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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - Mexican American Studies

Sierra Lopez – Mexican American Youth & Children and Chicana & Chicano Art
Gabriel Solis –Latino and African American Politics and Political Organizing

SIERRA LOPEZ


Graduate Program: M.A., Mexican American Studies, Center for Mexican American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Focus: Mexican American Youth & Children and Chicana & Chicano Art

Undergraduate Degree: B.S., Family and Community Services with a Youth Emphasis, Diversity Focus, Michigan State University – East Lansing, MI

What is grad school life like?
Well, I work two part time jobs and go to school full time, and I have a small family at home… so it has not been an easy change. I also moved here from Michigan, so my experience as a Chicana in Michigan is different than some people’s experience here in Texas. So there were many adjustments going on- but all in all, I definitely found a balance and was able to come out of my first semester with really good grades. So it is not impossible, you just need to prioritize your homework and classes… attendance is important! Taking notes is important!

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
It is so much easier to be a graduate student than undergraduate when it comes to being interested in classes. Classes are mostly reading (a lot) at home, and then coming to class and discussing what you read. Only, what we read is actually interesting, because we choose our coursework, and those who are in graduate school usually really want to be there studying whatever it is they are studying. So for me, it’s great to learn so much Mexican American culture, history, literature, and more.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing is by far the fact that the professors I have worked with are all great, all around. They have been kind, supportive, and look at us students as equals. Furthermore, they are brilliant! I have so much to learn from them, and they are great teachers. I think that if I learned anything from my first semester at UT, it is that there is a place for everyone in graduate school- and the professors here are open and encouraging.

Where are you in the MA sequence?
I just finished my first semester of a four-semester program. I think that I will be writing two reports, which will have a combined length near that of a thesis.

Can you tell us about your research?
Well, I would say that any opportunity to mix youth and art interests me. I am particularly interested in studying the art forms of urban youth, like lowriders and graffiti art. Usually, those are not considered “art forms,” at least not by dominant society- but my research is concerned with proving that they are indeed art forms, and that they empower youth. Graffiti and lowriders are not unfortunate scabs or scars of the ghetto, or eye sores… there is much more to learn from/about them…. Which is what I am trying to do.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I do not yet, but I am applying to TA position next year. I am excited to work one on one with a professor, and connect with undergraduate students.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Well, I wouldn’t say it is more difficult. I would say it is different. Here, you don’t mess around. You don’t skip class, and you don’t skip readings. Your job is to be a student- not to party all the time, blow off classes, and come unprepared. But I think that a lot of students get that out of their system as undergraduates, and I also think that as a graduate student, you are there because you want to study something really badly… which motivates you and makes it easier to do well. You just have to focus on school- really really focus! And as a graduate student you are seen as an adult. The relationships you make with other students and with professors, plus everything you learn, makes the hard work worth it. There are no more little busywork assignments (thank God!). It’s mostly long, well-written papers and a lot of reading. I think students just need to prepare themselves for focus, less of a party/social life, and the amount of reading and researching/writing that is involved. If you think you can adjust to that, you will do fine! It will be hard, but you can do it.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I had talked to professors I knew well much, much sooner about graduate school, and I wish I would have been urged to go to graduate school much sooner as well. I didn’t even consider the idea until the summer before my senior year. And as a woman of color, I feel that we should be told more than anyone to apply!!! And we can, and women like us make it! There are plenty of brilliant Chicana/Mexicana/Latina/Native/Black/Asian sisters (and brothers) who are now professors doing amazing work for our people.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a Mexican American Studies program?

  1. Get started early, turn it in before the due date. Don’t procrastinate because you will stress yourself out.
  2. Make sure you give your letter of intent/academic statement to a couple of friends you trust and a couple of professors you trust for suggestions and comments (beyond just grammar and moving into content as well).
  3. YOU BELONG IN GRADUATE SCHOOL AND YOU CAN AND SHOULD BE THERE. More people should be told that, and many more students should be applying, so BE BRAVE AND DO IT! Don’t let any excuse hold you back.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your next choice?
I would have attended the University of Washington’s program in Multicultural Education.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Mexican American studies to check out?

I would definitely start at the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) site and of course the CMAS website!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself with my family, working directly with youth and families in the community. I am also thinking about continuing graduate studies, although I will most likely be a teacher at a public school or a community college or working in the nonprofit sector.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
When you get to grad school, you will have days where you cry. You will have days where you think that EVERYONE is smarter than you, better than you, and you don’t belong there. That being said, you will also have days where you feel ON FIRE, inspired, excited, and like you can and will make a contribution to the program and to your classes. You will have some in-between days, some sleepless nights, and some boring articles that you have to read. But just remember that the good times will outweigh the bad, and you will feel so proud of yourself once you finish that first semester. Drink lots of coffee, try your best, and no matter what- remember that you are not alone!

