Tag Archives: Spanish

Navigating Immigration Visas: Alex Luna Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

-By Alex Luna ’17

Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna '17
Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna ’17

During my time at Texas A&M, I have had the opportunity to live and travel abroad. I have been able to witness first hand that the life we live, as Americans, is not normal but rather special. We live in a nation where we do not constantly fear the threat of Coup d’état or where to find clean water to drink. We live in a state that allows upward mobility, where anyone can do anything through hard work and dedication. This is not the case for most of the world. As a country founded by immigrants for immigrants, we must continue to allow the fair entrance and chance of prosperity to people from every part of the world. A just and fair immigration system is fundamental to this tenet. Inspired by a weekend service trip helping an immigrant family while living in Argentina, I decided to focus my University Service Scholars Capstone Project on helping the immigrant community in Texas.

In 2014, the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Garland Independent School District (GISD) was accused of a being a part of a scheme to exploit foreign teachers brought to the United States to work for GISD through H-1B visas. The H-1B Visa Program allows American employers to hire foreign skilled workers for hard-to-fill positions ranging from computer heavy industries to specialized teachers. The student population of the Garland Independent School District, over the past decade, has increasingly seen an influx of Spanish speaking students. To fill a much need gap in regards to the deficit of Spanish speaking teachers, the school district enlisted the aid of H-1B teachers. What started out as a program to meet the needs of GISD, turned into a lucrative business that exploited teachers from an overwhelmingly non Spanish-speaking countries to work in GISD to fill a gap for Spanish speaking teachers. Once the scheme was foiled by the school district, GISD worked hard to handle the mistreatment of these foreign teachers. Due to the negligence and abuse of the system, many of these teachers lost their legal right to work in the district and ended up in confusion with their formal U.S. immigration status.

Being born and raised in Garland, Texas and having attended Garland Independent School District schools throughout the entirety of my primary and secondary schooling, I felt a personal responsibility to give back to my home district and those who work there. My father has served as a member of the school board for eleven years and through his eyes, I have become intimately aware of this unfortunate occurrence. My high school Spanish teacher, Jacobo Luna, was one of the teachers affected by the mishap and was not able to stay employed with Garland ISD after the scandal came to fruition. This also inspired me to investigate the situation and motivated me to want to be a part of the solution to ensure this atrocity never occurred again.

As a way to help prevent another misuse of H-1B visas and to give the GISD teachers currently employed under H-1B visas a point of reference for information about the complicated visa process, I created the “GISD H-1B Visa/PERM Labor Certification Resource Database” service project. The project reads like an FAQ with two main sections entitled H1-B visas and PERM Labor Certifications. The resource contains extensive, detailed information about the visa and recruitment process for obtaining an H-1B visa and a PERM labor certification to obtain permanent residency. Both sections go into extensive detail about the logistics, definitions of terms, and application process. It is designed for someone to understand what a H-1B visa or PERM Labor Certification is without any prior knowledge. After reviewing the resource, a potential immigrant should be able to gain a general understanding of the H-1B visas or PERM Labor Certifications processes. The resource was designed to be user friendly and can also be used as a reference for specific questions regarding one specific part of the process.

Along with the general overview of the application processes, I created a detailed checklist for both H-1B visa and PERM Labor Certification applicants that will serve as an aid to the applicant. I also created a condensed pamphlet of information for both the H-1B Visa and PERM Labor Certification application processes. These will serve as an aid to the district when a H-1B teacher needs a quick reference to the process. The creation of these resources help to consolidate the information and clear up any ambiguity that the process currently holds in the eyes of both the employer and employee.

At the commencement of my research, I knew almost nothing about the immigration process and the strains that are put on those who are applying for visas. Much of my understanding of our immigration system was based off of rhetoric reported by our media. Needless to say, my opinion was very skewed to one side and lacking a clear understanding of the strenuous process. After conducting research and reading personal stories about the immigration process, I have become passionate about immigration reform. Our immigration system is broken and is in desperate need of repair. Our nation was founded by immigrants for immigrants and we must always honor this founding statute. My project focused specifically on H-1B visa holders and PERM labor certifications but the problem is much greater than just these two issues. Too many educated, innovative people are being turned away for US immigration that would benefit our economic prosperity. These potential immigrants are looking for opportunities and will make their new home elsewhere if we do not change and reform our system. Our immigration system is a confusing process that unjustly sets limits on people who would serve as a great asset to the American people.

