UH Alumni Dominate 2018 Houston Business Journal “40 Under 40” List

Nine of 40 Honorees are UH Cougar Alumni

Nine Houston Cougar alumni are among the honorees of the Houston Business Journal’s 2018 list of “40 Under 40,” which recognizes 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are proven industry, company and community leaders. From establishing nonprofits to launching businesses and leading major organizations, these UH alumni are making a big impact in Houston early in their successful careers.

Lauren Abel

Lauren Harrington Abel, (B.S. ’05) is dedicated to helping special needs children unlock their potential. She is founder and director for the Institute for Special Needs Children and The Next Step Academy, a nonprofit day treatment program for children with autism spectrum disorders. Since graduating summa cum laude from UH in 2005 and establishing her Next Step Academy that same year, Able has grown the academy to two facilities and 41 employees who provide therapeutic education to more than 30 clients. 


John Boerstler (M.P.A. ’13) is a Marine Corps veteran who helps other military veterans transition to successful careers. He is founder and director at Combined Arms Inc. and executive director of NextOp, a nonprofit that “recruits, trains and places high-performing, middle-enlisted military leaders into industry careers.” In 2009 Boerstler founded the Lone Star Veterans Association (LSVA), which provides services to the post-9/11 generation of service members and families. As a sergeant in the Marines, he served in Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Djibouti and Kenya. He earned a Masters of Public Administration from UH in 2013.


Brian Busby (M.B.A. ’14) has had a truly remarkable career with Houston Independent School District, climbing the ladder from custodian to chief operating officer of the nation’s seventh largest school district. Two years after high school, Busby joined the district and has progressively taken on more responsibility with each promotion through various operational areas. Today, Busby administers an annual budget of over $260 million and oversees critical business operations including facilities, construction, transportation and food services. Busby earned his M.B.A. from the UH C.T. Bauer College of Business in 2014.


Ashley Fields (M.S.W. ’10) is committed to finding supportive adoptive families for youth who are at risk of leaving the child welfare system with no stable or safe place to go. She is co-founder and director at The Way Home Adoption Inc. The Graduate College of Social Work alumna’s organization finds loving families for children in foster care, regardless of age, after tradition recruitment efforts have failed. Fields earned her Masters of Social Work from UH in 2010 and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin.


Robert Hilliker (B.S. ’06, M.S.W. ’09) is a licensed social worker/therapist and chemical dependency counselor. He is co-founder and managing partner of The Lovett Center, which brings specialized therapists together into a centrally located space. Hilliker also works with patients in private practice and serves as the clinical director for Pathos — The Lovett Center’s intensive outpatient aftercare program for people struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Hilliker received his Masters of Social Work from the UH Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) in 2009. He has completed several prestigious fellowships and worked with UH GCSW professor Brene’ Brown as the chief clinical officer at The Daring Way LLC.


Tanya Makany-Rivera (B.S. 2005, M.B.A. ’13) keeps Houstonians informed about city business as deputy press secretary at the city of Houston. She is responsible for external strategic communications, including media relations and social media. She works closely with the Mayor Sylvester Turner to develop speeches, statements and talking points for the mayor. In addition, Makany-Rivera coordinates on messaging with other elected officials at the federal, state and local levels.


Maliha Mian (B.B.A. 2002) has had quite a journey since graduating from UH in 2002. She earned a law degree and started her own practice, Mian & Associates Law Firm PLLC, representing clients on issues related to immigration, business, procurement and family matters. Mian was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2015. Since then, she has developed Got Boobs?, an innovative social media networking platform that provides a comprehensive solution to the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies a breast cancer diagnosis. The platform will launch this summer. Mian is founder and CEO of the company.


Alexander Obregon (B.S. 2009; M.B.A. ‘14 ) is the Houston deputy city controller, a position he has held since 2016. He is responsible for the management of the department’s operations and technical services and provides leadership on policy issues pertaining to the city’s financial health. Prior to joining the city, Obregon was a consultant for Deloitte & Touche LLP, the largest professional services firm in the world. Obregon earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from UH. He was a Global Energy Management Institute scholar while earning his M.B. A. at the C.T. Bauer College of Business.


Jason Smith (B.S. 2009) found his calling while participating in the Hobby School of Public Affairs' Civic Houston Internship Program (CHIP). It provided Smith, now vice chancellor of governmental relations for UH System, with his first opportunity to work for an elected official. Today, the UH alumnus works with elected officials daily, providing them with the information they need to positively impact the future his alma mater and the University of Houston System. Smith is responsible for establishing collaborative partnerships within the community and maintaining mutually productive relationships with government entities on behalf of all four UH System universities.

These UH graduates are among 161,953 UH alumni living in Greater Houston and the Gulf Coast region. The Houston Business Journal will recognize the 2018 “40 Under 40” honorees at a sold-out event Thursday, June 7.