First-generation Roadrunner earns national scholarship to study in South Africa

Gilman winner Brianna Diaz will spend the summer studying education policy in South Africa

Gilman winner Brianna Diaz will spend the summer studying education policy in South Africa.

(May 18, 2017) -- Brianna Diaz didn't hear about The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) until her junior year of high school. A camp counselor shared his top-tier experience as a student at UTSA and that piqued Diaz's interest.

"I looked it up and applied," Diaz said. "Later, I found out I qualified for the UTSA Top Scholar program."

Two years of experience as a Top Scholar and Honors College student has opened up the psychology major's eyes to a world of new opportunities. This summer Diaz will spend six weeks studying in South Africa as a recipient of the U.S. Department of State's Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

"All the experiences I've had at UTSA collectively contributed to me going through with this and winning the Gilman," Diaz said. "I couldn't have done it without the guidance of my professors and mentors at UTSA."

A Gilman Scholarship allows American students to study or intern abroad, gaining proficiency in diverse languages and cultures – skills that are important to their academic and career development.

"It is wonderful to see that our top students continue to receive prestigious national awards," said Sean Kelly, dean of the UTSA Honors College. "In the case of the Gilman, this also demonstrates that our students have the global citizenship skills and cultural sophistication to fully articulate the importance of their projects."

"Brianna's selection for the Gilman award is evidence of her commitment to, and our investment in innovative, unique, and impactful social justice experiences around the world," said Kristi Meyer, director of the UTSA Top Scholar program.

With a passion for educational psychology, Diaz will travel to schools throughout South Africa, interacting with students and teachers. She will learn how the education system there is different than it is in the United States. Diaz says a lot of her studies will focus on how apartheid influenced the South African education system and how the country is working to reconstruct its system post-apartheid.

"This program will allow me to broaden my horizons and learn about an entirely different education system," Diaz said. "I want to take what I learn in South Africa and bring it back to UTSA."

To help fellow Roadrunners access similar opportunities, Diaz will organize a service project using her study abroad experience. The Gilman scholar wants to host a panel so other UTSA first-generation students can learn about scholarships and study abroad programs.

"Our goal is to make study abroad accessible to all of our students," said Brandon Lanners, UTSA education abroad director. "A study abroad experience is a wise—and exciting—investment in a student's personal, academic and professional development."

Diaz will gain even more insight into education policy this fall as a UT System Archer Fellow. The program will allow her to spend the semester interning in Washington, D.C. She hopes to be matched with the U.S. Department of Education.

Originally planning to go to college near her hometown of Alvin, outside of Houston, Diaz now can't imagine herself anywhere but UTSA.

"If I hadn't come to UTSA, I wouldn't have been able to do these things," said Diaz. "UTSA is definitely my second home."

UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.

- Courtney Clevenger


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