Friday, December 6, 2019

By Priscilla Ramirez

Erika Gonzalez
Erika Gonzalez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV senior and political science major Erika Gonzalez spent part of her summer far from home. She wasn’t on vacation, though.

She was at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, earning course credits toward her political science major and learning from lectures and debates as part of the 2019 Ralph Bunche Summer Institute Program (RBSI).

“What I liked the most was being able to live independently for five weeks and have that grad school experience,” the Mission native said. “It made me realize that I can do it.”

The RBSI is part of an exclusive diversity and inclusion program offered by the American Political Science Association. Only 15 are selected each year from across the country.

The five-week program introduces undergraduate students from under-represented racial and ethnic groups to the world of doctoral study in political science. It is geared toward those interested in political science and scholarship on issues that affect underrepresented groups.

As part of the program, participants earn two transferable credit courses, one in quantitative analysis and another in race and American politics. Gonzalez was most interested in the opportunity to learn more about politics.

“I want to be a scholar,” she said. “Professors do more than just teach lectures, they conduct research and publish, and that’s exactly what I want to do.”

As a RBSI Scholar during her time at Duke University, Gonzalez received full tuition for her courses, room and board, transportation, instructional materials and a weekly stipend. Additionally, she was given access to the university’s facilities and took part in dinners and luncheons with esteemed political scientists.

“It was crazy because, during my undergraduate career, I was reading about these scholars, whom I now had the chance to see speak in front of me,” she said.

Gonzalez said she’s grateful for the connections she made, especially at the graduate fair, where schools from across the country pitched their programs.

“Now I have these contacts, and whenever I decide to apply, I have this leverage that really helps me,” she said.

Inspired by the experience, Gonzalez has her sights set on earning a Ph.D. in political science with a concentration in Latino politics. She is on schedule to graduate from UTRGV in Spring 2020. 

“I want to answer questions that are important to me about where I live and the people who are around me and similar to me,” she said.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.