Recent UTEP Graduate Earns Fulbright U.S. Student Program Award
Last Updated on March 23, 2021 at 2:30 PM
Originally published March 23, 2021
By Daniel Perez
Aylin Duarte was born in El Paso, Texas, but raised in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The recent graduate of The University of Texas at El Paso understands biculturalism and bilingualism and plans to promote both in Argentina as a Fulbright U.S. Student Program English Teaching Assistant starting in spring 2022.
Duarte said this assignment is important to her because she recognizes the significance of the spoken word in communication and its role in making knowledge accessible.
She speaks from experience.
Duarte moved to El Paso in 2013 to attend high school. Although she was a strong student overall, her English skills were weak, and that inability to communicate easily hampered her relationships and affected her confidence. She worked hard to learn the language and graduated from Harmony Science Academy in the Lower Valley four years later.
At UTEP, Duarte participated in internships, undergraduate research and community service projects. She graduated in December 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and political science. With her eye on a future career in public policy with a focus on women, minorities, the U.S.-Mexico border and Latin America, she began to investigate future opportunities. At an information session hosted by UTEP’s Office of Student Fellowships and Awards, she learned about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the flagship international educational exchange opportunity sponsored by the U.S. government. The program is designed to forge strong connections between the peoples of the United States and residents of more than 160 countries worldwide. One of the reasons she asked for an assignment in Argentina is to study the country’s strong feminist movement, which is one of the largest in Latin America.
“I’m interested in languages and cultures and the opportunities to expand knowledge,” said Duarte, the first Miner selected to the Fulbright program since 2015. “The Fulbright is an awesome way to exchange culture. It is the opportunity I was looking for to explore and to learn.”
The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program places recipients in classrooms abroad to help the local English instructors teach the language to students whose age and academic level varies by country from elementary to higher education. These ETAs serve as cultural ambassadors for the U.S.
The 21-year-old said that she will meet with Fulbright officials in the fall to learn where she will teach in Argentina. Her eight-month journey will begin in March 2022. Duarte also plans to use this visit to study gender violence and to teach self-defense courses as a community service activity. She helps instruct mixed martial arts (MMA) courses in Juárez.
Among those who congratulated Duarte was University President Heather Wilson, who said she was grateful that the UTEP graduate had this opportunity and that she expects many more Miners will earn such esteemed honors.
“The best students at UTEP can compete with the best students anywhere,” President Wilson said. “Aylin has a bright future ahead of her.”
In the fall of 2019, UTEP held a fellowship information night that was attended by approximately 900 students. After that evening, UTEP established its Office of Fellowships and Awards to raise awareness about these opportunities and to help students apply.
President Wilson, the first person in her family to graduate from college, earned a Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s most prestigious postgraduate awards. She said that UTEP will encourage its exceptional students to apply for these prominent programs.
Duarte was grateful to the University’s faculty members and staff who helped with her application. She thanked them for their advice, guidance and encouragement.
Melanie Meinzer, Ph.D., director of UTEP’s Office of Student Fellowships and Awards, was part of that team. She noted that Duarte attended a Fulbright U.S. Student Program information session in summer 2020, and that the former Miner worked closely with faculty mentors on her application essays. Duarte and other student applicants also participated in campus interviews with a panel of UTEP faculty who have been Fulbright scholars.
“UTEP has many outstanding students who can compete for – and win – Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards,” Meinzer said. “We are excited for Aylin and know that she will be a great ambassador for the U.S. and for UTEP.”
Duarte said that, in some ways, she was born to be part of a Fulbright program because of her enthusiasm to try new things, her diligent work ethic and her desire to make a positive impact on the world. She said her goal is to make her voice matter as a woman and as a Latina.
The UTEP alumna, who lives in Northeast El Paso with her grandmother, said that while she hails from a family of modest means, her parents – a father who services HVAC systems and a mother who teaches kindergarten – encouraged her to seize every opportunity. She has had to be aggressive to achieve her ambitions. The MMA instructor likened the Fulbright program to another challenger to face in the octagon.
“I know what I want and why I want it,” said Duarte, who added that she will be a proud representative of UTEP and the Paso del Norte region. “I’m in the process of figuring out how to get it.”
Duarte’s selection is a testament to the value of the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards, which was created to support students who apply for graduate and undergraduate scholarships and fellowships for graduate study, research and study abroad. The office is part of UTEP’s Division of Student Affairs and works closely with faculty and staff across the University.
“This is my next step to greater things,” said Duarte, who now works at Harmony Science Academy as a reading interventionist. “This gives me the motivation I need to keep dreaming.”