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ike a lot of UT alumni, Coleman Tharpe was so grateful for his experience on the Forty Acres that he wanted to give something back. He got his affairs in order and made a will leaving everything to the university. But there was a big difference; he was only 21 and still in school. He laughs about it now, but at the time he was planning a study-abroad trip to Europe and was afraid something would go wrong during his first travel experience outside the United States.

PERSPECTIVES ON A CHANGING TEXAS A new department points the way for the nation.


Above: Nicole M. Guidotti-

Hernández is the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies’ inaugural chair. Center: Thirty students major in Mexican American Studies. UT hopes to increase that number to 50 or more this year. Opposite: Coleman Tharpe,

Class of ’15, is not waiting to become a UT donor. Credits: From left: Marsha Miller (2); Wyatt McSpadden

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s the first of its kind in the

U nited S tates , UT’ s


academic department—up and running since last fall—is also the first to directly address a new social reality: the growing influence of Mexican American and Latino populations nationwide.

In Texas and elsewhere, students classified as Hispanic are enrolling in college in greater numbers than non-Hispanic white students. With an eye on this evolving demography, the new Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies aims to produce scholars to research and analyze the life, history, and culture of Mexican-origin and Latino populations. Offering degree tracks in cultural studies, policy, and other areas, the department builds on the foundation of UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies, established in 1970. “The integration of Latina/Latino Studies into an already stellar Mexican American Studies academic curriculum is designed to prepare students to be Latino-serving professionals in a nation with vastly shifting demographics,” says inaugural department chair Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández. Faculty and students in the department are working to enhance understanding of the

politics, and relationships. He also has worked as a research assistant for a postdoctoral fellow and served as editorin-chief for an undergraduate research journal. With an eye on graduate school, he looks forward to adding to the discussion on the Mexican American and broader Latino experience. “My involvement with this discipline has increased my respect for academia’s possibilities,” he says. “My aspiration is to mentor

cultural, educational, political, and social dimensions of the Latino experience. It is expected that graduates will go on to careers in the nonprofit, education, social service, governmental, and academic sectors. Currently, 30 students major in Mexican American Studies. UT hopes to increase that number to 50 or more this year. Jonathan Cortez, a native of Robstown in South Texas, will be among the department’s first graduates when he earns his BA in sociology and Mexican American and Latina/o studies this spring. His intellectual pursuits have reflected his interest in social movements, specifically in Chicana/o organizations that were engaged in educational reform in the 1970s, and their potential to influence current educational debates in the American Southwest. Under a research grant, Cortez conducted comparative case studies between rural and urban societies within the context of education,

You can help the new department: • Increase scholarships • Grow its faculty • Expand public programming students of color while continuing to contribute to the ongoing and significant work that is being done. And I know I will enter the workforce much more informed about historical and contemporary issues concerning some of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S.” Visit to learn more.

“The university has made me into everything I am today.” “I had a horrible feeling that I was not going to come back,” says the anthropology and radio-television-film major, who will graduate in May. “Once I got there, it was fine. It was the most beautiful trip I’ve ever taken in my life, and I was so well prepared.” With the scare behind him, he had no reservations about keeping his gift in place. “I don’t want to change it,” he says. “There’s no one else who it should go to. Every bit of what I’ve earned is because of what I’ve learned since I’ve been at UT. I get very emotional when I try to talk about it because I love the university so much.”
 Tharpe, a Dedman Distinguished Scholar in the College of Liberal Arts, included only one requirement for his gift: that it go to the Liberal Arts Honors program.

“That is the program that gave me my scholarship, and this is the best way I know to pay it back,” he says. “It was such a great experience that I want to make sure that it continues to be a lifechanging experience for students for years and years to come.” Tharpe came to UT from the tiny Alabama town of Fairhope—“It’s a lot smaller than Jester Center,” he laughs—but the Lone Star State is now his home. “It took me 19 years of my life to get a Texas driver’s license, and I never want any other one,” he says. “The University of Texas at Austin has made me into everything I am today. I’m so different from when I started school here. Now I have a critical eye, and I have a cultural compassion. I met people here in Austin and at UT that I never before thought I would meet because I never would have come into contact with them in rural Alabama.” This story originally appeared in Texas Leader, a magazine that highlights future-gift donors like Tharpe and ways to benefit UT through your estate. Learn more at

Help raise $140,000 for UT … in 40 hours! April 8, 4 a.m., to April 9, 8 p.m. Learn more and give at Changing the World is produced by the University Development Office. Please send your feedback and suggestions to editor Jamey Smith at For more news and information about giving to UT, visit

s e p t e m b e r | o c t o b e r 2011

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Changing the World - Mar-Apr 2015  

Featured in The Alcalde, Mar/Apr 2015

Changing the World - Mar-Apr 2015  

Featured in The Alcalde, Mar/Apr 2015