College of Liberal Arts

Student and Donor Features

Paris

Student Ludmilla Pierre Discusses How Study Abroad Support Enhanced Her Education 

A month after graduating high school in Haiti, I moved to the United States to further my education. My freshman year in college felt like a study abroad experience because I was living in a different culture, traveling internationally, and learning a different language — all at the same time! The United States began to feel like home once my whole family was here permanently. I never thought that I would study abroad outside of the U.S. However, coming to UT as an International Relations and Global Studies* student, and being exposed to the potential of study abroad programs, I took the plunge and opted for a semester in Paris, France. Knowledge creates an insatiable thirst; the more I acquire, the thirstier I feel. I aspired to attend the Sciences Po** in Paris program. When the opportunity presented itself, I did not hesitate to fulfill my aspiration. I am truly appreciative of the Houston Endowment President’s Excellence Scholarship, without which I would have been unable to study abroad. 

I learned a lot from this experience, such as becoming confident in speaking a language different than my own. While I was studying in a country whose language is the same as my native language, French, I was lucky to stay with a host family of Spanish-French speakers. Increased language skills were a huge advantage I gained from this experience. This allowed me to improve my Spanish by conversing with my host parents and abuela (grandma). Our morning conversations over breakfast were memorable. She told me stories about Peru and her experiences as an immigrant in France. Presently, students are participants in a globalized world. My host family showed me that it is possible to meet people of multifarious backgrounds, dialects, and cultures in one place and to interact with them on a day-to-day basis. This is an invaluable skill in our increasingly globalized society. 

I had the opportunity to venture out and explore other countries during weekends and academic breaks. I also had the opportunity to go on field trips which were included as part of the class curriculum. My favorite field trip was a visit to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. This trip gave me the opportunity to see the practical implication of what I studied in a public international law course. 

Overall, I learned how to experience cultures different than my own and gain a deeper understanding of other perspectives. While the experience was challenging, overcoming barriers helped me build new friendships and have new experiences that taught me life lessons I will have forever. I can’t wait to go back and visit. My semester abroad was truly an experience of a lifetime.

Pixar

Steven Dao graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. Stephen works as a software engineer for Pixar Animation Studios in California. 

What made you want to study philosophy? 

I took Professor Dan Bonevac’s “Intro to World Philosophy” course during my first semester. It was the first philosophy course that I had ever taken, and I was hooked. The awesome thing about philosophy is that you don’t have to be Plato or Confucius or Kant to tackle the big questions, like “What do I know?” and “What is good and what is bad?”  

What did you gain from a liberal arts education? 

A liberal arts education taught me a lot about working with people who have different backgrounds than my own. Everyone brings different ideas to the table and they approach problems in different ways. It’s like making a movie: there are writers, artists, animators, engineers, and a whole lot of other people who all think differently, where we have to work together to create one finished product. A lot of liberal arts classes were the same way, as you might have philosophy, government, and sociology students all working together on the same project. 

You mentioned movies; tell us a little bit about what you do? 

I work at Pixar Animation Studios in the San Francisco Bay Area on software that artists use to create movies. I’m part of a team that builds the tools used by set artists to create the virtual props, sets, and environments in which Pixar’s movies take place. It’s a collaborative environment; especially when the people who use the software you write are sitting only a few doors down. The artists are always pushing the limits of what the computer software can do, which definitely keeps us on our feet! 

How do you apply what you learned on the Forty Acres to your career path? 

Much of my experience related to the media and animation field I learned by participating in Texas Student Television and the Game and Mobile Media Applications Program, both of which are open to all majors. 

One thing that continues to surprise me is how impressive good writing can be. While writing good software is important, writing a good design document is imperative for getting stakeholders on board. If I have a tool that I want to develop, then writing quality user documentation is critical. It’s a necessity if I actually want artists to use the awesome new thing that I’ve been working on.  

How does your education inform your worldview? 

My liberal arts education taught me to appreciate other opinions and beliefs. Someone might have an opinion that you find completely implausible at first, but their argument may be well-reasoned, causing you to question your own beliefs. That’s been really evident to me coming on the heels of the recent election. 

How did endowment support impact your student career? 

I attended the University of Texas on the Dedman Distinguished Scholars Program Endowment. I was fortunate to have a wide breadth of experiences that weren’t directly applicable to my classroom or career goals, such as spending a semester abroad in Paris and taking a drawing course in the Department of Art and Art History. 

You are giving back to the college. What inspires you to give at such an early stage in your career? 

Every Longhorn should have the freedom to explore their interests, and I’m happy that the College serves not only liberal arts students but those from all across the University. I owe a lot of who I am today to the faculty, staff, and students of the College. I hope that I can pay it forward by providing opportunities to future students.