UTEP Passport Grant Recipients Recognized at Reception
Last Updated on March 10, 2022 at 12:00 AM
Originally published March 10, 2022
By Daniel Perez
UTEP Marketing and Communications
Prior to the pandemic, about a third of UTEP study abroad applicants lacked a passport, and the main reason was a lack of funds.
As the region began to turn the corner on the coronavirus in mid-2021, UTEP’s Office of International Programs/Study Abroad (OIPSA) started to prepare for the time when UTEP would again allow foreign travel. Part of that preparation was to see what the University could do to help those students with modest means who could not afford a $175 passport book.
The OIPSA initiated talks with UTEP’s Office of Institutional Advancement and both sides quickly orchestrated a “Pick a Project” fundraiser during summer 2021. That effort raised more than $1,100. The OIPSA’s Passport Office added an additional $3,500 to create the first UTEP Passport Grant. Organizers then developed criteria for applicants and selected a committee to review the applications.
The University celebrated those efforts during an Explorer Reception on March 8, 2022. During the event, 15 of the 27 selected students received their passport books.
“There was a sense of excitement among the students,” said Judy Moore, study abroad assistant director and one of the event organizers. “They saw it as an accomplishment. To have those passports in their hands gave them a sense of pride. You could tell they were pleased to be part of this celebration.”
About 60 people attended the event to include University administrators, faculty, staff, the honored students and their families. Among the recipients was Karina Gasca, an electrical engineering master’s student, who plans to use her passport to visit other countries to acquire additional skill sets and learn about different cultures.
Gasca, an El Paso native, said she has had memorable volunteer experiences in Juárez, and she wants to gain similar experiences in other parts of the world.
“I was surprised, happy and grateful to be chosen,” she said.
Dania Brandford-Calvo, Ph.D., executive director of the OIPSA, called the passport book a tool that students can use to visit other countries to improve their work skills, cross-cultural competencies and global leadership skills, and develop a global mindset. She added that the passport would allow the students to travel to more than 150 countries without having to apply for an entry visa.
Moore said that the OIPSA staff and members of UTEP’s Division of Student Affairs actively used social media and emails to alert friends and family about their fundraiser and were grateful to the donors. The OIPSA used the same methods, as well as word of mouth, to alert interested students about this passport opportunity before they opened the application process in October 2021.
“We knew there was a need, but we were surprised at the number of applications we received,” Moore said before the reception.
She also explained the important difference between the passport book and the less expensive passport card. She said the card allows holders to travel on land and by ship to limited countries, but not by air and not to all destinations. The passport book allows air travel.
More than 500 students submitted applications. Of the initial applicants, 260 met the eligibility requirements that included financial need, an initial request for a passport book, U.S. citizenship, and to submit a brief essay.
Edward Sanchez, OPISA passport agent, read every essay and said that some common themes were financial need, an interest in helping others in less affluent countries, wanting to visit family in the interior of Mexico, and to have a better understanding of the world.
Sanchez smiled as he remembered the positive reactions students shared after they learned they would receive a free passport book. He said they were proud, excited, honored and a little surprised.
Moore said that the OIPSA plans to make the UTEP Passport Grant an annual event and hopes to schedule the fundraiser and application process in the fall for greater donor and student participation.