Working with the Garland Independent School District to develop a resource for immigrant teachers has been an eye opening experience. I have learned more than I ever could have imagined.  The University Service Scholars program encouraged me to make a difference in my community and left me motivated to continue fighting for just immigration reform. As Americans, we are almost all decedents of immigrants. To continue American prosperity, a reliable and just immigration system is necessary.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact capstones@tamu.edu.

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Honors Student Council: Building Community

Honors Student Council (HSC) is charged with hosting events that unite the community of honors students at Texas A&M University. HSC also advocates for honors students’ concerns to the Honors and Undergraduate Research Advisory Committee (HURAC), the committee that shapes honors education at Texas A&M. Each semester, Honors Student Council hosts dozens of events for honors students, including socials, academic events, and special-topic panels. Recently, HSC has also found service opportunities to unite honors students. In the post below, junior Spanish and psychology double-major, and 2015-16 Honors Student Council President Joshua Fuller details the work that HSC has done over the past year.

By: Joshua Fuller ’17

In the past year, Honors Student Council has hosted dozens of events for the honors population at A&M, uniting the community through shared experiences. While the events traditionally focus in 3 key areas — socials, academic events, and special-topic panels — HSC has recently added service as another way to unite honors students. Below is a list of some example events we have put on over the past year:

Socials: HSC sees socials as a relaxed way to bring honors students together to participate in a relaxing and fun experience. HSC has hosted a “cool down” for finals event before finals May and a “warm up” for finals event in December. At the “cool down,” students watched a demonstration from the physics department where a student mad ice cream using liquid nitrogen, and then they ate the ice cream he created (as well as some pre-Blue-Bell famine ice cream). At the “warm up,” students made s’mores and drank hot cocoa while warming up around the fire in Tweener — the area between the Lechner and McFadden honors dorms. HSC also hosted 2 tailgates during football season that united honors students and their families over good old fashioned barbeque and sweet tea. Due to us being in an election year, HSC has additionally hosted “Presidential Bingo,” a fun night where we watched the debate and played bingo based off of what candidates said. In the coming semester, we hope to host a “Drunk Goggles MarioKart” event that warns about the dangers of drunk driving in a fun setting, more presidential bingo, and a bowling social at the Grand Station arcade.

Honors Student Council would not let a few clouds nor rain dampen their Aggie Spirit before the Auburn football game outside of Kyle Field in Spence Park during one of the HSC Tailgates. (November 7th, 2015)
Honors Student Council would not let a few clouds nor rain dampen their Aggie Spirit before the Auburn football game outside of Kyle Field in Spence Park during one of the HSC Tailgates. (November 7th, 2015)

Academics: HSC prides itself on uniting honors students through interdisciplinary learning opportunities. One of the most common HSC events is our “Donuts and Discussion” series. At a “Donuts and Discussion,” a distinguished undergraduate researcher, such as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, comes and talks to students about their research while students enjoy Shipley’s donuts and juice. Topics have ranged from research about enhancing radiology techniques, to the removal of an invasive species of fish in Belize, to archeological digs in the Middle East. Speakers also tell students how to get involved with research at A&M. We will have more “Donuts and Discussions” in the spring. Additionally, we plan on hosting a practice poster session for the individuals who plan to present at Student Research Week in late March, as well as anyone interested in learning about research.

Honors Students attend a watch party for the GOP Presidential Debate held in the lobby of Henderson Hall (September 16th, 2015)
Honors Students attend a watch party for the GOP Presidential Debate held in the lobby of Henderson Hall (September 16, 2015)

Special Topics Panels: In the fall of 2014, HSC hosted a panel entitled “Women in STEM: Overcoming Sexual Discrimination Barriers to Excel in Traditionally Male-Dominated Fields.” At the panel, 6 distinguished STEM professors spoke about their experiences being a woman in STEM, a traditionally male-dominated field, and how overcoming sexual barriers was (and is) difficult for them. The faculty inspired the audience by their resilience and reminded us that we all need to do our part to end sexual discrimination.

