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Celebrating Our Spring 2017 Graduates

Graduation illustrations: grads tossing mortarboards

In just a few days, thousands of students will graduate from The University of Texas at Austin at the 134th spring commencement on May 19-20. Each graduate has a unique story. To celebrate the Class of 2017, we’re highlighting several outstanding students who have made the most of their undergraduate experience here on the Forty Acres and are working toward making the world a better, more equitable place.

Tristyn English- Beckwith
Political Communications, Moody School of Communication

image of TrystanPrograms and activities: DiscoverLaw.org PLUS, Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE); Gateway Scholars, LCAE; Women of Excellence; Student Leadership Initiative

Law school bound…Since arriving to UT Austin, English- Beckwith never wavered from the law school path. When she learned about the five-week DiscoverLaw.org PLUS program, she jumped at the chance to learn more about law school and life after the bar exam. “Discover Law really put me in a good position to accomplish what I want to do in the future. The biggest benefit was the application fee waivers for the LSAT. That really opened up a lot of doors for me.”

A fortunate dilemma…Recently accepted into two top law schools, English- Beckwith had a tough decision to make. Should she attend UC Berkeley or the University of Southern California? Though she couldn’t go wrong with either school, she decided to take USC up on its generous scholarship offer and stay close to the bright lights of Hollywood. “I want to work in entertainment law, so it makes more sense to stay close to industry professionals in LA.”

The sky’s the limit…Independent by nature, English- Beckwith is excited to board a one-way flight to California and possibly stay there indefinitely. After working her way up the totem pole, she envisions herself in a large corner office spearheading a legal team at a major TV network. “Ten years from now I hope to be working at a big network like NBC studios. Ultimately I want to become and executive director of legal affairs.”

Life in the fast lane…At age 21, English- Beckwith will be among the youngest graduate students in her classes this fall. She earned her associate’s degree in high school, which put her on the fast track in college. “I came in with the class of 2018, so it’s a little weird for me to be graduating ahead of my friends. I missed having a senior year, but in the long run it will all pay off.”

Going local…Although she skipped a full year at UT Austin, English-Beckwith did get to take advantage of a trip of a lifetime. As a Gateway Scholar, she had the unique opportunity to travel abroad in Cape Town, South Africa with a large, diverse group of students. While overseas, she spearheaded a sustainable business plan for women in the Vygrond Township and took classes at the local university. Her favorite activity, however, was veering off the beaten path. “I had the most fun going off on my own to less touristy places like local coffee shops where I felt like a local.”

Words of wisdom for undergrads… “Take your time and enjoy the experience and everything will fall into place. Focus not just on academics, but also on making connections with people who will support you and believe in you.”

Mason Lanch
Consulting and Change Management, McCombs School of Business

image of Mason
Activities and Programs: Bridging Disciplines, Texas Undergraduate Studies; Austin City Hall Fellows, Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence; Camp Texas; Texas Spirits

Game changer…Before embarking on her freshman year, Lanch had mixed feelings about coming to UT Austin since her heart was set on playing volleyball at a different university. But, as they say, life had other plans. “I lost my chance at a volleyball scholarship, so I wasn’t happy about my situation. That all changed when I went to Camp Texas. I loved being out there on the water and making new friends at camp. That experience really made me excited to be a Longhorn.”

Living to serve…Now Lanch is more than happy she came to UT Austin, where she took advantage of many programs that helped her discover her interest in community service. That interest soon turned into passion when she got involved in Austin City Hall Fellows, a one-year program that combines service-learning with community engagement.

New to the neighborhood…While working with community leaders, East Austin residents and other stakeholders, Lanch and her team set out to determine how to meet the needs of Rundberg residents. In partnership with the Housing Authority of Central Austin, the fellows conducted surveys in the neighborhood and presented their data to City Hall. “We saw how valuable data collection can be. Going into this project, we were expecting language barriers to be the biggest issue, but the residents were more concerned with transportation and internet access.”

Going the extra mile…Throughout the year, Lanch and her team chatted with residents and learned more about their backgrounds. She will never forget their stories, particularly one told by an 8-year-old girl who didn’t have access to a school bus and had to walk 20 minutes to and from school. That walking time doubled for her diabetic brother. “I’ve talked to a lot of residents and listened to a lot of stories, but that one will stick with me the most. It makes me think of all the privileges I have, and how much work that needs to be done to fix this transportation problem.”

Life after UT Austin…Now as Lanch prepares to leave the Forty Acres to embark on her new career as a health care consultant in Houston, she takes satisfaction in knowing that she made an impact in her city. “Through this project, we were actually making a difference. It’s really important to include this work into service learning because it causes us to focus less on our grades, and more on successfully completing the project and making a sustainable impact.”

