Outstanding Islander Graduate Iliana Beltran ’23 Investigates Family’s Past, Earns History Degree

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — “Iliana Beltran will make a difference in the lives of so many because of her character, commitment, dedication, flexibility, and desire to learn and go beyond what is expected of her.”

These words are how Iliana Beltran ’23 is described by one of her mentors and fellow Islander, Deanne Purcell ’86. On Saturday, Dec. 16, Beltran will earn a Bachelor of Arts in History with a concentration in Historical Studies from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. For her hard work, dedication, and perseverance through adversity, she was selected as the Fall 2023 College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Islander Graduate.

It was during a high school pilgrimage to Italy that Beltran, who hails from Robstown, fully realized her love for history.

“While there, I got to tour famous historical places like Rome, the Coliseum, the Vatican, the Catacombs, Pompeii, and many other places,” said Beltran, who attended St. John Paul II High School in Corpus Christi. “After this trip, for every place I traveled to, I was always researching what historical places there are to visit and if they had museums.”

In spring 2019, Beltran, a first-generation student, started her bachelor’s degree at TAMU-CC — this, after earning an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts from Del Mar College.

As part of her field-based courses at TAMU-CC, Beltran took on a student teaching role at Flour Bluff Junior High School, specifically for seventh grade Advanced Texas History classes. Purcell, her supervisor, noted that in her 32-year teaching career, she’d never met a student teacher quite like Beltran.

“Iliana stands out as the brightest example of a student teacher that I can share,” Purcell said. “She was never one to sit passively by while students were in the room. The students had great admiration and respect for her, as did the teachers in my department and school administration. We were extremely impressed by her work ethic, creative ideas, classroom management, and giving nature.”

In fall 2021, during her field-base courses, Beltran suffered from ill health and eventually required emergency surgery and a 35-day hospital stay, much to the worry of the students and staff at Flour Bluff, along with her university professors. Her recovery meant that Beltran only had a very small window of time to complete the required coursework to finish the semester.

“Throughout my time in the hospital, I was determined to finish the semester,” Beltran said. “I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but with the help of my professors, my certified teacher, and my mom, I was able to finish it.”

Beltran eventually took a year off from school to fully recover and came back to TAMU-CC in full force in spring 2023. Beltran believes she inherited an inner-strength and conviction to do what’s needed to get the job done from her mother, a single parent who worked long hours at a refinery.

“She taught me to work hard and never give up — but also to be a positive person who looks to the future,” Beltran said. “I am lucky in that she has always supported my dreams and goals.”

For her capstone history class, Beltran wrote a research paper on the impact of migrant workers in South Texas. In doing so, she was able to discover some of her own history.

“This topic was very interesting to me because my grandparents and great-grandparents were migrant workers,” Beltran said. “I was able to find highly relevant sources through the university’s Bell Library and archives and was even able to interview my grandmother for the assignment.”

During her time on the Island, Beltran also left a legacy of her own through extensive volunteer and student club roles. Most notably, Beltran was a member of the History Club, and served as an officer of the women’s empowerment group called the Queen Beauty Club.

“I am so proud to be able to help girls like me feel comfortable in their own skin, and the friendships I’ve made in the Queen Beauty Club will undoubtably last a lifetime,” Beltran said.

The next step in Beltran’s college journey is to apply for admission into the TAMU-CC History graduate program. She hopes to one day work in a museum or with library archives.

“The education I’ve received here on the Island is excellent,” Beltran said. “I can’t wait to further my education and keep learning.”