#WhatStartsHere: Danielle D’Aguilar, Foreign Policy Advocate
Next up in our student spotlight series, we’re introducing you to Danielle D’Aguilar, a Plan II Honors, Hindi & Urdu, and Islamic Studies junior who plans on becoming a lawyer and eliminating cultural barriers around the world.
Programs and activities: Austin City Hall Fellow, Longhorn Center for Community Engagement; Financial Chair, UT SAAYA Bollywood-Fusion Dance Team; Spring, 2016 Intern, Interfaith Action of Central Texas; Hindi-Urdu Flagship Program, Department of Islamic Studies; Bridging Disciplines Program, Texas Undergraduate Studies
Speaking the language…Since she was a kid, D’Aguilar has been fascinated by other cultures. When she investigated her family roots, she found some Indian lineage on her father’s side. “I became very interested in Indian culture and wanted to learn the language. When you can speak the language, you get a deeper understanding of the community and how people interact with one another in a society.”
Going South…After her dad took her on a surprise trip to India, D’Aguilar came to UT Austin with a plan to study Hindi and Urdu. Though she’s living in the heart of Texas, she’s completely immersed in the South Asian world – dancing at national competitions with the Bollywood-Fusion Dance Team.
A full dance card…The hours of studying and rehearsing may sound daunting, but she takes it all in stride. “Dance practice is a stress release and everything just seems to balance out when I’m having fun with friends, getting exercise and using my creative skills. Plus we get to travel!”
New to the neighborhood…D’Aguilar found her niche while helping teachers in ESL classes for refugees in the Rundberg neighborhood. Yet when her internship ended, she felt that her work had only just begun. “I wasn’t ready to leave and kept thinking about the issues people were dealing with in that community.”
Picking up where she left off…When an adviser recommended the Austin City Hall Fellows program, D’Aguilar immediately submitted her application. Now into her second semester as a fellow, she is returning to the Rundberg area to help community members gain access to free and low-cost resources. “I really love how this program is structured and how it pushes us to work with community members to come up with sustainable solutions that will improve their lives for years to come.”
Forging new partnerships…This semester, D’Aguilar and her team of fellows are partnering with the Housing Authority of Central Austin (HACA) to expand the reach of the Mobile Equity Program – a six-week training course that helps residents learn how to use technology to their advantage. After completing the program, the trainees receive a free smartphone. “HACA has incredible resources for residents – but the biggest obstacle is effectively showing them how to use and access these programs and services.”
Addressing the big issue…While attending Front Porch Gatherings, a series of community-wide dialogues hosted by the Community Engagement Center, D’Aguilar meets with residents, professors and civic leaders to address Austin’s societal problems. One particularly concerning problem, she says, is Austin’s dwindling African American population. “When I talk to people about their concerns, they’re most frustrated because not much is being done to keep Blacks here in Austin. It seems like a problem people don’t want to approach.”
Living to serve…“I’ve learned so much about the community and problems that exist outside my bubble—here in Austin and around the world. I can’t help but to dedicate my time to giving back and helping the people I’m meeting, even if it’s in a small, indirect way. I can’t image not being in this type of work.”
Getting her feet wet… Now more than ever, she is confident in her ability to succeed in a challenging, yet rewarding career in law. “What I really love about this program is that it gives me a chance to understand local politics – and I get to meet city council members and citizens who are taking an active role in improving their community.”
More about the Austin City Hall Fellows Program: Every fall semester, a group of students across all disciplines learn how to become civic leaders through service-learning. Advised by community and city leaders, as well as former fellows, they hone their skills in public service while making a positive impact on underserved communities. Go to the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement website to learn more.