UNCW Alumni Association Recognizes Distinguished Seahawks

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Five alumni will receive the highest honor UNCW bestows upon its graduates and supporters during Homecoming 2022. The university’s Alumni Association Distinguished Awards recognize extraordinary achievement, outstanding character and exemplary service to the university and community.

They will be recognized during the university’s Homecoming celebrations scheduled for Feb. 7-13.

“The word ‘distinguished’ is defined as being marked by eminence, or excellence. This year’s honorees take the definition to the next level as only Seahawk alumni could do,” said Lindsay A. T. LeRoy, director of alumni relations. “During a time in history like no other, they have gone above and beyond to impact their university, community and the world around them.”

This year’s recipients are:

Arely Ramirez Diaz ’19, Distinguished Young Alumna of the Year,  was a mentor through the UNCW’s Centro Hispano Embajadores program. She motivated youth to pursue a higher level of education and supported their transition from high school to college.

Today, her work focuses on voting, inclusivity and providing resources to the Latinx community. In her role as a paralegal at Helen Tarokic Law PLLC, she assists in the areas of immigration and naturalization and serves as a victim-witness advocate.

Diaz was presented the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Star News “40 Under 40” award for her impactful work in the community. She was also a “Rising Star” finalist for WILMA Magazine’s “Women to Watch” awards. She is a member of the Latino Alliance of Southeastern North Carolina, which is a volunteer organization that serves the Hispanic/Latino community. Diaz graduated from UNCW with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Jean and Eddie Lawler, Distinguished Alumni of the Year, are longtime supporters of university. The couple has given generously of their time and financial support. Both have been involved with the Seahawk Club for decades, with Jean serving as the Seahawk Club president in 1995-96. Her involvement with UNCW Athletics earned her the William J. Brooks Distinguished Service Award in 1999. Eddie, a U.S. Navy veteran and an associate with Intracoastal Realty, is a former UNCW Alumni Association board member.

The Lawlers’ contributions to the broader community are extensive, including their work with the Hanover Seaside Club and the New Hanover High School Alumni Association. The Lawlers were instrumental in establishing “Enchanted Airlie,” now a holiday tradition at Airlie Gardens; both were inaugural chairs. Jean, the advertising director at Wilmington International Airport, has been a North Carolina Azalea Festival volunteer for more than 50 years and in 2017 served as president of the festival. In 2018, she was named “Volunteer of the Year” by the International Festival and Events Association. Eddie is an NC Azalea Festival emeritus member. Jean serves as the secretary of the board of Wilmington Downtown Inc. and is a member of the CFCC Wilson Center Advisory Board.

Dr. Lolita Bryant ’04, ’11M, Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award recipient, is a faculty member in the College of Health and Human Services’ School of Nursing and a patient safety coordinator at Novant-NHRMC.

She recently established the Dr. Lolita B. Bryant, Abram Bishop and Family Endowed Scholarship for Diversity in Nursing to honor her great-great-grandfather, Abram Bishop. His former homestead was once located where UNCW’s Trask Coliseum now stands.

Dr. Bryant received the UNCW School of Nursing Outstanding Alumni of the Year award in 2010 for her commitment and contributions to the university. In 2011, she received the UNCW Graduate Student Achievement Award. She was recognized by the Gardner-Webb University Hunt School of Nursing during its celebration of National Nurses Month in 2020.

Her volunteer service includes past member of the UNCW Alumni Board of Directors, past president of the UNCW African American Graduate Association and past chair of the alumni scholarship and awards committee.

Dr. Bryant received her associate’s degree in nursing from James Sprunt Community College and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from UNCW. In 2020, she completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Gardner-Webb University.

During his tenure as Centro Hispano’s MI CASA program coordinator, Chris Montero ’12, ’16M, recipient of the Distinguished Diversity Award, worked to increase the number of Hispanic students attending college. In 2017, Montero and Centro Hispano director Edel Segovia received the John L. Sanders Student Advocate Award, the highest honor bestowed by the University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments, for their advocacy and contributions to North Carolina’s students.

The White House also recognized the pair in 2015 for efforts to support Latino educational attainment, excellence and meaningful contributions to expand and support the educational outcomes and opportunities for the Latino community.

Montero, founder and co-owner of Perfect Touch Rental LLC., was presented the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Star News “40 Under 40” award for his impactful work in the community. He is a member of the 2022 class of Leadership Wilmington and serves on numerous boards, including the board of directors of the Latin American Business Council. Other recognitions include UNCW Communication Studies Alumni of the Year, Outstanding UNCW Staff and the Centro Hispano’s Successful Latino Award.

Montero holds a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a master’s degree in higher education from UNCW.

-- Venita Jenkins


Arely Ramirez Diaz in front of the Fisher University Center

Arely Ramirez Diaz ’19, Distinguished Young Alumna of the Year


Jean and Eddie Lawler standing near a pond

Jean and Eddie Lawler, Distinguished Alumni of the Year


Dr. Lolita Bryant standing outside on the UNCW campus

Dr. Lolita Bryant ’04, ’11M, Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award


Chris Montero in front of the water feature at the arches

Chris Montero ’12, ’16M, Distinguished Diversity Award