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GABRIEL SOLIS


American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Latino and African American Politics and Political Organizing

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin

What is grad school life like?
Life as Mexican American Studies graduate student is good. Since Mexican American Studies is an interdisciplinary program, we are encouraged to take a range of diverse courses from several different departments in order to satisfy our research interests. The graduate program coordinator for CMAS, Luis Guevara, is always willing to answer our questions and help us out. It is also nice that CMAS hosts several social and academic events throughout the year, like the CMAS Thesis and Portfolio Platicas and cultural and policy research clusters.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
A typical day in the life of a graduate student involves a lot of reading, thinking, and writing. While the workload may be overwhelming at times, students should never forget or minimize one’s privilege of having the opportunity to be in school. Where else would you have so many opportunities to read relevant, interesting, and important literature and develop your ideas and writing? But life should never be all about graduate school. My work in the community and almost daily trips to Pease Park keep me balanced.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about Mexican American Studies is that it is a small program. It is nice to have the opportunity to get to know all of the students and faculty in the program.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
In general, I am interested in the social, political, and economic relations and tensions between Latino immigrants, Latino Americans, and African Americans. I am interested in the historical causes and effects of these relations and tensions, as well as the opportunities and potentials of social, political, and economic cooperation, understanding, and coalition. I am also interested in critical historical analysis of the role of capitalism and the police-judicial system on Latino immigrants, Latino Americans, and African Americans, and the relations between them.

Where are you in the MA sequence?
I am currently doing coursework, but I have started some preliminary fieldwork for my thesis.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently the Graduate Research Assistant at the UT Community Engagement Center, part of the Division for Diversity and Community Engagement.

It is a privilege to work with university faculty that recognize the responsibility and importance of making university research and resources available to the social, political, and economic struggles of non-academic communities in Austin and around the world.

At the Community Engagement Center, I am currently helping—in anyway I can—to assist and sustain developing local social and economic justice organizations in Austin. We are also working on a series of community discussions on different issues. For example, in Fall 2009, the Community Engagement Center hosted—along with several local organizations—a four-part series, “Rejecting Violence, Imagining Alternatives,” on the multiple forms of violence affecting our diverse communities in Austin. And we are hoping to host a community dialogue on black-brown relations in the spring. I am also currently helping to plan and organize Abriendo Brecha VII, an annual conference at UT Austin on activist scholarship.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
In graduate school the classes are much smaller and emphasize class discussion and the open sharing of thoughts and ideas. This is a welcome alternative to vast lecture halls and multiple-choice exams.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
There is nothing wrong with reading and writing all day. In fact, it is a privilege. Think about all of those people out there who are working on roofs, on the side of the highway, or in the fields. It is important to always put things into perspective.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Do all the necessary research to find the program and faculty that best fits not only your research interests, but also one that fits you as a person.
  2. Think about ways that your research can be effective not only within the university, but also be useful to non-academic individuals and communities who might need it and learn from it.
  3. Make sure you can survive in the city or town where your graduate program is located. Austin, Texas is good for me.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
As an undergraduate, I did research as an intern at Texas After Violence Project. At the time, our research focused on documenting and disseminating the experiential testimonies of those individuals directly affected by criminal and state violence, especially the Texas death penalty. We were also interested in understanding the widespread effects of the capital punishment procedure on individuals, communities, and cultures, rarely reflected in the mass media or official public record.
I would recommend that all undergraduate students try to join a research project. Research outside of the classroom will allow you to explore and understand topics and issues that you are specifically interested in. And local research projects can always use dedicated undergraduate volunteers.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I only applied to Mexican American Studies at UT Austin. I had some community projects, friends, and family in Austin that I was not quite ready to leave, so attending Mexican American Studies at UT Austin worked out perfectly for me.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in Mexican American studies to check out?
Of course, check out Mexican American Studies at UT Austin web site. Another interesting web site for news in race and politics is Race Wire.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to be teaching and writing. While I am interested in teaching and writing for a college or university, it is important to me that I am also active in teaching and writing for community campaigns and organizations.

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
One graduate school is survival tip is balance. School is important, but it should never take up your entire day and night. Balance your coursework with volunteering at a community organization, with friends and family, or with daily walks or jogs. I work hard throughout the day and most of the night, but there comes a time at the end of the night where I put down the books, shut the laptop, and try to relax or hang with friends.

Download Gabriel's Profile

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