College of Liberal Arts

Small Town Students See Big Potential at UT Austin

Fri, Oct 16, 2015
I'lynne Marquez practices extracting DNA in Deborah Bolnick's anthropology lab.
I'lynne Marquez practices extracting DNA in Deborah Bolnick's anthropology lab.

The future just got a whole lot bigger for 12 high school students from Hart, Texas who were selected to attend a three-day STEM workshop at The University of Texas at Austin. 

Leaving their 1,000-population town, the group of students navigated across the campus of 51,000 students, learning about STEM opportunities at UT by touring computer science and mechanical engineering research labs and receiving hands-on training in genetics.

“This experience was completely unique, empowering my students to pursue higher education and make a lasting impact on the world,” said Robert O’Connor, who teaches science and robotics at Hart High School.

O’Connor collaborated with Rick Smith and Deborah Bolnick from the UT Austin Department of Anthropology to plan the trip as a result of receiving a grant to improve science education at Hart. The students selected to attend the trip included Hispanic sophomores and seniors from biology class, robotics club and the local chapter of the National Honors Society—most of which were prospective first-generation college students.

“We have a real diversity problem in science, and that’s something that we want to address because people from different walks of life all have different perspectives and ideas that are needed in our discipline,” said Smith, an anthropology doctoral candidate. “If we want to make science better, we need to continue improving access and representation.”

The high school students also had a chance to speak with current first-generation, Hispanic students from an organized panel of Kuhn scholars from the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship program.

“I feel a step closer to my future, having heard college students' stories and their advice,” said Hart High School student Abigail Rosas.

The students also attended an info session on the college admission process, organized with the help of the Center for Diversity and Community Engagement and the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence. Upon returning to Hart, the students were eager to discuss ACT scores, GPAs and potential careers, O’Connor said.

“UT isn't just a university; it is more than that,” said high school student I’lynne Marquez. “It is family, accomplishments, determination, and a way to find yourself. UT is a way to change the world, one step at a time. UT is the future of our world and I would like to be a part of that.”

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