Donna (Augustine) Symons ’69, history
Despite being “a candle-carrying Vietnam War protester,” Donna Symons joined the Air Force not long after graduating from UCI. “It was surprising even to me,” says the San Diego native, who had followed up her Anteater degree with a nursing credential from Grossmont College. Symons spent two years stationed at Travis Air Force Base as a pediatric nurse, then attended the University of Washington’s nurse practitioner program before embarking on a 35-year career with Kaiser Permanente. Through it all, she has remained close friends with half a dozen UCI classmates. In addition to holiday get-togethers, the group meets yearly at different spots around the world, which have included Greece, Turkey, Costa Rica and Italy. Symons is also active with UCI’s Alumni Association. Last June, she served as mace marshal at graduation ceremonies for the School of Humanities and the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences.
Dr. Roderick Seamster ’82, biological sciences
At an Apache Indian reservation nearly three decades ago, Rodney Seamster served as a combination physician, pharmacist, X-ray technician and emergency room surgeon. The doc-of-all-trades assignment, he says, laid the groundwork for his current job as president and CEO of Watts Healthcare, a nonprofit group of community clinics offering everything from podiatry to ophthalmology. A carpenter’s son and the second-youngest of seven children, Seamster was born in Louisiana but raised in Los Angeles, graduating as valedictorian from Washington High School. To help pay his way through UCI, he worked at the Forum in Inglewood, where he hawked merchandise, caught glimpses of Lakers games and concerts, and met Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White. After finishing his bachelor’s degree, Seamster headed east to study medicine and public health at Harvard University before returning to UCI for his residency in internal medicine.
Kirsten (Gee) Maeda ’89, economics
Deidre (Gee) Baptista ’90, social ecology
Known as “the Gee twins for lupus,” identical siblings Kirsten Maeda and Deidre Baptista have spent the last two decades spreading awareness of the autoimmune disease, which struck Deidre in 1996. (She’s currently in remission.) Sporting handmade brocade butterflies – inspired by the shape of a common lupus rash as well as their Chinese heritage – the San Francisco-born sisters speak at conferences, attend fundraisers and lobby government officials about the malady, which disproportionately affects women and people of color. The lookalike factor helps draw attention to the twins’ message, they say. It also causes double takes and amusing moments in their personal lives. “When our children were little, they got us mixed up and often called us both ‘Auntie Mommy,’” Baptista recalls. One surefire way to tell the women apart: Baptista is right-handed, and Maeda is a lefty.
Karen Nguyen ’05, political science, Fully Employed MBA ’11
At age 6, she proclaimed herself the next Picasso. That didn’t pan out, but Karen Nguyen did eventually find a niche in the art world. In 2016, after working as a paralegal and globe-trotting marketing manager, she opened Inspired Art Wine, a combination art class, wine bar and community center in Costa Mesa. Nguyen, a Vietnam native whose family immigrated to Westminster when she was a child, says she designed the studio layout on a napkin and poured nearly all of her savings into the company, which caters to corporate clients as well as novice painters looking for an unusual night out. Next up, she plans to launch an online gallery for promising new artists. Nguyen also hopes to resume her hobby of running marathons, which included a race in Singapore before she started Inspired Art Wine.
Melanie Henderson ’10, business economics, MBA ’17
A one-eyed horse named Pirate is Melanie Henderson’s favorite four-footed friend. She rides him at amateur equestrian events and last spring was ranked No. 1 in the nation for her age group and skill level. It’s a pastime that the Roseville, California native latched onto in elementary school. After jobs cleaning stalls, breaking in horses and teaching riding to others, she came to UCI, where she co-founded an equestrian team while studying business as an undergrad. When not saddled up, Henderson works at the Irvine headquarters of Taco Bell, analyzing the financial health of franchisees. She also has the travel bug. Over the last two years, she’s logged trips to four continents.