Dr. Datta (far left) addresses a question to the Women in STEM Panel, (left to right) Dr. Welch, Dr. Geller, Dr. Amato, and Dr. Pietrantonio.
Dr. Datta (far left) addresses a question to the Women in STEM Panel, (left to right) Dr. Welch, Dr. Geller, Dr. Amato, and Dr. Pietrantonio.
Students listen to Dr. Nancy Amato, Panelist: Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen, Dr. Suma Datta, Dr. Sue Geller, Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio, and Dr. Jennifer Welch take part in the Women in Stem panel. (October 29, 2014)
Students listen to Dr. Nancy Amato, Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen, Dr. Suma Datta, Dr. Sue Geller, Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio, and Dr. Jennifer Welch take part in the Women in Stem panel. (October 29, 2014)

Following in the footsteps of “Women in STEM,” HSC hosted another panel event in the fall of 2015 about the culture of mental health among honors students. Entitled “”Breaking the Silence: Mental Health Stigma in the Honors Community,” the panel was moderated by Dr. Maggie Gartner, the director of the Texas A&M Student Counseling Services, and featured 5 honors students and an one former honors student who live with mental health issues like anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The panel’s diverse background of experiences and accomplishments, ranging from receiving prestigious national fellowships to participating in specialized internships, demonstrated that you can be successful while battling a mental illness or mental distress. This challenged the misconception that mental health struggles and success are dichotomous. The panel ignited an important discussion about how we treat mental health in the honors community, as well as provided important resources like the counseling center to students. HSC will likely host another large panel in the spring, potentially initiating a series relating to mental and physical health.

2)Honor Student Council provided a student panel to discuss and bring awareness to Mental Health issues on college campuses, looking primarily at high achieving-high ability student mental health on the Texas A&M University campus. (October 30th, 2015)
Honors Student Council provided a student panel to discuss and bring awareness to Mental Health issues on college campuses, looking primarily at high achieving-high ability student mental health on the Texas A&M University campus. (October 30, 2015)

Service: Beginning in the fall of 2015, HSC has started to arrange service opportunities for honors students in the Bryan/College Station community. VP of Activities, Alyssa Salisbury, has been working with local schools to arrange tutoring opportunities for honors students that will hopefully begin this spring. VP of Academics and Special Events, Mita Coker, arranged several opportunities to volunteer with the Bryan animal shelter. We will be continuing our work with the animal shelter in the spring, including hopefully having a puppy-petting station on campus and an adoption center during parents weekend in April.

In addition to the events listed above, HSC is also responsible for advocating for honors students concerns to HURAC. Thanks to your feedback, within the past year there was a change from an honors “credits” system to an honors “points” system. Essentially, this gives more flexibility in reaching the required 30 “hours/credits” needed to get the University Honors distinction. This flexibility allows for some points to be earned from honors extracurricular activities, such as being an executive in Honors Student Council, as well as points from high-impact experiences, like study abroad and internships.

If you have any questions, ideas for events, or want to learn more about Honors Student Council, you may email us at tamuhonorsstudentcouncil@gmail.com.

Honors Student Council is able to provide enriching events and serve as advocates for Honors Students’ interests because of the generous support from the Association of Former Students. We are very grateful for their ongoing support!

Alex Luna: Mate Club

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, junior Spanish and communication double-major Alex Luna ’17 shares what he learned about the value of political engagement in Buenos Aires, Argentina while studying there during Fall 2015.

By Alex Luna ’17

This past semester, I have been living and studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my time here, I have had the opportunity to attend a cultural language exchange club called “Mate Club de Conversación.” Mate is an herbal tea that the Argentines drink socially, to study, or stay alert during a long workday. It has become an integral part of Argentine culture. Preparing a good “mate” has become a tradition in itself. There has even become a judged, national contest each year to see who can prepare the best tasting mate. To put it frankly, mate is a BIG deal in Argentina.

At Mate Club de Conversación, we talk 15 minutes in Spanish and 15 minutes in English while sharing a “mate.” The setup allows us to both work on our foreign language while at the same time enjoying each other’s company. No topic is taboo at Mate Club. It has been here that I have fully understood what Argentina was, is, and hopes to be.

During the past six months, Argentina has been in their process of electing a new president. I believe that everyone should experience the political process of a foreign country for it will truly challenge the one where you live. Living in Buenos Aires, the national capitol of Argentina, there are people of every background and political mindset mixed together. Mate Club brings a diverse group of people from many backgrounds, age groups, and political mindsets together in one setting.

During my time attending Mate Club, I was given an insight into the minds of many different people and what they thought. In Argentina, it is not taboo to talk about politics or the political process. Friends, new acquaintances, and family can share opposing views without fear of ruined friendships or hurt feelings. Almost every conversation with a new Argentine friend started with a chat about politics in Argentina and the United States.

