Yenibel Ruiz Mirabal is a force of nature. When someone speaks to her, she leans in and nods, listening closely before firing her follow-up questions. She cares deeply about what others have to say. When she speaks, she’s thinking about many things at once. One thought ricochets into another before unfurling into a web of ideas, theories and questions. Although English is her second language, she draws listeners in like a seasoned storyteller.
Ruiz Mirabal recently completed a Master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin’s renowned School of Journalism in 2018 and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Iberian and Latin American Literatures and Cultures – but she is not new to the field.
Originally from Venezuela, Ruiz Mirabal's served as the managing producer for one of Venezuela’s major radio broadcasters. Like many journalists, she started by writing news reports but quickly worked her way up the ranks. Eventually, she was responsible for the operation of 13 radio stations. When asked if her job felt stressful, she smiled and said, “No. It was wonderful.”
But that was until the political climate changed in her home country.
“The pressure of the government was so much that I couldn’t see a future for myself,” Ruiz Mirabal said. Then, her safe harbor came in the form of a student visa and acceptance to UT’s English as a Second Language program.
Ruiz Mirabal came to UT ESL in 2014 with the goal of improving her academic English to eventually pursue a Master’s degree from UT's School of Journalism. “I was coming to start my new life,” she said. “It was exciting, but I also started to struggle with everything.”
But she kept her diligence and persistence. After completing all her ESL classes, she knew her hard work had paid off.
"When I came, I knew almost no English. Now I have like a Master’s in ESL," she said laughing.
When Ruiz Mirabal applied to graduate programs, her ESL teachers and peers provided crucial feedback for her statement of purpose. She wrote about her passion for covering migrants and people living near the borders. “I wrote almost 20 drafts!” she said. “Writing my statement of purpose was very personal. You have to really get inside yourself to know what you want.”
Her teachers not only helped her with her academic English, but they also supported her emotionally, encouraged her to keep going and connected her with resources, which greatly influenced her achievements in the School of Journalism.
"When I came, I knew almost no English. Now I have like a Master’s in ESL."
“They told me I needed to get involved with UT,” she explained. “So I started volunteering at the Knight Center.” A professional training and outreach program for journalists in Latin America, UT’s Knight Center for Journalism was a great fit for Ruiz Mirabal. Her experience, background and expertise were valuable in producing content about the state of journalism in Latin America for the center’s website. Ruiz Mirabal also reached out to a journalism professor, who later became her adviser.
As a graduate student, Ruiz Mirabal served as a journalism Teaching Assistant and more recently, an Assistant Instructor in the Spanish and Portuguese department.
"That’s a testament to the impact of ESL Services in UT’s International Office," she said.
English was key to her success in academia. “I led all of the discussions in English,” she said about her experience as a TA. While her position demanded lots of work, the experience was worth it. “I like UT students. They’re all really smart. They’re thinking about immigration and human rights, it’s awesome.”
"That’s a testament to the impact of ESL Services in UT’s International Office."
Additionally, she developed a support system from the international student community. As one of the country’s top research institutions, UT attracts students from all over the world. It was this global network of peers that made Austin home for Ruiz Mirabal. “In ESL, you can meet people from everywhere,” she said. “I have friends from Turkey, a friend from Saudi Arabia and a wonderful friend from Taiwan.”
As a proud Longhorn, Ruiz Mirabal has a deep appreciation for the University and its resources. “I love the PCL madly,” she said. “It’s an amazing library. It has all the tools you need, you can find anything you want, and you can smell the books.”
As she glanced at the Tower, she smiled. She looked at the students and faculty bustling up and down Dean Keeton with admiration. “It’s giving me a new life,” she said.
Ruiz Mirabal’s journey at UT is not over yet. As a Ph.D. candidate, she plans to continue working with migrants, refugees and others whose lives are gravely impacted by borders. Through her tenacity, self-determination and dedication to justice, Ruiz Mirabal epitomizes what makes the University of Texas at Austin an internationally acclaimed institution.