Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies
Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies

Senior Lucero Estrella Researches Around the Globe with Mellon Mays Scholarship

Thu, March 1, 2018
Senior Lucero Estrella Researches Around the Globe with Mellon Mays Scholarship
Lucero Estrella
Article and photograph courtesy of UT Liberal Arts Honors.

Liberal Arts Honors says congratulations to senior Lucero Estrella for her research with the Mellon Mays Fellowship – or, as she could say, “felicitaciones” or “おめでとう”

Lucero is a Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and Japanese double-major from Brownsville, Texas. She has recently been awarded a scholarship for her thesis project through the Mellon Mays Fellowship.

“Mellon Mays is amazing,” Lucero said. “There’s a lot of mentorship and support, I think that’s something that a lot of students don’t get. It gives you an opportunity to get close to professors. I don’t think I would have been able to apply to graduate school if it wasn’t for Mellon.”

The program is relatively new, with only three cohorts at UT so far, and it aims to set students on track for a career in academia. It helps students with writing conference papers, forming relationships with top professors, and bringing together like-minded undergraduates from schools such as Duke, Emory, and Rice to share their research.

Lucero’s research stems from her dual interests in Mexican and Japanese culture, which she has been cultivating throughout her academic career.

“I had done history fair in high school and the topics I chose for the three times I competed were about the Chicano walkouts in east LA and the desegregation cases here in Texas,” she explained. “It was something that I felt my curriculum in high school lacked so I wanted to take some time in college to really study that… As a sophomore I added Japanese and started taking language courses. I decided I wouldn’t graduate early and enjoy something that I have really liked since I was a kid. It’s the perfect time to learn the language as an undergrad.”

Now, she is honing those passions in her paper, titled “Japanese Migration and Settlements in Northern Mexico.” A perfect combination of her academic roots, she explains that she came across the subject by chance in her “History of the Borderlines” course.

“I happened to find this one primary source that was a government document talking about Japanese migrants along the US-Mexico border… that’s something that’s really interesting for me, growing up on the border and having an interest in Japanese culture, this is something where the two things I really enjoy intersect.”

Lucero also explains that this project would have been infeasible without her invaluable study abroad opportunities. As a rising junior, she spent the summer in Mexico City to conduct independent research covering Japanese culture in the country.

“I did a project related to Japanese migration, focusing on a museum owned by a Japanese-Mexican family that preserves toys,” she said. “That’s their way of preserving their culture. I thought that was amazing.”

She also spent the spring semester of her junior year taking intensive language and culture classes in Japan. She says the lessons and experiences she obtained abroad changed her life and molded her future career.

“These experiences really solidified that this is something I really want to do… the feeling of going through materials and being like, ‘wow, these are old…,’ I almost felt like I shouldn’t be touching them with my bare hands, the books I got in Japan… I realized this is really what historians do.”

Of course, she stresses that all LAH students should strive to study abroad, and she has some advice for those interested.

“Something that pushes people away from study abroad is the affordability. Sometimes it’s cheaper to study abroad… a lot more affordable than living here in West Campus. This is where scholarships and fellowships come in. LAH has scholarships – there’s departmental, program-specific and language scholarships that I think everyone should just apply to. Often they all have similar essays to write. I was able to fund both of my studies abroad fully.”

And for those who put in the effort, she says it’s absolutely worth it.

“Using Spanish at an archive in Mexico City and then using Japanese in an archive in Tokyo was just an awesome experience,” she said. “They don’t lie when they say study abroad changes your life.”

Back home, she has also involved herself in the LAH community and the city of Austin as a whole.

Lucero is a part of the Rapoport Service Scholars and a local non-profit named “Latinitas.”

“Volunteering is something I love… [Latinitas] works with empowering young girls with media, tech and STEM. I started with them as a freshman and I’ve been with them ever since,” she explained. “I loved… getting close with people and communities in east Austin that I never thought I’d meet. It’s nice to go back to an event and see a girl that I met three years ago and see how much she’s grown… we’ve been able to plant a seed. They would have never thought of journalism or robotics as something they’d want to do, and now they’re interested. I love going back and seeing familiar faces… they’re like my sisters.”

As she is graduating in May, now is the time to start paving the path into her future – and so far, all of her paths are paved with gold. Lucero has been accepted into PhD programs at Yale, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego. Wherever she chooses, she is sure to be more than qualified to begin a fruitful career in academia.

“It means five to seven more years of school, but if any of that involves digging in more to the topics that I love and being able to travel and conduct more archive research, then it’s something that I really want to dedicate those years to,” she said.

For any other LAH students interested in doing research and going to graduate school for academia, she strongly encourages everyone to apply to the Mellon Mays program, as it has extended her many opportunities and provided her the experience and connections to put her in the successful place she stands today.

Wherever her travels may take her, Liberal Arts Honors says “good luck,” “buena suerte” and “がんばろう”

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