Bilingual Education (Youth & Community Studies/Sociology Pre-Grad Intern) Senior Abraham Peña

Abraham Pena

The Gradual Acquisition of Perspicacity: On Reflections of the Pre-Graduate School Internship

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." - Carl Jung

It is said that we will never know what we are capable of accomplishing until we force ourselves into tackling the unknown. It is also said that we can never allow ourselves to be enveloped by complacency, as it becomes a persistent obstacle that feeds on our disposition to achieve and succeed. The University of Texas at Austin has given me many opportunities to become critically aware of my own views and to mold these into a more culturally sensitive and diversity inclusive philosophy. This is evident in that the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program's Pre-Graduate School Internship has allowed me to become more knowledgeable about my own strengths and challenges, it has provided me with hands-on experience in the realm of academia, and it has served to direct my interests and to look within myself to establish a true conviction for a doctoral course of study in the social sciences.

In the small conservative border town where I completed my high school education the word college did not exist. It may seem somewhat difficult to believe that being a sophomore in high school I had no idea that education past high school was a possibility. Being first generation, the first in my family to attend a higher education institution, posed many challenges for me as I submitted applications at various undergraduate institutions. Until recently, my family did not support my decision to continue in the academic setting and demanded I withdraw and begin to work in my hometown.

I am grateful that the University of Texas had support services and programs to assist me with the emotional distress that my familial ties imposed on my academic performance and on my psychological well-being. Once I achieved a level of autonomy and self-efficacy, I was able to stand tall and I was granted a position where I could help first-year "at-risk" students with their transition from high school to college. As I engaged in my duties as a Peer Advisor, and began to put forth my best effort in my courses, faculty and staff, as well as other more knowledgeable students, began to speak to me about furthering education in graduate school. I am not embarrassed to say, that at that point in time, I did not know what the phenomenon of graduate school meant. It was then, that my supervisors advised I take part in the University of Texas at Austin's Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program.

I researched the program in depth and became quite fascinated by its mission and decided to speak to my course instructor about it, asking if I could take part in this internship while she took the role of my mentor. She was delighted to guide me through this internship, and in January 2008, my appointment as Teaching Assistant for the course EDC371: Applied Linguistics & ESL Methods began.

As a Teaching Assistant I was exposed to the life of a graduate student, for I learned that teaching assistantships are a sort of financial aid for graduate school. After some research, I discovered that in many of the doctoral programs I wish to pursue, graduate students must complete a specified number of teaching assistantship semesters followed by assistant instructorships. This requirement is imposed on graduate students because the programs target applied research and professorship positions after the conferment of the doctoral degree. Exposure to this sort of environment through the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program has provided me with an edge, a sort of preview, as to what will be expected of me when I become a graduate student.

During the course of the internship I was able to practice and refine a array of skills. I am naturally a very sociable person, but an educator position at the university level imposes additional rules on the discourses that are academically sound and pedagogically effective. In being involved with a diverse group of students and working with them both in the classroom and outside, I was encouraged to polish and develop a more targeted set of interpersonal skills. Knowing that I held a position where I was considered a role model and usually looked up to as a source of knowledge about the subject matter, insight, and understanding, I was motivated further to provide feedback to my students about their own progress and support them throughout the course. I can say that I feel better prepared now than I did five months ago to approach a diverse group of students to speak about sensitive issues, to answer their questions in an appropriate and effective manner, and to build enough rapport to create a space receptive to the spectrum of student ideologies.

A most important component of the internship for me was being able to have opportunities to teach and plan for the course. This was immediately available to me. Prior to the beginning of the course, my mentor, Claudia C. Nickel, and I sat down and reviewed the syllabi for the course. My input was always taken into consideration and either implemented or modified. Yet, I always felt a part of the logistics of the course. In terms of teaching, I had a number of great experiences. I began teaching simple activities and moved on to teach more complex components of the lesson being covered. Claudia always took consideration for the parts of the course that I was interested in and made every effort to allow me to teach those sections. All the practice paid off as I prepared to teach the lesson on grammatical and syntactical structures all on my own. I had prepared and I was able to deliver the lesson without a problem feeling confident about the material being presented. This was a very rewarding experience. For the first time, I was completely in charge of the lesson, the students, and of course, of making the lesson fun, appealing to different learning styles, making things as relevant as possible to student backgrounds, and a multitude of other things. After this experience I claim that I have grown rather quickly in regards to becoming an effective instructor who is not only concerned about the course material, but also, of adapting it to my students' needs and to unexpected situations.

In addition to the role of a Teaching Assistant in the classroom, I was exposed to many of the fundamental components of a graduate school education. Claudia made sure she kept me posted in terms of seminars, sessions, workshops, and conferences that targeted my interests. I attended several conferences that allowed me to speak to many people that had similar interests to mine, and they served as a great means for networking for the future. In addition, Claudia was always there to push me a little bit more. She did everything in her power to allow me to explore my own sense of self, while promoting within me a sense of independence. I could not have asked for a better mentor; she was and is absolutely amazing. I am certain had she not been there to guide me and counsel me during harsh times, I would not be where I am at this moment: confident, determined, and passionate about attending a graduate program of study.

Ultimately, the internship served me to explore my interests and define them for a clearer pathway to graduate school. With the exposure that this internship gave me, I was able to take a hold of my passions and let go of 'expectation'. With the help of Claudia, always supportive and open to my concerns, I came to explore parts of my identity that I had not felt comfortable exploring before. Through self-acceptance and self-evaluation, my academic path seemed to shine in front of me, with no visible obstacles. Prior to this internship I was a Bilingual Education major and by its end, I have switched to Youth and Community Studies with a strong emphasis in Sociology.

At the conferences and interacting with the students in the courses, I realized that although I loved education, my target was not early childhood education but adolescence and early adulthood, the undergraduate student age groups. I was able to get in contact with faculty from various institutions around the United States and now I have a set course of study for graduate school, Sociology. Had I not been involved with this internship, I may have never come to this realization and I would have graduated with a degree that would not have allowed me to do what it is that I am truly passionate for.

I will forever cherish the experiences that the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program's Pre-Graduate School Internship has provided me. I am on route to graduate in May 2009 and will be pursuing a doctoral program in Sociology where I can focus on qualitative methodologies to explore how sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and education intersect and form a part of an individual's identity. Had I not had the opportunity to participate in this internship I would be completely oblivious to the graduate school application process and the course of study I would be interested to pursue in graduate school. Like everything else, for the ignorant, the graduate school process is one that takes time and dedication to understand. It takes the refinement of an array of skills to be able to function successfully within it. For minority students, it becomes a battlefield where they must learn the 'rules' to acculturate and be successful against the supremacist ideologies of our society. It is indeed a gradual acquisition of perspicacity.

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