New Spanish Scholarship Forges Path for Cultural and Linguistic Understanding

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Spanish. It’s a language spoken all across South Texas, along with many other areas of the United States. It speaks to a culture that is warm, friendly, and festive and is a vital part in allowing many to understand and connect with their neighbors. As a Hispanic Serving Institution, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi plays an integral role in spreading appreciation for the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures – an endeavor supported by a new scholarship fund focused on Spanish majors and minors.

 “As the global experience takes hold at our campus, students are realizing that second language skills can take them in productive and rewarding directions,” said Dr. Cristina Ortiz, assistant professor of Spanish. “We are extremely proud of our second language students – of their accomplishments and curiosity, their willingness to serve, and their ability to overcome the difficulty of language barriers.”

The Joan Aleshire and LeRoy Arthur Ufkes Excellence Fund in Spanish was established by Dr. Frances M. Ufkes `15, Islander alumna, in memory of her parents. Although she had a successful career first as a geography professor at Dartmouth College and then as a hospital administrator in Iowa, Ufkes discovered a new passion while working with Spanish speaking patients at a clinic in the Rio Grande Valley. She learned the basics of the language from her patients, but desired to learn more and this is what brought her to the Island University. Exemplary guidance from her mentor, Dr. Melissa Culver, associate professor of Spanish, along with other Spanish faculty members allowed Ufkes to graduate magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Ufkes, who is currently abroad in Spain, takes classes on Don Quixote, phonetics, women writers, and flamenco.

Ufkes created this annual scholarship and other special awards to inspire other Islanders to discover the wonders of Spanish and to help the Spanish-speaking community of South Texas. During a recent awards ceremony, Ufkes spoke to students through a pre-recorded video message.

“I’m very proud that I was able to donate to the University and I’m so proud of all of you,” said Ufkes. “Do your best in everything you do and know that I am behind you one-hundred percent.”

In the award’s inaugural year, seven Islander Spanish students received between $100-200 to support their academic endeavors. Rachael Derrenbacher, Spanish major with a minor in communication, received recognition for her volunteer efforts in Mexico and South America. During her time abroad, Derrenbacher taught English to neglected and abused girls, took care of children at an orphanage, supervised a daycare, helped at a special-needs facility, and provided education to kids selling wares in cultural markets. She also worked at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

“Unfortunately, in South Texas, the Spanish language is slowly fading away,” Derrenbacher said. “Children of immigrants often only speak English and therefore will not be able to pass down the Spanish language. Students who study Spanish help keep the language alive.”

Marco Micalay Hurtado, a double major in Spanish and English, also received an Ufkes scholarship.

“This support encourages students to recognize the Spanish language and heritage as treasures,” he said. “This award is recognition for my parents’ hard work that allows me to get an education in the United States while they live in Peru.”

It was in his junior year of high school that Spanish filled Hurtado’s heart with wonder for the first time. After reading “Rayuela” by Julio Cortázar, he discovered the aesthetic power and beauty of the language. Hurtado is passionate about Spanish and Latin American literature and sees the language as a roadmap through heroic, complex, and wondrous worlds. Hurtado says the Spanish faculty at the Island University challenge him to grow as a student and nourish his fascination for the language and culture it represents.

The Joan Aleshire and LeRoy Arthur Ufkes Excellence Fund in Spanish 2017-2018 scholarship recipients include:

  • Best First-Year Student of Spanish – Timothy Laughbaum, biomedical science major with a Spanish minor.
  • Best Second-Year Student of Spanish – Nicholas Jones, mechanical engineering major with a Spanish minor.
  • Best Student in Hispanic Literary Studies – Marco Micalay Hurtado, double major in Spanish and English
  • Best Student in Hispanic Linguistics & Teaching – María Chávez, Spanish major with teacher certification.
  • Best Student in Spanish/English Translation – Sofía Rodríguez, Spanish major with teacher certification.
  • Best Student in Service to the Community in Spanish – Rachael Derrenbacher, Spanish major with a minor in communication; and Fernando Rocha, Spanish major