Bridging the gap…As for the long-term future, Lanch plans to take her passion for community service to the next level. “I love the company I’m going to work for, but I plan to go back and get a master’s in public health or health care administration so I could translate my skills to a nonprofit that provides support for patients who can’t afford the treatment they need.”

Favorite UT memory…An avid runner, Lanch can often be seen at the Turtle Pond in the wee hours of the morning. “I love to stop there on my way back from a run and watch the turtles. Or sometimes I’ll just sit out there under the trees and relax. I love turtles – ask anyone I know and they’ll tell you!”

A word of advice…”It’s really important to prioritize school and work, but it’s equally important to know when to take a study break, and to also figure out an activity outside of school that makes you happy.”

Anthony Orion Nunez
Social Work, School of Social Work/Certificate in Creative Writing

Image of Anthony NunezPrograms and activities: Austin City Hall Fellows, Longhorn Center for Community Engagement

New to the scene…When Nunez entered the School of Social Work, he wasn’t quite sure if he found the right fit. Surrounded by accomplished students with impressive backgrounds, he felt like he was lacking in experience. “I wasn’t quite sure if it was for me until I started realizing my own strengths. I’m glad I chose to major in social work because I really want to help people, connect them to resources and be that light for them.”

A blessing in disguise…As part of the degree program, professors match students with an internship during the last leg of their senior year. Nunez initially hoped to intern at a child welfare organization, but his professor paired him with The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (Front Steps ARCH). Looking back at his time at the ARCH, he believes the internship was a blessing in disguise.

Navigating difficult times….During his internship, Nunez helped his clients access a myriad of resources that many people take for granted, such as basic toiletries, basic health care services and clean clothing.  Whether they need to print out a resume or navigate the application process for low-income housing, Nunez was there to help them along the way.  “Sometimes they come full circle and other times they take two steps forward and three steps back. The work isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding when I see the appreciation in their eyes.”

From study hall to city hall…Nunez also found fulfillment in the Austin City Hall Fellows program. Throughout two semesters, he collaborated with community members, city leaders and students on a large-scale project that benefits residents of Thurman Heights, a low-income apartment complex in Northeast Austin. During his time in the service-learning program, he conducted surveys with residents to better understand their biggest challenges and how to best meet their needs.  “We didn’t go into this project as fixers, but as learners. We communicated with people to identify not only their needs but also the strengths they brought to the table. It was a great experience connecting with residents and seeing the change that could be made.”

Powerful than the mighty sword…In between classes and community service projects, Nunez spends much of his free time writing poems and short stories. One of his recent poems, “Changes with the Sun,” was published in Latinx Spaces. “Writing is a way to connect with people. My biggest aim with writing is to create a web of interconnectedness with people. I want someone to read my work and become kinder and show more love to others.”

Life after UT…After graduation, Nunez plans to work full time at the ARCH, where he will gain more experience in client navigation. In a few years he envisions himself working in child welfare or perhaps in hospice care.

Words of wisdom for undergraduates… “Connect with people. Classes and grades are important, but don’t forget to connect with people and take a moment to tell them how much they mean to you. This is a time to build relationships and memories.”

Estela Lopez
Math, College of Natural Sciences; Economics, College of Liberal Arts

A snapshot of Estela Lopez on her study abroad trip in the United Kingdom.

Programs and activities: Gateway Scholars, Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE); McNair Scholars, LCAE; Google Community Leaders, Longhorn Center for Community Engagement (LCCE); UT Service Scholars, LCCE and LBJ School of Public Affairs; Project MALES, DDCE

An eye-opening experience…When Estela Lopez embarked on her college career, she didn’t realize she would be one of very few Latinas in her math classes. She later looked into the state of Latinos and Latinas in higher education and founds some concerning statistics. “I became very interested in learning why the educational gap exists in the Latino community. That’s when I began looking into why this is happening and what I could do to make a difference.”

Making an impact…After enrolling in the UT Service Scholars program, Lopez decided to get involved in Project MALES, a research-based program that helps Latino students enter the college pipeline through mentoring and academic enrichment initiatives. While working with her middle school students, she realized she found her calling in community service. “It is so important to have that mentor-mentee companionship. Even if we meet for just one hour, it makes a difference for these middle school students to have someone to talk to, whether it’s about school or what’s happening at home.”

Ready to launch… Looking back at the progress her Mendez Middle School students have made, she’s confident they will transition successfully into high school this fall. “It’s great to see how they’ve changed since we first met. At first they were very quiet and didn’t ask a lot of questions—and now they’re excited about going to high school and meeting their new principal.”

