Sociology/Social Work Pre-Grad Intern Aida Prazak

Aida PrazakThis semester has been a journey for me made possible by participating in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE). It is said that the Lord draws straight with crooked lines. That has been the story of my life. I began the semester researching graduate programs in public policy and law. It did not take me long to discover that this was not where my heart was leading me. While researching university programs, I kept getting distracted or rather, led to Master of Divinity programs. After some reflection and consulting with my mentor, we got approval to revise my contract. That was the best thing I ever did. It was then that I was able to freely explore where my heart was leading me. I delved into religious and faith development websites. I attended lectures on campus in the sociology and religious studies departments. This university has professors with vast experience in those areas and I was fortunate to benefit from their expertise.

Entrepreneurship is basically a business venture (not without some risk) that combines established resources in a creative manner to produce a product that maximizes the profit margin that these resources would normally make individually. The Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship does just that by pairing students who would like to attend graduate school with mentors who have been through the process. These mentors are in graduate school and we are given the opportunity to glean information from them and to benefit from their experience. I met with my mentor on a regular basis to discuss my goals and to come up with a plan as to how to achieve those goals. Joy Learman was such an inspiration to me. Although she is a lot younger than me, Joy is wise beyond her years. I'm an older student coming back to school after many years. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school but did not have a clue as to where to begin. Joy was able to demystify the process of choosing where to go, what to study, and how to stay focused; she also made sure I stayed on track. It certainly reduced the learning curve for me and at my age, time is of the essence. Since I am pursuing dual degrees in Social Work and Sociology, I just want to finish school before I'm old enough to qualify for Medicare.

Students in the program are also assigned to interview one or two professors in their field of study and ask how they came to choose their respective graduate school, what challenges they faced, and how they balanced home and work. The insight these professors give is invaluable. One professor I interviewed grew up poor like me yet he went to Harvard. When I was growing up a poor little Mexican girl from the wrong side of the tracks schools like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford were planets that didn't exist in my galaxy. But after talking to my professor I felt - no, I believed that I could do it too.

My research also led me to a book by sociologist Christian Smith called Passing the Plate. It is a fascinating study as to why Americans don't give more to their respective churches. He gives nine possible reasons for Americans' lack of generosity and discovered that Mormons give the most and Catholics give the least. As a cradle Catholic, I was intrigued. I too have noticed that Catholics were not generous givers and often wondered why. After pondering the situation, I kept going back to some concepts I learned in sociology. I have my own theory as to why Mormons give the most and Catholics give the least. I plan to explore this in an honors research project. Again, this opportunity came about as a direct result of my participation in this program.

Another one of my assignments was to do field work by traveling to a religious pilgrimage site over Spring Break. I made a trip to San Juan del Valle in Jan Juan, Texas. In my religious studies class we are learning about pilgrimages and shrines. I went on that trip ready to identify and apply concepts that I had learned in class. Well, things don't always go as you planned. It was a long 7 hour drive in desolate south Texas heat, the hotel was not as nice as what was depicted on the website, the mass schedule had been changed so we sat in an empty church waiting for mass to start only to find out that there was none, and a host of other surprises. Despite these problems, my friend had a wonderful religious experience. Maybe I set my expectations too high. I drove home thinking it had been a wasted trip and that I wouldn't have anything to write about; but something changed for me after I got home. I had not been to church much since last semester but after my trip I felt the urge to go back to church. My faith was renewed in a way that I did not expect. That was also a direct result of participating in this program and for that I will be eternally grateful.

I like the fact that we have to write and post reflections. Writing is a skill I have not had to use very much over the years and it does not come easily to me. Writing the reflections has given me the opportunity to improve my writing skills without the pressure of grading for technical proficiency. I also really enjoyed attending the diversity meetings. As an older student, I feel under-represented. Going back to school has been such a major adjustment for me and the diversity meetings made me aware that I am not alone. There are avenues out there to address students' specific needs and resources available to address these needs. ensure that students succeed here at the University of Texas. We are truly blessed to have such conscientious staff in the Pre-Grad internship program to help us on our academic journey.

I enjoyed manning the table during Research Week. It was an opportunity to spread the word about this program and to share my enthusiasm with other students. I hope people can see what this program has done for me and be encouraged to participate. In conclusion, I feel as though I have come full circle this semester. That crooked line smoothed out and came back to form a circle of closure. One opportunity led to another and yet another, one person led me to other people, who opened doors for me and opened my eyes to possibilities I didn't know existed. By creatively combining the resources available to us (the mentors, professors, and IE staff) this program efficiently minimizes the learning curve of figuring out how to get into graduate school which increases our intellectual profit margin.

This ultimately maximizes our tuition dollars. If it were not for this program I would still be pursuing graduate programs in public policy and law when that is really not where my heart it. I was able to discover this in one semester as opposed to several years. .the ultimate in efficiency. Rick and the rest of the staff are awesome, inspiring, and encouraging. They are portals from which we students can emerge.

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