Two WTAMU students named semifinalists for Fulbright

Savannah Welsey, Features Editor

Rogelio “Roger” Onofre, a political science graduate of Fall 2018 and Rigoberto “Rigo” Baeza, senior law and economics major, moved on in the Fulbright Scholarship selection as semifinalists.

“Students can choose the country they want to go to and WTAMU had five applicants this year,” said Laura Seals, coordinator for the Nationally Competitive Scholarships Office.

The Fulbright Scholarship is funded by the U.S. State Department and gives students the opportunity to teach English or participate in independent study. The students who apply write two essays, a statement of grant purpose and a personal statement. The way the process works is a student submits the application which then goes through review with the U.S. Committee and semifinalists are determined. Applications are then sent to the host country who make the final decision. The Fulbright Scholarship is made for students and faculty that would like to teach or do research abroad.

“As a first generation graduate, I am always seeking new opportunities that will one day inspire other students,” said Onofre. “Growing up an immigrant, winning a prestigious scholarship was only a dream.”

Onofre said he had no one to tell him that he had the same opportunities as every other student. As a Fulbright Scholar, Onofre claimed he will be given the chance to prove to others that with hard work, they too can go far in life. He also recognized the importance of diversity and the crucial need to understand what is happening in today’s world, claiming the ten months abroad will give him just that.  

“I had already been talking to Laura Seals in the internationally competitive scholarship office and she mentioned the Fulbright scholarship,” said Baeza. “I looked into it, and I thought ‘this would be like a really cool fit.’ So, I went for it.”

Baeza is interested in teaching and mentoring and eventually has plans to pursue a Ph.D. and do higher education. He said he wanted to get a diverse background of experience and teaching. Baeza has worked with international students and young adults before. He’s taught different subjects, tutored and enjoys the process of helping somebody learn something really valuable.

“At this point, it’s out of my hands. I’ve done the interview, I submitted my application and I have done all I can,” said Baeza. “Now I wait full of anticipation and stress.”

Both semifinalists eagerly await the announcement of the results of the competition. He claimed he has never felt more “stressed and blessed” in his life and that there is a lot of anticipation in waiting for the announcement of those who win and don’t win the scholarship. Baeza said going through the process has taught him a lot about himself. Onofre said he had been sitting in a dental chair for over four hours when he received the email stating he moved on as a semifinalist. He claimed it completely changed his mood from being frustrated to joyous excitement. Onofre said he was closer to returning to a place he considered to be a second home but this time around he would be returning with a larger platform which would allow him to be more utile.

“This position [in Morocco] would require me to work alongside a college professor and tutor the English language,” said Onofre. “As we know, English has become the default language of the world, and it is crucial for young professionals to be able to communicate.”

Onofre applied for a position as an English teaching assistant Morocco, a North West African country. Besides being an ETA, Onofre will interact with the community by hosting events focused on introducing Mexican-American culture. This will include food, music, holidays, and traditions. Onofre’s audience will also be given the opportunity to present their traditions and norms to him and his American colleagues.

“I chose [East Timor] because I’d worked with a Vietnamese student and I was interested in Southeast Asia, that region,” said Baeza. “And it honestly struck me as something that I’d never heard of before and I’m oddly attracted to the unfamiliar, the unknown.”

Baeza applied for an ETA position in a country called Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, in Maritime Southeast Asia. It’s a relatively new country. Baeza said he chose the country because the country’s path to its recent independence, 2002, was similar to that of the United States rise to independence. East Timor also faced religious persecution and was culturally different compared to the surrounding countries. Baeza said he felt connected to the country in the same way, being from a culturally different background and coming into a “completely new world”.

EDIT: Rogelio “Roger” Onofre has received his Fulbright scholarship and will be teaching English in Morocco. News on the status of Rigoberto “Rigo” Baeza’s scholarship has yet to be delivered.