Christina Breitbeil, a Plan II Honors and English senior from Houston, Texas, has been awarded the 2017 Randy Diehl Prize in Liberal Arts.
The $18,000 award, now in its second year, was established by donors to support a graduating liberal arts senior who is committing the year after graduation to service for the greater good, be that through work for a nonprofit organization, a for-profit organization that benefits others or the creation of a new nonprofit.
“The intent behind this gift is to encourage liberal arts graduates to use their considerable skills in communication and understanding of other cultures, histories, philosophies and literature to effect a positive change in the world,” said the prize’s founding donors.
While at UT Austin, Breitbeil has done just that. After volunteering as a tutor for low-income high school students, she founded UPrep: University Preparatory Outreach Program, to assist students in Title I schools with the college application process. She also co-founded Not On My Campus UT, a student-run organization and social media movement working to end sexual assault in the university community.
Breitbeil took leadership roles in the Texas Undergraduate Research Journal and the Nocturnal Plan II Literary Journal and is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and the Texas Orange Jackets.
Additionally, she taught abroad in Spain and Peru, was a reporter for The Daily Texan and has held internships with Hotze Runkle, PLLC, the Texas House of Representatives and RealClearPolitics in Washington, D.C.
In the fall, Breitbeil will be moving to New York City to teach at an elementary school in Brooklyn, while simultaneously receiving her master’s degree in teaching through the Relay Graduate School of Education’s teacher pathway program.
Learn more about Breitbeil and her achievements in the Q&A below.
What does receiving this award mean to you?
First of all, it is an incredible honor. I am so thankful to be recognized by the College of Liberal Arts, which has had such a significant role in enabling my service and successes, and the selection committee for this award.
The impact the award will have for me is profound: I will be living on a modest salary as a teacher in New York City, so the award allows me financial security that I wouldn’t otherwise have. This will allow my focus to primarily center on my students, rather than financial concerns. I see this award as an investment not in me, but in the students that I will spend the next years teaching, and the students that I intend to eventually help via policy.
What inspired you to create UPrep? How has it grown, and what do you see in its future?
I founded UPrep during the fall of my junior year at UT. The idea began when I was working as a tutor and general mentor for students at Reagan Early College High School, a Title I school in East Austin. I realized that so many students with amazing potential, who deserved to go to college, did not see post-secondary education as a reality for their future. Further, while there were numerous wonderful tutoring and mentorship programs, I realized that there were no programs to assist with the grueling college application process.
So, that’s what UPrep aims to do: We are a student-run program of volunteers who visit Title I high schools to assist with the college application process. Every aspect in which these students’ opportunities are limited, we strive to equalize. This includes SAT/ACT tutoring, essay and resume assistance, scholarship and FAFSA assistance, and mentorship throughout the process.
We also have a spring fundraiser that goes toward a scholarship awarded by UPrep to a student in need at LBJ Early College High School – our primary partner school. This month, we awarded a $1,000 college scholarship to a wonderful student nominated by the administrators and tutors at LBJ.
In the future, I see UPrep expanding to more schools – helping more students – and establishing 501(c)3 nonprofit status in Texas.
What work went into co-founding Not On My Campus UT?
Our goal with NOMC was to stimulate a loud conversation about the issue of sexual violence on campus, and we were thrilled to see such success during our social media campaigns. It was very cool to see something that began as late night discussions in students’ apartments turn into the amazing, widespread and powerful movement that became Not On My Campus at UT.
Further, NOMC came at a time it was – and still is – sorely needed, so I think our work was very important. As someone that was once personally affected by the issue we were working to combat, it especially meant a lot for me to see students, organizations, faculty and staff join arms to address the issues of rape and sexual violence. I never cease to be impressed by the incredible feats accomplished by my fellow Longhorns.
What did you learn from your internship with Rep. Bill Zedler at the Texas House of Representatives?
It was a wonderful learning experience – Representative Zedler and his chief of staff told me from the outset that my internship would be what I made of it, so I took the opportunity to integrate my involvement with NOMC and my interest in education into this position. I visited the offices of other representatives to discuss NOMC and the bills we supported.
Representative Zedler was on the education committee at the time, so I had the opportunity to assemble materials for his committee meetings. It was such a valuable experience in that I learned about the inner-workings of the Texas legislature, and about state policy in general.
What did you gain from interning with RealClearPolitics in Washington, D.C.?
Working at RealClearPolitics was such a wonderful opportunity for so many reasons. Above all, the experience stimulated my interest in policy, which combined with my experiences with low-income students to develop my ultimate interest in education policy.
Carl Cannon, the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics, was an amazing boss who taught me so many things about journalism, writing and politics. The position was flexible enough to allow me to pursue the topics I was interested in.
How were your experiences traveling and teaching abroad?
They were amazing experiences. Though I taught English to native Spanish speakers in both instances, the students were very different – both in age and income level. In Spain, I taught two little girls, whose family I lived with and became very close to. In Peru, I taught job-seeking adults, and focused on aspects of the language that would enhance their job prospects in the tourism industry. (Unfortunately, my time in Peru was cut short, as I found myself hospitalized with a parasite.)
Both of these experiences informed my perspective on teaching and helped me realize that teaching was something I wanted to pursue in the future.
How has studying the liberal arts had an impact on you?
Each Plan II or English class challenged me in different ways that ultimately impacted my approach to leadership, service and learning. Plan II provides its students “education for a life, not a living.” This approach to learning has not only impacted my experience in the classroom, but has fully impacted my approach to my career – I am not pursuing a way to make a living, but a way to fulfill my passion to impact education and ultimately work toward closing the achievement gap.
As an English student, my job for the past four years was to read books and write about them. But it was so much more than just that, because each book and each story taught me something that importantly developed my perspective on life. I also had the amazing opportunity to write my Plan II Honors thesis on education policy.
My time studying liberal arts at UT has equipped me with the resources and perspective to pursue a route in life that aligned with passion and service, rather than “practicality.” And I think that is the most valuable thing that can come from a college education. So now, it’s my duty to make sure all students have the same opportunity for this experience that I did.
What’s next for you?
I will be teaching at North Brooklyn Prep Elementary School – a school with over 90 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch – in Brooklyn, New York. I will be a Teacher-in-Residence for the Achievement First and Relay Graduate School of Education teacher pathway program. While I teach, I will be earning my master’s in teaching. After this experience, I plan to attend law school before pursuing opportunities to become involved in education policy.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank the College of Liberal Arts, my wonderful Plan II and English professors, my mentor (and my three-time English professor) Geraldine Heng and my amazing mother, for providing the support, guidance and outlook on life that ultimately led me to where I am today as a recipient of this award.
To learn more about the Randy Diehl Prize in Liberal Arts, visit this webpage.
Students who want to study abroad, participate in campus leadership or land internships should visit the Liberal Arts Frontiers website.