Life after UT Austin…After graduation, Lopez plans to board a one-way flight to Indiana, where she will be pursuing her master’s in public affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington. Though she foresees herself working in the math field later down the road, she wants to spend more time exploring her passion in community service. “After all the service I’ve done within these past few years, I want to keep making an impact in the community.”

Words to live by…When Lopez gave her valedictorian speech at her high school graduation near Lubbock, she broke into Spanish and promised her parents that she would work hard and continue to make them proud by furthering her education and being the first in her family to graduate from college. Moved by her speech, her mother reminds her to this day that she is fulfilling her promise. “It really hit me when my mother reminded me of my speech and assured me that I’m continuing to make them proud every day.”

A lasting legacy…Though she’s excited to graduate and move into the next phase of her academic career, Lopez will miss leading the UT Service Scholars program. Before leaving, she and her co-chair put a lot of effort into recruiting and retaining the next group of scholars. “Both of us are very passionate about UTSS and how it has influenced our lives. So throughout the year, we worked to show the new scholars how much they could gain from the program so they could keep it going. It was a lot of work, but now I’m really happy that we have a great group of scholars in place and that we’re leaving the program in good hands.”

A word of advice…“Don’t be afraid of failure because it’s going to happen during your undergrad years. The rejections will only help you grow. All of those applications, interviews—every single challenge—will improve your development as a professional and as a person. Always challenge yourself because you might not even know your capabilities.”

Vanessa Rodriguez
Psychology, College of Liberal Arts

image of student

Activities and programs: Gateway Scholars, Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE); McNair Scholars, LCAE; University Leadership Network

Lessons from abroad…While studying abroad in Beijing with her fellow Gateway Scholars, Rodriguez taught at a rural school for children of migrant workers. While working at the under-resourced school, she realized more work needs to be done to bridge the education gap—in developing countries and here in the states. “I realized that situations at the Dandelion School were similar to schools here in the U.S. The lack of funding and basic resources really affect the students, and it’s up to the teachers to do everything in their power to help them succeed.”

Next stop, Teach for America…Inspired by her experience at the Dandelion School, Rodriquez has decided to join Teach for America, a two-year teaching program that places teachers in a high-need school. A first-generation college graduate, she wants to show her students that they, too, can succeed at a top university. “I know a lot of students have the potential to come to college, so I want to do everything I can to show them what’s possible.”

Paying it forward…Looking back at her experiences at her high school in San Antonio, Rodriguez will never forget the two teachers— Brendan Chan and Maricela Lazarin —who encouraged her to go to college. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without my teachers who helped me do something with my life. Getting that push gave me hope to come here.”

Getting classroom ready…This summer, Rodriguez will head to Houston to get trained for the fall semester. Though she’s embarking on a whole new journey into teaching in San Antonio, there’s a sense in comfort knowing her family will be nearby. “They’re so happy that I’m getting started in my career—and that I’ll be close to home. I’m very grateful for all the privileges I’ve had. I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.”

Favorite UT memory…Of all her experiences on campus, Rodriguez is most grateful for the friends she has made during her undergraduate journey. “Every person I’ve met along the way impacted my life. They’ve empowered me to embrace who I am and to show the world what I have to offer. They’ve motivated me to be a better person and to help others.”

A word of advice…”Never give up—even when you’ve hit rock bottom. I had an uneasy transition into college, but I got through it with support from mentors. Try different things and find something you’re passionate about. Once that happens, everything falls into place.”

Stephanie Suarez
Geological Sciences, Jackson School of Geological Sciences

image of studentActivities and programs:  Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate Internship program (IE)

Next stop, graduate school… Growing up in a low-income household, Suarez was determined to become the first in her family to graduate from college. Soon she will head to graduate school at the University of Houston, where she will prepare for her future career at NASA or perhaps in the oil and gas industry. “My mom is very proud and tells me that I’m self-made. What amazes her even more is that I work and go to school. There’s a lot of sacrifice for time, but I know it will pay off.”

The power of mentoring… The future is yet to be determined, but she knows she’s on the right path thanks to her mentors in the IE program who guided her along the way.  During her time in the program, she worked with graduate students who helped her navigate the complicated process of getting into graduate school.

Going into the field…A recipient of the IE program’s Kuhn Scholarship, Suarez traveled to national conferences to present her research to experts in the field.  “It was great talking to geologists who all have very unique specializations. It was kind of nerve-wracking, but I got more comfortable the more I presented. I learned how to be very confident about my research and how to present my work to experts who could poke holes in my findings.”

Staying the course…Her best advice to girls who aspire to become scientists is to stay the course. “To young girls, I want them to know that anything’s possible. They just need to be resilient and get through their obstacles. Even if they’re just inching, they have to keep going.”