Lamar University announces 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients

Lamar University is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award. Established in 1970 by the Lamar University Alumni Association, the Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes LU alumni who have enhanced the reputation of the university by distinguishing themselves in their careers or life services. The award also recognizes those alumni who have made significant contributions to their community, state and nation through civil activities and professional and public service.

“Lamar University has so many amazing alumni and the Distinguished Alumni Awards gives the university the perfect opportunity to recognize their achievements, service to the university, and how they are making a difference in the world,” said Shannon Figueroa, director of Alumni Affairs. “The honorees serve as wonderful examples of what one could achieve with a foundation of a Lamar University degree. I believe they inspire the entire campus community by the lives they live.”

This year, four alumni –– Orlando Alvarez, Myrna Dunnam, Frank Messina and Julie Wenah –– will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest award Lamar University bestows upon its graduates.

“The 2022 honorees were chosen from a pool of talented, successful and loyal alumni. They represent the diversity that makes our university so great. Their dedication to their professions, service to their communities and loyalty to their alma mater epitomizes the true Lamar University spirit.” 

The four recipients will be recognized at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 23 in the University Event Center. The ceremony will include a formal dinner and awards presentation, highlighting each honoree and their achievements.

Orlando Alvarez ’87 | President and Chief Executive Officer of BP Energy Company

orlando-alvarez-headshotOrlando A. Alvarez is President and Chief Executive Officer of BP Energy Company based in Houston, Texas. A Cuban native, Alvarez has worked for the past 33 years in the energy supply and trading business. Alvarez was born in Santa Clara, Cuba and came to the United States at the age of three, where he lived in New York until his move to Texas in 1975. He started his university studies at the University of Houston as a Civil Engineering major in 1982. He quickly realized he was more interested in pursuing a business-related career and moved to Beaumont, Texas to enroll at Lamar University, where he received his Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting in 1987. Alvarez started his career at Transco Exploration Company in 1988 as a revenue accountant and quickly moved into the General Accounting Group, where he was exposed to the broader aspects of the company’s business. His talents soon moved him into Strategy and Planning for an affiliate, Transco Gas Pipeline, in 1990 — a year that would end up being transformational not only for the U.S. natural gas industry, but also for Alvarez’s career. In 2001, he began his senior management and executive career and ran the natural gas trading, origination and operations teams in various regions across North America. Since February of 2012, Alvarez has been overseeing BP’s gas and power trading in the Americas within the company’s trading and shipping business, which includes all the trading, marketing and origination and operations activities in addition to BP’s natural gas liquids business.  He also is the executive sponsor for the Veteran’s Business Resource Group within BP. Alvarez serves on several industry boards and committees, including the Natural Gas Supply Association board and the Electric Power Supply Association board. He also is a board member of the Building Conservation Trust, which is the national habitat program of the Coastal Conservation Association, as well as a board member of the Houston chapter of the American Heart Association. Alvarez serves on the Lamar University College of Business Board of Advisors and is the incoming chair for 2022-2024. He also has served as the LU College of Business Executive in Residence Speaker in 2017. He is currently a member of the BP America Board, which oversees all of the company’s activities in the U.S. Alvarez’s tenure at BP spans over 26 years, with accountability for all of the Americas’ trading, marketing, supply and derivatives activities, specifically pertaining to natural gas, power and natural gas liquids.

Myrna Dunnam ’67 | LU College of Business Advisory Board Member

myrna-dunnam-headshotMyrna (Pirnack) Dunnam was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and moved to Texas at the age of eight when her father was transferred with Gulf Oil to the Port Arthur refinery. Witnessing her father’s dedication and work ethic created a lasting impression with lifelong influence.

