Texas Tech University awarded 12 individuals this year with its Presidential Graduate Fellowship. The fellowship recruits and attracts experienced doctoral students from all across the United States and the world. While many departments are lucky to have one of these fellows in their academic programs, the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications has three, Gipsy Bocanegra, Raphael Gikunda and Keith Frost.
In 2014, the fellowship was created to showcase the importance of graduate education and attract high quality applicants to Texas Tech. The fellowship pushes and aids the university’s goal of becoming a national research university. The students are nominated by faculty within the department based on a successful application and having professional experience. The fellowships provide a stipend of up to $32,000 per year, while the awards include tuition and a $2,000 per year research and travel allowance for up to five years.
The Presidential Graduate Fellowship is funded in part by the Ed and Linda Whitacre Graduate Fellowship Endowment. Alumnus Ed Whitacre served as former chairman of the board and CEO of General Motors and chairman emeritus of AT&T.
Scholarship Brings Opportunities
One of the AEC department’s fellows, Bocanegra, is from Columbia and said this fellowship is what gave her the opportunity to come to Tech. She was attending a conference in Costa Rica for young professionals for agriculture development where she met Dr. Todd Brashears, Ph.D., agricultural leadership professor, who was also attending the conference. Brashears told Bocanegra about the university, department and all the opportunities they had to offer for her. Six months later, Bocanegra applied to the graduate school at Texas Tech.
“The best feeling was when I got Dr. Brashears email telling me, ‘Gipsy, buy a heavy coat,'” Bocanegra said.
At that moment Bocanegra knew she was accepted to Tech. Coming from a tropical weather city, she was very happy to experience a change in climate. She said she was planning on going to Europe, Madrid or Paris, but after being presented with the opportunity at Texas Tech everything changed. Bocanegra said there were cultural barriers to overcome at first but now that she knows everything she needs to about the West Texas lifestyle, she likes being here.
“In the beginning, this was an opportunity, so it was only something that could happen, but it was not something that I was completely sure I would get,” Bocanegra said.
Bocanegra has a lot of experience that qualifies her for this fellowship. She received her bachelor and master degrees in economics from Icesi University in Columbia, she was a researcher and microeconomics professor for three years, and also a consultant for the World Bank.
This fellowship has helped me to study and improve my knowledge and to go more in depth in agricultural education and communications,Gipsy Bocanegra
Bocanegra is studying food security and social media and how the effectiveness of social media is used as a teaching tool. She would like to work in the evaluation of food security programs in Columbia upon finishing at Tech, but with an opportunity, she would stay.
“I think now days there are many opportunities, so it depends where you apply for a job and where you want to have a life and an experience,” Bocanegra said. “But it would be great to go back to Columbia and be able to share what I now know and have learned in my own country.”
Along with Bocanegra, Presidential Graduate Fellow, Gikunda, came to Tech from Kenya to pursue a doctoral degree in agricultural education and communications. Gikunda is in his second semester and is working on the effectiveness of electronic extension in dissemination of agricultural information in Kenya. His research project is at the proposal stage, and he hopes to start conducting research in April 2017.
Bocanegra said she knows other recipients of this fellowship from other countries such as Iran, Australia, China, and Japan.
“It’s amazing at the award ceremonies to see how this fellowship is helping people from other countries come to the U.S. to study, improve their knowledge and purse a doctoral program,” Bocanegra said.
Frost, Presidential Graduate Fellow, is from Central Point, Oregon, and is pursuing his doctoral degree in agricultural education with a focus on teacher training and teacher preparation. Frost said he was impressed by the building and the people in it when he came for his visit.
“This building is really cool,” Frost said. “It’s old, it’s funky, but what’s coming out of here is pretty impressive. I walk around here and see what everyone is doing, and I just want to be a part of it all. I’m an old teacher, but I get excited when people are doing things.”
Frost said after graduation he would like to teach at the university and specifically in the department.
What drove Bocanegra to the department was the outstanding faculty members. She said the professors give her the opportunity to do her own research, but provide her with feedback and support.
Bocanegra said what makes the program complete is the opportunity given to the students to share their knowledge and experience by the professors through their experience in different areas of agriculture education and communications.
Bocanegra said the travel allowance, allowed her to attend different conferences in San Antonio and Oregon, as well as the World Bank Conference in Washington and a conference on food security in Rome. This year, she is going to a conference that is organized by the International Agricultural Education and Extension Association in Indianapolis.
“I allow myself to participate by sharing my own research I have conducted and getting feedback from other professors and students at these conferences,” Bocanegra said.
To maintain this fellowship, the fellows have to keep good academic standing, make progress toward their goals, attend three graduate service trainings a year, and lead an outside funding request fellowship, grant or scholarship.
The Presidential Graduate Fellowship is not only a scholarship for students, it is an opportunity to expand the knowledge of students from across the world that they will be able to take back home and share.
“This fellowship has helped me to study and improve my knowledge and to go more in depth in agricultural education and communications,” Bocanegra said.