We sat down with Michael, a Plan II major from Brownsville, to talk about how he used his Individual Opportunity Scholarship from Presidential Scholars and how it’s shaped his time at UT.
How did you use your Individual Opportunity Scholarship?
I used my Individual Opportunity Scholarship to buy a camera for the five-week visual ethnography course in the School of Design and Creative Technologies. It was really nice because I got the scholarship funding email right when I was about to start the course. I told the professor about the research I’m doing now and what research I’m planning on doing in the future because this is something that I’m going to keep beyond the President’s Award [for Global Learning, which empowers students and faculty with up to $25,000 to examine real-world challenges and enact solutions. Students earn degree credit for six to 10 weeks abroad while building on coursework to gain experience for success in a globalized economy.]. I was able to get the tools I needed, and the class was the perfect opportunity for me to start gaining the skill.
What did you learn from the visual ethnography class?
I learned how to go into an interview and take photos with the activities, environment, people, and interactions in mind. We talked about how photos are useful for research, which is an idea I hadn’t been introduced to before. That’s something I’m hoping to bring to it, especially when we’re considering the things that are a bit harder to quantify, like the social determinants of health. A lot of the time, that’s a very space-oriented thing.
Tell us more about the President’s Award for Global Learning. What are you researching?
Our project is Lowering Maternal Mortality Rates: What Texas Can Learn from the Republic of Georgia. I wanted research experience that allowed me to continue to do interviews like I did in my visual ethnography class but with a social impact. My team ended up finding research that is in itself social impact. Getting this information will be important because maternal healthcare is one of the big issues in Texas that we were aware of. Georgia reduced its maternal mortality rate, which is the measure of how many mothers out of 100,000 die during childbirth, by more than 50 percent in about two years. A world organization recognized them for it, and we were kind of perplexed by what happened.
What is your role on the research team?
I am the team photographer and am spending every other day out in the city collecting shots for a series of photo essays on how the city accommodates mothers. As we travel to different sites around Georgia, I’m also documenting what we see there for comparison. So, I will bring back a thorough image of this fascinating post-Soviet country as it stands today.
What would be the ideal outcome of your trip and your research?
Georgia is very comparable to Texas in its population distribution of having rural areas versus cities versus urban cities. There are cities comparable to Austin, but an hour out, the healthcare is very different. If they have something that really worked that we can bring back here, then that’s great — that’s our ideal. The knowledge we bring back is something we can really at least advocate here.
How do you think the President’s Award will benefit you in the long run?
The knowledge. That experiential knowledge is going to benefit me as far as being comfortable with research interviews, but also the knowledge of how another healthcare system in a different country works. Especially if I end up going into healthcare design.
Is that something you’re interested in?
It’s one of the fields. Specifically, design strategy. I’d like to continue education in some way to get further into design methodology.
How has Presidential Scholars helped you get where you are today?
Presidential Scholars and a couple other scholarships really helped me focus in college and allowed me to work a job I really loved. Financially, it’s really helped. It’s been great because I got to come to college, explore my mind, find design strategy, and be able to pursue that. I did have to push myself to explore — and often pushing yourself isn’t ideal — but I was able to push myself because I had support.
What advice would you give to a fellow Presidential Scholar who’s thinking about applying for the Individual Opportunity Scholarship?
If they’re in a place where they can really explore themselves academically — especially early on — they should, because UT has a lot to offer.