Dunnam is a 1964 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur and graduated from Lamar University in 1967 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing. Upon graduation, she became employed with the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland as a statistician in the Foreign Trade Division. After attending law school at night, Dunnam received a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Baltimore in 1978 and left the federal government to pursue a career in law. After returning to Texas, she worked in private law practice in Baytown, Texas from 1979 until she retired in 2014. She was board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1984 and continued full-time law practice, primarily in the area of family law, until she retired in 2014. Dunnam and her husband Milton own and manage residential rental properties in east Harris County and Jefferson County. They also own a 235-acre pine tree farm in East Texas that has been certified by the American Tree Farm Association and is ranked as a Stewardship Forest. Dunnam serves on the College of Business Board of Advisors at Lamar University and both she and her husband are proud members of the Lamar University Legacy Society. She also is active in her community, serving on the Board of Directors for Baytown Meals on Wheels and is a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Frank Messina ’71 | President of Messina’s Liquor Incorporated

frank-messina-headshotFrank G. Messina is the President of Messina’s Liquor Incorporated, a chain of five retail liquor stores in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas. Messina, the eldest of six boys, grew up in a large Italian family in Beaumont. In 1971, he graduated from Lamar University with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in marketing. While at LU, Messina was a member of the prestigious Blue Key Honor Society and national organization Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, serving as vice president and then president his senior year. After playing football for LU and graduating, he joined the Cardinal Club and served on the board for more than 40 years, serving as president two different times. In 1989, Frank co-chaired the Save Lamar University Football campaign and, although it was unsuccessful in 1989, LU football returned in 2010. The Cardinal Club raised funds each year for student athlete scholarships. With funds raised between the years of 1985-1990, the Club was able to make a Cardinal Club endowment to the LU Foundation in 1990 for $500,000, which is used yearly for athletic scholarships. Surrounded by grandparents, uncles and cousins, all of whom owned their own retail businesses, Messina was always drawn to business enterprises. His first job was at the Beaumont Enterprise as the city circulation director. He remembers that after two years, he was offered a promotion and $50 more a month to move to Morgan City, Louisiana and manage circulation for four newspapers. He declined, deciding instead to lease a building on Magnolia Street to open a liquor store. During the next 25 years, the business would expand to include five retail stores. Supplying restaurants throughout the area, Messina soon joined the Sabine Area Restaurant Association and was an active Board member for more than 40 years. He served as co-chairman of Chef’s Delight, a fine dining fundraiser for LU students, for many years. In 2012, through the Chef’s Delight event, the SARA was able to give the Lamar University Hospitality Administration - Culinary Arts program an endowed scholarship of $250,000. The Taste of the Triangle was also a SARA fundraiser that he has worked with for the past 40 years and in 2012, the SARA chose Messina as their honoree for the 2012 Taste of the Triangle. He also served on the board of the Beaumont Convention & Visitors Bureau for more than 40 years and is a past board member of the American Red Cross, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Italian American Society of Beaumont. Messina is a past president of the Lamar University Alumni Association, past trustee of the Lamar University Foundation Board, and longtime supporter of Lamar University Athletics. 

Julie Wenah ’08 | Associate General Counsel and Product Lead for Civil Rights at Meta

julie-wenah-headshotJulie M. Wenah is a Nigerian American lawyer, executive and filmmaker who provides her expertise through service on several volunteer boards and councils. She currently serves as Associate General Counsel and Product Lead for Civil Rights at Meta, formally known as Facebook, where she is responsible for supporting product teams in building with a civil rights lens. Wenah received a Bachelor of Science in Political Science in 2008 from Lamar University, a Juris Doctorate/Master of Public Administration from Texas Southern University and a Master of Law from Georgetown University Law Center. Prior to her role at Facebook, Wenah served as Airbnb’s Community Senior Counsel and Africa Regional Counsel where she led civil liberties efforts, managed escalated risk, provided legal support to the Africa business and counseled product and community support teams. She began her career in Washington D.C. working in First Lady Michelle Obama's policy shop, and she later culminated her experience by advancing and leading the set design for the Liberian segment of Mrs. Obama's CNN Film, "We Will Rise," centered around girls' education.  Before her journey to the White House, Wenah was a legal fellow at NASA’s University Research Center counseling efforts for the STS-129 flight mission. She serves on the Tahirih Justice Center’s Advisory Council and is a Women in Product board member. She was recognized by the LU Office of Global Diversity as a Trailblazing Woman of Lamar University in 2021 and she is a member of the LU Black Alumni Network. A native of Houston, Texas, Wenah is a global civil rights, privacy and product inclusion lawyer who has successfully led teams and launched products, policies and legislation focusing on equitable and scalable solutions for domestic and international markets.

To learn more about this award, submit a nomination or to see previous LU Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, visit