Alumni Spotlight: A&M Junior Leads Hispanic Studies Association

Mariana SalazarMariana Salazar is an alumna of YES Prep East End and a junior at Texas A&M University. She is majoring in Spanish and International Studies with a concentration in politics and diplomacy. Mariana is also minoring in Hispanic Studies for Community Engagement.

Why did you decide to attend Texas A&M?

Initially, I had plans to go to St. Benedict’s in Minnesota. When it came down to financial aid, they offered me the most. However, I was nominated for a $12,500 alumni scholarship that was restricted to Texas schools. Of the Texas schools where I’d applied, A&M would offer me the most programs and opportunities. I decided to go to A&M and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

What do you love about the school?

I declared the school on Senior Signing Day, but I hadn’t visited it. So, I went the very next day to tour. It was very welcoming and felt like home. My first semester, I had all Spanish classes. I believe that was the reason I felt welcome and was able to transition so easily. I was constantly in contact with the professors, getting involved in the program, and got to know my department and major right away. In the second semester, I started taking core classes and many were difficult, but I already had the support from my professors in the Department of Hispanic Studies.

How did you select that major?

I initially applied for business. I didn’t get into the business school, so I was enrolled in my second option, which was as a Spanish major. I figured I’d see how it went. I was able to learn a lot about the literature within the Mexican culture and the broader Hispanic culture. All the courses were so diverse. My second year, I decided to go to the Department of International Studies because I was still interested in business and they had a commerce track. I took one course, but I didn’t like it at all. In the following semester, I changed my track to politics and diplomacy, and I love it. Being a double major has allowed me to have multiple opportunities. For example, I have studied abroad in Spain, Germany and currently have an internship for the summer in Argentina. I’m also doing undergraduate research with two different professors, which has been a great learning experience.

You’re graduating next December. What are your plans for the future?

I’m interviewing with Teach For America. Eventually, I’d like to go to graduate school in international affairs. I’ve started looking into the Bush School at Texas A&M and the program at UT.

You are the President of the Hispanic Studies Association. Can you tell us a little about how you earned that role?

I got involved my freshman year, but we only did two volunteer activities. My second year, I became vice president. That year, we volunteered at the Language Support Office at A&M, tutoring students who needed help in Spanish. But the involvement died off in the second semester. The girl who was president emailed me to see if I was interested in taking her position when she graduated. The organization struggled with commitment and getting people involved. At the time, I was in a meeting for another organization that was selecting its officers. I saw how much people wanted the positions and were struggling to get it. I thought, “I don’t want to miss this opportunity that I’ve been given.” So I accepted and she sent me the paperwork to get the organization approved the next year.

I contacted the members, but not even one person replied that they were going to be a member the next year. I started asking people I knew from my Spanish courses. I told them I was restarting the organization and asked if they wanted to be involved. The first person I received support from is my current Vice President. We met and decided to remodel the structure and the goals of the organization. Now, instead of doing a few volunteer opportunities, we hire mentors, who are Spanish majors/minors that have completed at least three upper level Spanish classes. We paired the mentors with students in the 100/200 level and asked that they meet at least three times a month. They tutor the students, practice Spanish with them, and help them study for their exams. In the first semester under this model, we had nine members tutoring 14 students. Now we have 18 members tutoring 27 students.

What other organizations are you involved with?

I’m also in the International Students Mentor Association. We mentor students that come to A&M from another country. My first semester, I mentored a student from Spain. Last semester, I mentored a student from Kenya and one from Mexico. This semester, I have two students from India.

I also did research in the Department of Hispanic Studies with a professor and attended a graduate-level class he taught about the Spanish Inquisition and Marranismo. This semester, I’m doing research with the Director of Lower Division Spanish Instruction and we are investigating the effectiveness of the Integrated Performance Assessment.

What lesson did you take with you from YES Prep?

Time management and using an agenda. You must have some sort of organizational system in college, and using an agenda is something that will stick with me no matter what. My friend, Brianna, and I say, “Thank God we went to YES.” That’s how we survive college– writing down deadlines for classes, keeping track of meetings and assignments. I take my agenda with me to school every day.

Another thing I took with me from YES Prep is a support system. My teachers from YES support me no matter what. I know I can go back and talk to them about anything.

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