Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Undergraduate Spotlight: Monika Puligurthi!

Wed, April 10, 2019
Undergraduate Spotlight: Monika Puligurthi!
Monika Puligurthi

My name is Mounika Puligurthi, and I am currently a senior pursuing a double major in Computer Science and Spanish, graduating in May 2019. I’m from Plano, Texas, though I was born in India and lived there for nine years. When asked who I am and where I come from, I like to say that I am Indian by birth, American by spirit, Hispanic by soul and relentless by nature. I’m also an avid traveler (traveled to all but 4 states in Mexico), polyglot (can speak 8 languages with varying levels of proficiency) and a soccer fan extraordinaire. As a self starter, I taught myself how to program in tenth grade and now have my own travel blog website that I coded from scratch. As a former Girl Scout, I am passionate about caring for others and giving back to my community. I have been actively involved in residence life throughout my first two years at UT as secretary and Vice President of the Jester East Residence Hall Council, and one of sixteen senators in the University Residence Hall Association. Since January 2018, I’ve been teaching computer skills in Spanish (MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Google Suite tools - Calendar, Hangouts, etc.) to low income Hispanic adults at Manos De Cristo, a nonprofit based in Austin. My hobbies include watching soccer and tennis matches on TV, traveling (and taking beautiful pictures with my cellphone), learning languages, listening (and singing) to Latino music, and volunteering. I'm looking to connect my tech and foreign language interests to serve those in need so that they can not only follow their dreams, but also live them.

Why did you decide to major in our department?

 I entered UT as a Computer Science major, and had initially decided to only minor in Spanish. I started taking courses in the Spanish and Portuguese Department during the fall of my sophomore year for my then minor, after a one-year hiatus from foreign language classes and practice. Two years later, I still remember the first conversation I had with Liz Hastings, one of the academic advisors for the department. After I explained my intentions of minoring, she had suggested that I choose one class from SPN 327C (Advanced Grammar and Writing in Context), 328C (Intro to Literatures and Cultures) or 330L(Intro to Linguistics), and especially to only choose classes that were marked “open” on the course schedule, rather than “open/restricted.” Figuring that I needed to review my Spanish grammar and recover from my language study gap, I decided to start my Spanish minor with SPN 327C. Having endured gigantic lecture halls in which I rarely knew anyone, 8am calculus, and the disappointment of tech internship rejections, I needed a fresh start and to re-immerse myself in an environment where I felt that I inherently blossomed. When I walked into my first Spanish class at UT, I felt like I had won the lottery. The SPN 327C class taught by Pablo Postigo Olsson was not only the only class that had been open at the time, but had also helped me realize a lot of valuable things. The language became even more of a passion of mine. The classmates and the professors that I would get to know during that and future semesters became a family I could turn to throughout the best and worst of times. As a person, I not only blossomed, but also belonged. I felt welcomed, accepted, and fortunate at the same time, and I am forever grateful for the supportive community in the department that God has placed in my path.


What was your favorite class (or classes!) and why?

Tough question! I’m elated to say that I enjoyed all my classes, and hence can’t choose a favorite! As I mentioned previously, my first semester in the Spanish Department helped me realize that foreign language was a crucial and an inseparable part of me, and since then, I felt at home. From collaborating with classmates to sketch a detailed plan of a hypothetical community center that educates high-school audiences about colonialism in Intro to Literature (SPN 328C), to drafting a Zine that highlights a gender-fluid indigenous group in Oaxaca solely through graphic design in Indigenous Voices in Latin American Literature (SPN 356), and even currently to invigorating colonial history with color on a text-annotation platform called Recogito in my Spanish Capstone, I had so much fun in Professor Kelly McDonough’s classes and feel empowered to implement some of the class projects and explore Digital Humanities. In my linguistics classes (SPN 330L: Intro to Linguistics and SPN 346L: Sounds and Intonation), I became fascinated about regional Spanish dialects and am advancing towards my goal of being able to speak in distinct dialects and also to code-switch between different languages (I’m also part of the Bilingual Annotations Task Force - BATS- which studies and models/visualizes code switching in bilingual and multilingual corpora). I also felt proud when I finished my Don Quijote class (SPN 351) because I was successfully able to read and understand medieval Spanish without looking at any translated versions of the novel, although at first I was fighting an uphill battle. In my service learning class (SPN 348C), I re-immersed myself into the heartwarming spirit of volunteering and of a tightly-knit and caring community at Manos De Cristo, my volunteer site. Last but not least, through my PRC class, I have my heart set on going to Brazil someday and exploring all that the country has to offer.


What is the most important/interesting thing you learned through your coursework in our department?

 Coming into the major, I had the impression that Spanish Literature and Linguistics were subjects that were rigid/structured and only applicable to academia. However, I learned that I could implement the projects I had done in my classes to benefit my community near and far and use the knowledge I gained to become a social advocate, while also using technology to teach and inspire others to share their stories and propel positive transformation of their communities.


What have you learned about yourself through coursework in our department?

 Throughout my coursework, I was able to serve as a mentor to my classmates not just when they needed help with the class material, but also during their difficult times. I was also able to unleash my creative side by using digital tools and graphic design to make class material and projects relatable to wider audiences. Through the coursework and my community service, I am proud to say that I myself have grown so much and even become part Latina by learning from the academic and volunteer settings and relating to Hispanic culture. The UT Spanish and Portuguese department is, and will always be, another home away from home for me, and I am so eager and ready to pay forward the tremendous affection, dedication and efforts of the community of professors and classmates who have made me feel at home.


What are some of the skills or abilities you have learned through your coursework in our department?

 More than anything, I have learned to continue to be open to diverse perspectives and to approach and interpret information critically. Additionally, I realized how powerful the knowledge that I gained could be, because I became more and more eager to apply what I learned to my future work. As I learned a lot about indigenous groups through my studies, I became determined to serve as an advocate for indigenous rights and cultures, in addition to other causes such as digital literacy. I’m so excited that I am surrounded by a loving and caring community of people in the department that share similar interests as me, and I know that this will forever be the case.


In what way(s) will the knowledge and skills you have cultivated through your coursework in our department help you in your personal and professional life after graduation?

 After I graduate, I hope to join the Peace Corps as a volunteer (I’m currently in the process of applying) and later work in the nonprofit sector, especially in Latin America, though I am open to working anywhere. I hope to spend much of my time in Mexico (as I am in love with the country and its down-to-earth people), and to continue working with my current volunteer site, Manos de Cristo, to create a sister nonprofit organization which would provide economically-disadvantaged people with the education and the computer skills they would need in order to open doors to opportunities such as entering the workforce or starting their own businesses. While I am there, I would like to work with my friend in Puebla to start a shelter and clinic for stray and rescued dogs and cats. I would use all the knowledge I have gained about indigenous communities, including critical thinking knowledge, to help promote their unique cultures, cater to their needs, and encourage non-indigenous communities to learn about these groups and to make them feel included. Although my plans sound very idealistic, I know that I can dare to dream and to pay forward all that the department has given me because of the continued support I will receive from the lasting connections I made.


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