Grad is First Academic Bridge Alumna to Earn Doctoral Degree
Dec. 7, 2012
Rosalinda Valenzuela is earning her PhD in political science this fall. She was in the inaugural group of Academic Bridge students in 2000.
The way Rosalinda Valenzuela sees it, most people are immensely lucky to have one family that supports and guides them.
She has two.
She was part of the inaugural group of students in UT Dallas’ Academic Bridge Program in 2000. This month, she will become the first Academic Bridge student to earn a doctoral degree from UT Dallas.
She will be among the graduates honored this week as the University holds six graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.
“I felt like I was part of a very special cohort,” she said. “I was surrounded by smart, motivated students who just happened to be poor. The Academic Bridge program became our ‘familia’ at UTD.”
Valenzuela was born in Brownsville and grew up in the Mexican city of San Luis Potosí, where her parents both worked as attorneys. A downturn in the Mexican economy sent her family searching elsewhere for a living wage.
“When we came here, we started from nothing,” she said. “My dad worked as a dishwasher and my mom stayed at home with us.”
The family settled in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Valenzuela was 15 and started school in the Dallas Independent School District. It was much different from her traditional Catholic private schooling back in Mexico, but she would not allow herself to become discouraged.
She and her siblings struggled with a new language, different culture and the lack of small indulgences she and her family once had. But her parents and her high school teachers helped and encouraged her to seek out new opportunities, including the Academic Bridge Program (ABP).
Dr. George Fair, head of the Academic Bridge Program at UT Dallas, was to present Valenzuela with her hood Thursday night.
“I knew nothing of college, but I wanted to try and I felt very supported by ABP when I got to UT Dallas,” she said. “They gave me unconditional support and encouragement to succeed not just in school, but in life.”
Her original plans were to get a biology degree and go on to medical school, but she found her true academic calling after taking her first political science course with Dr. Greg Thielemann.
Thielemann, a professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, encouraged Valenzuela to reconsider.
“I just knew this was what I wanted to do,” she said. “This was it for me.”
She went on to get her undergraduate and master’s degrees in political science. Thielemann served as her doctoral advisor.
“I think her work ethic has been outstanding,” said Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and director of the Academic Bridge Program. “I applaud her for her persistence in staying with this. She’s a wonderful example of what can be done for first-time college students when the appropriate support is provided.”
Valenzuela agreed, adding that the program’s help with English skills and with methods for coping with college were key to her success.
“Dean Fair was like a father to us,” she said. “I’ve made friends for life through this program.”
Valenzuela was to receive her PhD hood from Dean Fair on Thursday night. Although her classwork at UT Dallas is coming to an end, she will continue her academic career as a professor. She is currently teaching classes at Dallas Christian College and hopes to complete research in the field of gender and race in politics.
“I feel like I’m giving back through teaching,” she said. “You can change a person’s life through teaching. You can expand their horizons. It happened that way for me.”
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