Nearly everyone has their own story of transformation and growth through connection with other countries and cultures. To highlight these experiences, universities across the nation celebrate the value of international education and exchange during International Education Week (IEW), Nov. 18-22.
At UT, Texas Global's celebration features more than 70 events across campus, giving students, faculty and the Austin community a chance to explore opportunities to study abroad, engage in international dialogues, participate in performances, view films on international topics, and more.
International education plays a central role in academic curriculum, skill-building and cultural competency to create global leaders and innovators. Countless Longhorns have demonstrated the positive changes international experiences have brought to their lives, the UT campus and the world. Read about six of these exceptional students and faculty below.
Nanshu Lu: What Starts in a UT Research Lab Can Profoundly Change the World
Associate Professor Nanshu Lu is inspiring a new generation of innovators right here at UT. A native of Chengdu, China, she joined the aerospace engineering department at UT in 2011 and has since contributed a live-saving technology to the medical world—a heart-monitoring temporary tattoo.
The ultrathin, stretchy tattoo wirelessly collects data on vital signs, brain activity and heart health through a smartphone. Lu and her team of research students are working to improve the revolutionary device, which could broaden the accessibility of cardiovascular care.
Her invention and numerous other contributions to engineering research earned her a spot in the 2012 MIT Technology Review list of top 35 innovators under the age of 35. Lu is also an advocate for international students and scholars and hopes to cultivate strong research and communication skills in her students.
“I tell my students that we are entrepreneurs,” she says. “Entrepreneurs create a new product under extremely limited resources and with a lot of uncertainty. That is what we do.”
Stephanie Estrera’s Experience Abroad Brought Her Closer to Home
After graduating in spring 2018, psychology alumna Stephanie Estrera made the two-year commitment to volunteer with the Peace Corps and teach middle school children in the Philippines. She has lived there for over a year now and says her experience has allowed her to find community and connect more deeply to the culture she grew up with.
“I knew I needed to go there to truly connect to my culture,” Estrera said. “Everything about my life in the Philippines revolves around relationships and community, which is something I really do adore about my service. Southern hospitality has nothing on Filipino hospitality. Even between the language barrier and cultural differences, there’s a warmth and kindness to the people who surround me.”
In addition to teaching, Estrera works on community projects, such as a library development program, a remedial reading program, and a leadership camp. While her time in the Philippines is an opportunity to create lasting improvements in the community, she says her experience has transformed her own future.
“There is no doubt in my mind that my two years here will continue to impact the way I view the world and the choices I make,” Estrera said.
After her service ends in September 2020, she plans to travel around the world and apply to Ph.D. programs in psychology. She has one piece of advice for others who are considering Peace Corps.
“Apply with zero expectations of what your service will be like, or who you’ll become,” she said.
Read more about Stephanie’s story on the Texas Global website.
Augustino Agbemavo Wants to Promote Literacy in Benin and Across Africa
When Augustino Agbemavo was 17, he created a library for students in his community in Benin because the closest one was more than 30 kilometers away. Then he started an even bigger project: a virtual library and bookstore called Reading Power, a startup that has reached more than 1,500 students since 2016.
His determination to improve literacy in his community is what brought him to Austin for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in summer 2018. Agbemavo spent six weeks at UT sharpening his entrepreneurship skills and learning about business management from social businesses in the U.S. His time in Austin allowed him to collaborate with fellow business leaders and explore ways to expand his library’s digital platform.
Agbemavo, now back home in Benin, is also implementing a new strategy to build his library’s inventory. He wants to create a secondhand market for graduate students so that they can earn more money by selling and buying used books at a discounted price.
Ultimately, Agbemavo believes in Africa’s potential and wants to take part in its progress.
“We have so many opportunities in Africa but we are not yet able to use those opportunities to develop our different countries,” he said. “This program opens our eyes and makes us more conscious about our challenges and what to do to overcome them. It also allows us to improve our leadership and entrepreneur skills, learn from the best professors at one of the best universities and extend our network.”
