Northside ISD announces the 2015 Pillars of Character

September 11, 2015

Celebrating its 20th year, the Northside Education Foundation (NEF) will recognize six outstanding NISD graduates as Pillars of Character at its annual gala. These six outstanding graduates include philanthropists, a military musician, a cutting-edge surgeon, multi-tasking physician, and a former intelligence officer.

Tickets are still available. The event will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 16 in the Vista Room at the Venues at Valero, beginning with a reception and silent auction at 5:30 p.m. For ticket information, contact the NISD Partnerships Office at 397-8599.

Almost 700 business partners, community members, and educators are expected to attend the event. This event raises funds for NEF’s Grants Program, which awarded almost $400,000 in Resource, Innovation, and Team Grants to faculty and staff last school year.

Each year, Pillars are selected from almost 100,000 Northside ISD alumni who have graduated from NISD high schools since 1951. The Pillars represent the six character traits taught to NISD students that are part of the Josephson Institute’s Character Counts program. The Pillars of Character are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.

The 2015 Pillars of Character are:

2015 Pillar of Fairness
SFC Chris Branagan

He has traveled all across the U.S. and parts of Europe as a trombonist, but Sgt. First Class Chris Branagan lives by some homegrown advice from his high school band director, Javier Martinez:  “Wherever you go, leave it better than you found it.”

After attending both Adams Hill and Cody elementary schools, Sgt. Branagan attended Pease Middle School and Jay High School, where he began his musical journey. He played mostly in jazz and symphonic bands during his high school career, but he entered Texas Tech University as an advertising major until a visit to New York City.

After the experience of performing in Carnegie Hall in 1993, and with the encouragement of his parents, he changed his major to music. He received a master’s degree from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and left that institution with two major goals: to play for the San Antonio Symphony and to be a member of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in Washington, DC.

He accomplished both goals, and within three months of arriving in Washington in 2003, he played for the President of the United States.

Branagan was a performing member of the band for five years before he took on his current role as the band’s public relations and marketing manager.  

He is married to Joy Branagan, a horn player with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, and they enjoy an active life with their dog, Georgia.

2015 Pillar of Trustworthiness
Dr. Jorge Alvarez

When bombs exploded near the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon, Dr. Jorge Alvarez, a volunteer in the medical tent, ran toward the melee to help the injured. Still, he doesn’t consider himself a hero, even though his friends, family and colleagues do. (His son gave him a Superman cape as a gift.) 

A true product of NISD, Dr. Alvarez attended Howsman Elementary School, Hobby Middle School, and graduated from Clark High School in 1992. After high school, he took a job at a local car wash, where the owner offered to pay for his college expenses so long as he continued to work part-time for him. 

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio, he went to medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Dr. Alvarez is double-boarded in cardiology and interventional cardiology. He and a colleague were the first in the region to perform a procedure that eliminates the need for open-heart surgery for eligible candidates.

He is married to Becky, a marathon runner, and they have two sons.

2015 Pillar of Respect
Dr. Mandie Alice Tibball Svatek

Dr. Mandie Svatek’s level of energy and enthusiasm for life is infectious. She’s a clinician and an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

She is also a proud mother of three children, all under the age of 10 and a competitive triathlete and distance runner.  Just last month she competed in the US National’s Olympic-Distance Triathlon in Milwaukee.

Dr. Svatek attended Leon Valley Elementary School, Rudder Middle School and graduated from Marshall High School in 1993. She successfully juggled high-performance academics and athletics as an honor student, competing in cross country, track, swimming and water polo. 

She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University in which she competed on the NCAA Division 1 Swim Team and served as captain her senior year. 

She went on to receive her medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and trained in the field of pediatrics at UT Southwestern in Dallas.

Her current career goals are building and maintaining a children’s asthma program within the University Health System, as well as educating and exceling in quality improvement.

Dr. Svatek says she’s fortunate because she can devote time for her family and her career while also finding time to train and compete in endurance events.

2015 Pillar of Responsibility
Gina Jones

Service to community and country are much more than casual ideals for Gina Jones; they are guiding tenets.

As the Special Advisor to the Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Jones continues her service as a civil servant following her time as an Intelligence Officer in the Air Force.

Her life of service and drive to succeed can be traced to the example set by her mother, a native of the Philippines, as well as several critical events in Gina's life. One such event occurring the summer before her freshman year resulted in her being placed on probation for six months. That experience served as an inflection point for her, and she decided upon a very different path - one focused on leadership and service.

As a student at Jay High School, she served as the Student Council President, as well as the Cadet Commander of the AFJROTC program. She credits the guidance, mentorship, and support of Student Council sponsor Calvin “Buck” Buchholtz whom she met during that difficult summer (before she was technically a Jay High School student) in helping her turn her life around.

She continues to give back and invest in the Jay community through speaking appearances, as well as the “Leadership through Service” scholarship she initiated and sponsors for Jay students.  

2015 Pillar of Caring
J. Patrick Burk

A second generation Northside ISD graduate, Pat Burk will be the first to describe himself as a distracted honors student and perhaps an early long shot at being recognized as a Pillar. However, the former Clark High School football and baseball player says he’s grateful for all the teachers, coaches and friends who pushed him to succeed, lead and always “keep moving”.

 In his role as President of Construction Products for J.D. Fields & Company Inc., he now travels the world, and says he still takes with him the values he learned from his family and the Pillars he encountered at Colonies North Elementary School, Hobby Middle School and Clark High School.

After graduating from Clark in 1992, Burk attended both Baylor University and Southern Methodist University, where he earned his B.A. as a double major in economics and history.

Aside from the international steel business, he has two passions: his family (wife Greggory and children Evelyn James and Virginia Fields) and philanthropy.

He and Greggory have helped raise tens of millions of dollars for global and local charities in the Houston area, where he currently resides. 

Burk is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and currently sits on six non-profit boards and steering committees.  He is the youngest person to serve as Chairman of the Board of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He has personally underwritten and supported the development of specific cutting-edge cancer treatments, PBS educational pilots, a Ugandan orphanage, veteran’s assistance programs, and is especially supportive of United 2 Cure.

Today, he continues to “keep moving” and make a lasting impression on his children, teaching them to choose to surround themselves with Pillars and always make meaningful contributions to someone’s future.

2015 Pillar of Citizenship
William Raba


Anyone who knows William Raba knows that he is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the job done right the first time.  He attributes his drive and desire to make the world better to his parents, Dr. Carl F. Raba, Jr. and Bunny Jean Raba, and Northside ISD. 

As the president of Raba Kistner, William gives 100 percent to his company, but he also gives 100 percent back to his community through a variety of philanthropic endeavors. 

During his years as a baseball player at Marshall High School, Raba learned the value of being part of something bigger than himself, ironically during a ceremony where he was receiving an award.  He said it just clicked that his baseball recognition was about his team and not just himself. 

A proud graduate of Texas A&M University where he received a degree in construction science, he continues to support the University through various fundraising efforts.  In fact, he participated in bringing Texas A&M to San Antonio and Raba Kistner is currently managing the construction of the $480 million Kyle Field Football Stadium. 

Raba has been married to Merry Raba for more than 30 years. They have two children who attended Northside schools and Texas A&M University.