March 08, 2017 // posted by Marissa Villa, Photos by Deborah Silliman
Carla Martinez remembers the first English word she learned.
“Seven. Like 7-11,” she said. “I told myself, ‘OK, that’s easy to remember.’”
She remembers sitting at her kitchen table with a dictionary, flipping through the pages, trying to figure out what every single word on her homework meant. She was 8 years old.
So when the Civil Engineering major found herself in a similar situation last fall in an Urbino, Italy post office – not understanding what she was being told while not knowing how to communicate what she wanted – she took herself back to those moments and coached herself.
Carla, who was born in San Luis, Potosí, Mexico, was the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) student to participate in UTSA’s Education Abroad program.
“It took me back to when I was 8, being so frustrated. I couldn’t get it fast enough. I couldn’t learn fast enough, but it just took patience. So I told myself, ‘I could do it once, I can do it again. It just takes a little time,’” she said.
The Urbino study abroad program is curriculum-focused, meaning that UTSA civil engineering students have the opportunity to put into practice what they learn in the classroom by partnering with architecture and construction science and management studies students on a project. Carla was part of the first cohort to participate in the Urbino civil engineering program. The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, and the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts have been sending students to Urbino since 2011.
To be the first at something and to be successful at it isn’t anything new to Carla. She learned it at home.
She’s the oldest child in a family of six, and the first in her family to go to college. As a DACA student, Carla is ineligible for federal financial aid so making her way through college was difficult financially, but – as is her nature to look at the bright side – she says was a good way to build character and be grateful for those who surround and support her.
At one point, her mother juggled four jobs to help pay her tuition. When Carla’s father was injured at his construction job, he approached her high school counselor and, together, they helped raise the money needed for tuition. Having people come alongside her to help is something she is grateful for, whether the help was coming from family and friends or faculty and staff.
“Carla is very smart and a hard-working student. She always asks me good and interesting questions. She always wants to know more and more,” said Albert Arroyo, professor in the department of civil engineering and one of Carla’s favorite professors.
Carla has always pushed herself academically, making good grades while juggling an internship with the San Antonio Water System and teaching students at UTSA’s summer engineering camps.
“Carla is a very dedicated student. She has excellent organizational skills and works well with her classmates. She is a team player. Her involvement with the College is fantastic – she has been an ambassador,” said Manuel Diaz, another of Carla’s professors in the College of Engineering.
When Carla learned about the opportunity to study abroad, she looked at every obstacle as simply something to work through.
But it wasn’t going to be easy. She would have to raise the money and as the first UTSA DACA student to study abroad, she would have to learn a new process.
“Through it all I was very unsure about how it would all turn out. I was very lucky to have people to guide me,” Carla said.
Education Abroad and College of Engineering staff helped her, but she also approached the first UT Austin DACA student to study abroad for advice.
To fund her trip, she held fundraisers that friends and faculty helped her with through donating, volunteering and promoting.
And in May she will graduate not only with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, but an experience abroad she will always carry.
“Never in my lifetime did I think I was going to get to study abroad,” Carla said. “I had all these limitations and nothing stopped me.”