UTEP Names Winners of Inaugural Hawkins Scholarship
Last Updated on November 24, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published November 24, 2020
By Elizabeth Ashby
Two students at The University of Texas at El Paso have been named the institution's first-ever Hawkins Scholars and were awarded $10,000 each.
Junior English and American literature major Andrea Herrera Aguirre and junior computer science major Montserrat Molina were officially named by the Hawkins Scholarship selection committee Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020.
Herrera Aguirre and Molina were among 11 finalists selected for their outstanding intellect, character, service to others, leadership attributes and potential to address important challenges facing humanity.
The chair of the selection committee, Juan Sepulveda, Ph.D., the J.D. Calgaard Distinguished Professor of Practice in Political Science at Trinity University and a Rhodes Scholar, said that the Hawkins Scholarship selection process creates a competitive environment while guiding students through unfamiliar territory and positioning them for success.
“Understanding the rules of the game and how these processes work, helping students get access to that [knowledge], and being able to practice is going to allow our talented students to win,” he said. “It is key that as a University, UTEP is saying ‘We want to help you understand how this works.’”
Herrera Aguirre is an English and American literature major from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Herrera Aguirre crossed the bridge from Juárez to El Paso every day to attend Father Yermo School for 13 years. She studied English and American literature at El Paso Community College before enrolling at UTEP, where she is a member of the University Honors Program and Sigma Tau Delta, an English honors society. Herrera Aguirre is also involved in student organizations including the Consejo Mexicano para el Cambio Social en UTEP, the French Club, and the UTEP Election Commission. She plans to pursue a master’s in communication and teach at the high school or college level.
Molina is a junior computer science major and English and American literature minor from El Paso. After she graduates, Molina will pursue a master’s in software engineering while continuing to study literature. She is engaged in undergraduate research in computer science and held software engineering internships at Uber the past two summers. Molina is the chief marketing officer of UTEP's chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, where she previously served as the chair of marketing and communications.
The Hawkins Scholarship is for UTEP juniors and may be used to pay for educational expenses or experiences that enhance the scholar’s undergraduate education in preparation for graduate school. These expenses can include tuition, fees, room and board, books, and special educational experiences including undergraduate research and study abroad or away from campus.
The Hawkins Scholarship application and selection process is modeled after other competitive and high-profile fellowship and scholarship programs, such as the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell and Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
“Congratulations to these two outstanding UTEP students,” UTEP President Heather Wilson said. “The Hawkins supports exceptional students who are also leaders who will change their communities in the future. The committee sees something special in these young people and it’s a pleasure to help them on their way.”
Applicants for the Hawkins Scholarship write a personal statement essay where they highlight their leadership experiences, discuss what matters to them, and outline the contributions they hope to make to the world. Finalists for the scholarship attend a required evening social event the day before they interview with the selection committee.
The application, social event and interview are designed to orient students to the rigorous process of competing for other prestigious fellowship opportunities, said Melanie Meinzer, Ph.D., director of UTEP's new Office of Student Fellowships and Awards (OSFA).
“Leadership is a core criterion across competitive graduate fellowships, including the Mitchell, Gates Cambridge, Schwarzman, and Marshall Scholarship programs,” Meinzer said. "By applying for the Hawkins Scholarship, UTEP students learn how to reflect on their personal story and life experiences. Writing a personal statement essay allows students to practice communicating their passions, priorities and goals to a selection committee tasked with identifying future leaders.”
The Hawkins Scholarship was announced at UTEP's inaugural Honors, Scholars and Fellows Day in February 2020 and garnered interest from dozens of UTEP’s best students.
The Hawkins Scholarship is named for 1st Lt. William Deane Hawkins, who studied engineering at UTEP, then called the Texas College of Mines. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was eventually commissioned as an officer before being killed in action while serving during World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic acts above and beyond the call of duty.
In addition to overseeing the Hawkins Scholarship application process, the OSFA provides workshops for applicants and convened a seven-member selection committee comprising academic, public sector, and industry leaders from UTEP and beyond.
Sepulveda, the committee chair, is a Kansas native whose father immigrated from Mexico. Sepulveda was a first-generation undergraduate student at Harvard.
He noted that students who may not have had the benefit of exclusive private school education and private tutoring, but who have demonstrated leadership and achieved academic excellence, can and should draw on their own experiences when applying for prestigious scholarships.
“For those of us who weren't fortunate to have those backgrounds, we have other unique life experiences and a lot of different stories to tell, and I think a lot of selection committee members recognize that,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon us to step up so they can hear us. The challenges we have gone through, combined with top grades and great leadership opportunities that we’ve taken advantage of, and that full package of who we are, that’s the idea. There’s strength in your scholarship application when those pieces come together.”
Maryse Jayasuriya, Ph.D., associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and selection committee member, said that the impact of this scholarship program can be felt beyond the two scholarship recipients.
“It’s an important opportunity not just for the two students who are selected to get the scholarships, but also for the finalists, and beyond that, for all the students who apply, who start that process, who start thinking of the possibilities that might be out there for them, who reach out to faculty for recommendations and get used to things like interviews with selection committees,” she said. “I think that kind of experience is really important for our students, and the more opportunities there are, the better.”
To learn about other scholarship and fellowship opportunities, visit utep.edu/studentfellowships.