Standing on the China's Great Wall with a plaque representing The University of Texas-Pan American was a "significant and wondrous" moment for Alejandro Hoyos (BS '09, MS '12).
He said to further his career aspirations to become part of an international organization, he wanted to obtain the experience and knowledge that a study abroad program would give him.
"With all the uncertainty and political, economic and technological changes, I believe that by studying abroad I must have a solid understanding, supported by a strong academic foundation, of how to guide international organizations through these challenging times," said Hoyos, who also travelled to Germany in 2007.
His trips to China and Germany might not have been possible without the support of a scholarship provided by the University's International Women's Board (IWB), an affiliate of The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation.
IWB members gathered at the University March 21 to hear Hoyos and six other UTPA students from the total of 46 IWB scholars - both undergraduate and graduate students - who studied abroad last summer with the help of the scholarships. The travelers showed pictures from their trip and described some memorable moments from what most of them called a transformative experience.
Formed in 1989 to encourage international understanding within its membership, the University community and the region, the IWB serves as ambassadors for the University and contribute to the quality and breadth of education at UTPA. IWB has more than 200 members from all walks of life who participate in fundraising projects, an annual style show and other events, and travel excursions. Membership is $30 a year.
An IWB Scholarship Selection Committee meets to review more than 100 applications received each spring for the scholarships. This month, 57 students were awarded scholarships for Summer 2013. The top three students received $2,000 each and 54 students received $1,000 each. The UTPA Foundation matches the funds raised by the IWB for the scholarships up to $50,000 each year.
IWB President Laurie Lozano said hearing from the students about their experiences motivates the members to find money each year to continue to help students participate in summer travel abroad programs.
"It is amazing how this experience touches their lives in so many different ways," she said. "It instills a love of learning, a love of art. It really does help them to open their minds to the many possibilities so we are always thrilled to hear from them. Some of their stories are so emotional."
Describing her recollections of her trip to France last summer and being able to make a presentation on a Parisian opera in front of the Paris Opera House brought Abby Chavarrilla to tears during her presentation.
An older student who had a long career in radio as an on air personality before coming to UTPA to earn a bachelor's degree, Chavarrilla is majoring in communication - public relations and is a Rafael "Felo" A. & Carmen Guerra Honors Program participant. She said she was moved by the support the University has provided her and indicated that the Honors Program, the study abroad experience and even the process to get ready to travel outside the country has been a valuable learning experience taking her outside her comfort zone.
"More importantly, this study abroad experience shows my children and grandchildren that, if I can accomplish this, so can they," she said.
The IWB Study Abroad luncheon was the first event attended by one of IWB's newest members, Julie Balboa, assistant vice president, Member Service Central Region, of Security Service Federal Credit Union.
She said her company likes to affiliate itself with supporting students and education.
"This fits right in to the values that my company has. We are part of the community and we will have employees coming out of the University so to give back to the education system and those in it is helping the future of our organization and the community," she said.
Balboa said she felt the travel abroad opportunities the IWB supports broadens their horizons and makes them more well-rounded.
"This world is getting more diverse so to have individuals who can relate to people from other countries and different areas makes them have an edge," she said. "I look forward to working with IWB - I hear it is a very interesting group - a very fun group. I hope I can be a good participant."
For more information on the IWB, contact Christina Cantu, development officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (956)665-3665. To learn about other ways to support UT Pan American, contact the Office of Development at (956) 665-5301.