Engineer from Mexico City Awarded Scholarship for ESL

The welcoming and musical environment in Austin compelled Abraham Martinez Ornelas to leave Mexico City and move here, but his desire to improve his English pushed him to enroll at UT Austin and opened a door to other opportunities, including a scholarship.

Supporting outstanding ESL students

English as a Second Language (ESL) Services in the International Office at UT Austin awards three scholarships each semester to outstanding students. Martinez was one of three students selected for an ESL scholarship for the fall semester, and the only recipient among students in the Academic English Program, which helps prepare students for graduate study at English-speaking universities.

Scholarship recipients are selected based on excellent teacher recommendations, grades, and a personal statement that is evaluated by content and not by the quality of writing.

Martinez has shown continuous success in the classroom, but it wasn’t just his achievements in class that set him apart from other applicants.

“Abraham received straight A grades, including two grades of A+,” said Ellen Butki, coordinator of the Academic English Program. “He received marks of 10 out of 10 from his teachers and very strong recommendation comments. He also wrote a well-organized one-page personal statement that included his experience studying English, his financial needs, his academic goals, and his plans to give back to UT's international community. His English wasn't perfect, but his passion and sincerity were convincing.” 

In recommendations from his ESL instructors, one teacher noted, “Abraham is one of the best students I've ever had. He goes above and beyond my expectations, asking thoughtful questions, staying after class and using office hours to ask for help with his English. When given an assignment, Abraham always did much more than expected or than his classmates, not because he had to but because he was excited to.”

Another instructor described Martinez as “one of the most deserving ESL scholarship students that I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. He works hard, and he turns in neat, complete, and thoughtful homework. He made many friends in class and is always willing to help his classmates. On top of his school and social life, Abraham worked at Jester 20 hours a week and still managed to do his homework and prepare for tests. His polite and friendly manner created a positive environment in the class.”

Assistant Director of ESL Services, Teresa Baker, agrees. “Our teachers have been delighted to have Abraham in class,” said Baker. “He’s not only an extremely diligent student, but also a great guy who makes friends with all his classmates and helps the class to bond.”

The scholarship recipients were announced at a reception for all ESL students at the end of the summer session.

“When I was hearing the description of the person who deserved the scholarship, I thought ‘nah, that’s not me,’ but it was!” said Martinez. “They wrote really great words about me, and I feel blessed.”

Martinez described feeling fortunate for winning the scholarship. He is grateful for the institution, his professors, the faculty and staff.

“I want to give a huge thanks to the International Office, UT Austin, which is an amazing institution, to my parents and family that are supporting me, my friends, and my professors,” said Martinez. “My professors are really cool. I would also like to give a huge thanks to the ESL department. I think what they do is a huge effort.”

Taking it a step further

Before he received the scholarship, Martinez said he was not considering graduate school. Now, thanks to the scholarship, he has decided to seize on the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in acoustics from UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. 

Martinez graduated from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) in 2012 with a degree in engineering. He worked as an audio engineer for two years before deciding to leave his job and family in Mexico City to move to Austin and enroll in UT’s ESL program.

“When I was in high school, I discovered that I wanted to do something with music, but music is a tough path to follow,” said Martinez. “There are some difficulties, so I decided to keep studying engineering. Then I realized that there are some aspects that combine music, the art, and science, and that was acoustics, so I chose acoustics.”

Martinez has been a music lover for as long as he can remember. He said he could trace it back to his childhood. When he was 15, his parents bought him his first bass guitar and that’s when he began studying and working with music. His love also extends to science so he decided to combine both music and science to study engineering, specifically acoustics.

Earlier this semester, Martinez was invited to be a panelist at the CAGE symposium, which focused on Latin America. At the symposium, Martinez spoke of his experience, how he arrived at the US, his interests and why he chose Austin and UT Austin. He shared how he came to Austin for an educational seminar on campus with a group of four other people, and while he was here he fell in love with the city. He visited other cities in the US but the pull to Austin was too strong.

Paying it forward

When asked what he wanted to get out of being at UT Austin, Martinez gave a humble response.

“Instead of getting something, I want to give,” said Martinez. “I want to contribute something.”

Martinez said he wants to teach people science. He believes science is important and he wants to teach those that have less than him. He currently volunteers with an Austin-based, artistic-cultural organization, Proyecto Teatro.

Martinez is open to anything that will help with move forward so he can help others.

“I’m working on expanding my ideas, my knowledge, and I am willing and open to discuss everything,” said Martinez. “I’m open to changing my mind.”

By Marymar Martinez