Argentines understand the importance of democracy for it was only a little over 30 years ago that it was restored from a harsh dictatorship. This fervor and invested interest in politics made me wonder what our political participation was once like during the birth of our country. Our deadlocked political system where we are scared to talk about our political views must be changed. For political change to happen, we must be able to talk about it freely, without fear of a lost friendship or heavily, heated debate. The Argentines understand this. We should learn from them.

These raw conversations have challenged the way I think about the world and who I am. If you are ever in Buenos Aires, I highly recommend attending Mate Club de Conversación. It is here that I have made friends and learned lessons that I will keep for a lifetime.

Alex (middle) with Rodrigo (right) and Nahue (left), the founders of Mate Club de Conversación
Alex (middle) with Rodrigo (right) and Nahue (left), the founders of Mate Club de Conversación

Want to learn more about mate? Traveling to Argentina and want to plug in with Mate Club de Conversación? Visit http://www.mate-club.com.ar.

Undergraduate Research Scholars Best Thesis Awards

Last month 170 students completed the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. This Capstone program is open to any TAMU student with a GPR of 3.0 or better who is interested in undertaking a research project under the mentorship of a TAMU faculty member over the course of consecutive Fall and Spring semesters. Undergraduate Research Scholars submit a proposal and timeline for their project in early Fall, attend a series of events and workshops designed to support their progress over the two semesters, present their work publicly at TAMU Student Research Week or a professional conference in their field, and submit a final scholarly piece (most commonly a thesis) by early April. The majority of award winners at Student Research Week are Undergraduate Research Scholars. Since the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program is an official Honors distinction, students who finish the program are designated Undergraduate Research Scholars in their graduation program and on their transcript, and receive a beautiful medallion commemorating their achievement at the Honors and Undergraduate Research Recognition Ceremony in May of each year. Honors and Undergraduate Research staff evaluate student engagement and accomplishment to select two best thesis award winners—one in Humanities/Arts/Social Science and one in Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics disciplines.

Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences 2015 Best Thesis  winner Susannah Barr '15 (left) with her research mentor Dr. Cynthia Werner (right).
Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences 2015 Best Thesis winner Susannah Barr ’15 (left) with her research mentor Dr. Cynthia Werner (right).

Our best thesis winner for the Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences is Susannah Barr, a class of 2015 graduating senior majoring in anthropology and minoring in Spanish and economics. Susannah did her research under the mentorship of Dr. Cynthia Werner, Head of the Department of Anthropology. Susannah chose to focus her studies on the Sunflower Project, a small aid organization dedicated to children’s health and nutrition in the rural Dominican Republic, which Susannah and three friends founded in May 2013. Susannah’s engagement with the Sunflower Project led her to the realization that the group had begun aid programming without understanding the needs and desires of the community they were working in. Her thesis project aimed to address this problem by performing a needs assessment that took into account wealth, income inequality, proximity to markets, current diet, preferred diet, and obstacles to dietary change. Susannah’s studies demonstrated that while some of the Sunflower Project’s assumptions were wrong, many of the initiatives undertaken by the project were appropriate for the community. More importantly, the information uncovered through her research allowed Susannah to make concrete suggestions for different or additional programming that will have a major and welcome impact on the diet and health of the community the Sunflower Project serves.

STEM 2015 Best Thesis winner Connor Aimone '15 (left) with HUR Executive Director Dr. Suma Datta (middle), and his research mentor Dr. Le Xie (right).
STEM 2015 Best Thesis winner Connor Aimone ’15 (left) with HUR Executive Director Dr. Suma Datta (middle), and his research mentor Dr. Le Xie (right).

Our best thesis winner for the STEM fields is Connor Aimone, a class of 2015 senior majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in mathematics. Connor completed his thesis work under the mentorship of Dr. Le Xie, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Connor chose to focus on developing and testing mathematical models for voltage source converter based DC lines for transmission and distribution of power. The motivation behind this work revolved around finding an improved method for integrating renewable resources, such as wind or solar power. Improper connection of these energy sources into the nation’s power system has the potential to cause stability issues that would “crash” the power grid and leave large swaths of the community without electricity. Connor’s sophisticated mathematical representations allowed him to generate a detailed model that operators will be able to use to better understand the capabilities and limits of a particular system. He was also able to generate a simplified model that is easier and faster to use, allowing for modeling of systems over time. Both of his models are capable of standalone simulation or coupling with preexisting power system models.