Read more about this Mandela Washington Fellow's story.
UT Research Team Learns From Community, Finds Solutions in Puebla, Mexico
After winning the President’s Award For Global Learning in 2018, a team of four interdisciplinary students took their research abroad this summer to help the community impacted by the 2017 earthquake in Puebla, Mexico. In addition to collecting data on the quality of life in underserved regions, the students built lasting connections with the welcoming families in the area and hope to return to Puebla and continue their research.
Biology major Veronica Remmert said her time in Puebla was a unique and hands-on experience that allowed her to become immersed in the community.
"There’s no experience like that,” Remmert said. “In study abroad you get to take classes and you get to learn, but this is a whole different kind of learning—a type of learning that requires a lot of flexibility but also requires persistence and teamwork and excitement and drive, and that’s all we have.”
Remmert and her team worked to identify key issues that prevented the residents of Puebla from rebuilding their homes over the past two years. The team’s goal was not to teach, but to learn from the people of Puebla and involve them in finding solutions for the various issues facing the city.
“What we're doing is real—it has a very real possibility of impacting not only the communities that we're working in but the communities we live with,” said team member Christina Ciaburri, a psychology and communication and leadership student.
Watch how this team of students used their project to connect with the community and help solve real-world issues abroad.
Soon-to-Graduate International Student Marifer is Grateful for Her Time at UT
Growing up in Torreón, Mexico, as the oldest of five sisters, Marifer Saldaña Gonzalez knew from a young age that she wanted to make a difference in the world. After hearing about The University of Texas at Austin from her cousin, a UT student, she decided to apply.
“I looked at the website and the first thing I saw—'what starts here changes the world’—already sounded pretty good for me!” Gonzalez said.
Inspired by her father, a businessman, she wanted to be an innovator and entrepreneur. Although she wasn’t sure she could afford the out-of-country cost, she applied anyway and was accepted into the McCombs School of Business.
“Overall, I feel so welcomed,” she said. “I think coming to UT was the best decision I could have ever taken. I’ve grown so much in every way.”
Coming to UT as an international student was not easy, but the aid she received from scholarship opportunities gave her the financial support she needed to achieve her degree, she says.
“I want to thank everyone that has supported UT Austin; without your help I couldn’t be here,” Gonzalez said. “As international students we sometimes face a lot of hardships, but just having this financial support helps us to study more, to develop as people and to be able to give back to society. All of your help has changed my life.”
As a marketing major and management information systems minor, Gonzalez is interested in the intersection of business and technology. After she graduates in Fall 2019, she hopes to use her skills to help solve global issues in sustainability.
Watch Marifer tell her inspiring story.
Argentinian Master’s Student Returns Home to Contribute Civil Engineering Skills
As a child, Gabriel Carlosena was always fascinated by the intricacy of structures such as buildings and bridges. His curiosity eventually led him to choose civil engineering as a career path. His enthusiasm for problem solving and learning is what brought him from Argentina to the Cockrell School of Engineering as a Fulbright master’s student.
“I want to be part of those projects,” he said. “I like the challenging part because you always have to face problems and to come up with a solution to that problem. It also gives you the opportunity to work always in a different project and in a different location, so you always keep learning.”
Carlosena first became interested in the UT graduate school when he was awarded a 2015 Fulbright scholarship to participate in a one-month customized English language and culture program at Texas Global. He came with the goal of improving his English and learning about American culture, but his time at UT had a far greater impact.
“One of the most memorable experiences was the last day when we wanted to say goodbye to all the people that we met,” he described. “We were in a room with 50 plus people all from different backgrounds, all from different cultures and countries. So, the amount and strength of the connections that we made only during one month here, I think it was pretty amazing.”
After receiving his master's degree from the Cockrell School in May 2019, Carlosena returned to Argentina and began working as a civil engineer developing city infrastructure. He hopes to continue working on impactful projects and being an inspiration to all potential Fulbright students.
Read more of Gabriel’s story on the Texas Global website.