lenette Posada Howard ’90, economics
What do “Pokemon Go,” the CIA and Google Maps have in common? Answer: Lenette Posada Howard. The connection begins in 2003, when Howard was director of software delivery for Keyhole, a three-dimensional aerial mapping startup that attracted media fame (and CIA funding) for its dramatic flyover images of Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq. A year later, Google bought the company and used the technology to create Google Earth and Google Maps. In 2012, Howard joined Niantic Labs, a Google unit that a few years later spun off into a separate company and launched “Pokemon Go.” Howard, an Encinitas native who worked her way through UCI as night manager at an Alpha Beta supermarket, serves as vice president of operations at Niantic. The first member of her working-class, Mexican American family to attend college, she also mentors other Latinas in the tech industry.
Christopher Elliott ’90, humanities
In his first brush with fame, he was known as “The Crabby Traveler,” a popular columnist for ABCNews.com. Later, he donned a superhero cape and neoprene suit for a television commercial promoting his USA Today travel advice feature. He also began helping angry consumers seek redress from cable television operators, retailers and corporations. Raised in Vienna by traveling evangelists, Christopher Elliott started his journalism career as an undergrad at Biola University and UCI, polished his skills with a master’s degree from UC Berkeley, then wrote for a string of newspapers before finding his niche as a travel industry watchdog and syndicated columnist. He has penned two books: How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money & Hassle) and Scammed: How to Save Your Money & Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles & Shady Deals. In keeping with his travel persona, he roams the U.S. and Canada as many as 300 days a year with his three children, who are homeschooled by Elliott and his wife.
Lisa Alvarez, M.F.A. ’92, creative writing
Andrew Tonkovich, M.F.A. ’93, creative writing
To alumni Lisa Alvarez and Andrew Tonkovich, Orange County is a mecca for fine writing. For their new anthology, Orange County: A Literary Field Guide, the husband-and-wife team compiled descriptions of the county’s natural and manmade environments by more than 60 acclaimed authors – including Joan Didion and Michael Chabon, M.F.A. ’87. The couple met in a “Women in Literature” class at California State University, Long Beach. They later moved to Orange County to earn graduate degrees from UCI’s prestigious M.F.A. Programs in Writing, where the pair were thrilled to study with two of the program’s early directors, Don Heiney and Oakley Hall, whose work is also excerpted in the collection. Tonkovich is now a lecturer in UCI’s Department of English and the longtime editor of the Santa Monica Review. Alvarez is an English professor at Irvine Valley College and runs the summer writing program at Squaw Valley begun by Hall in 1969. “A large part of our ambition – in life and in this book – is to build a sense of community,” Tonkovich says. “I hope [it] instills an appreciation for the quirks, legends and places of Orange County.”
Ferial Govashiri ’05, political science
She met the pope and Miss Piggy, kept President Barack Obama on schedule and taught the leader of the free world how to “Zot!” For three years, Ferial Govashiri served as the commander in chief’s personal assistant. In January, when the Oval Office changed hands, she returned to civilian life and began plotting her next act, which includes writing a children’s book about the history behind some of Washington, D.C.’s monuments. The Iranian-born Anteater also does speaking engagements about her White House exploits, which included playing chess with the president, riding in 100-car motorcades (“the coolest thing ever,” she says), encountering such celebrities as George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, and accompanying Obama when he delivered UCI’s 50th anniversary commencement address. Working in the White House was the experience of a lifetime, she says: “It isn’t often you get a front seat to history.”
Andrea Lo ’13, chemistry
Inside a high-tech kitchen laboratory in Corona, Andrea Lo experiments with ham glazes, bacon seasonings, cheese sauces and other flavor concoctions for restaurants, private food labels and retail companies. Part chemist, part chef, she formulates and taste-tests recipes for Saratoga Food Specialties, a research and development firm that supplies ingredients to Taco Bell and other clients. Lo stumbled across food science at UCI, where she served as president of the chemistry club. After graduation, she earned a master’s degree in the subject at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, then developed healthy snacks for Disney and pastas for a food manufacturing outfit in Vernon. When not tinkering with spices, measuring pH balances or gauging titratable acidity, she enjoys hiking and travel. The latter is a holdover from UCI study abroad programs that took her to Great Britain, Hong Kong and Taiwan.