Graduate Profile: Adventurous Graduate Committed to Serve in the Valley and Beyond
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – DECEMBER 11, 2012 – For a 23-year-old who has already journeyed far off the North American continent three times, Mary Lewis is still the girl next door who looks forward to walking across the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree, with honors, at Winter Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 15 at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
As an education major specializing in early childhood through sixth grade English as a Second Language, Lewis is completing her teacher practicum at Villareal Elementary in the Los Fresnos Consolidated School District.
“This semester of student teaching has been more challenging than I anticipated, and I have learned so much,” Lewis said. “Knowing about theory, psychology and teaching strategies and actually putting them into practice with 20 first graders that all need your help at the same time really stretched me at first. The students were so eager to learn and share; their enthusiasm rubbed off on me. As the weeks went by, I also got a peek into what was going on inside my students’ lives, and sometimes it broke my heart.”
Lewis took not only her formal education training from UTB and TSC into the classroom with her, but also her experiences working with e3 Partners ministries on mission trips, twice to Peru and once to South Sudan. She was sponsored by her church, Brownsville Community Fellowship, where her father is the pastor.
In South Sudan in early 2009, Lewis was with volunteers about 75 miles from Juba, the new capital city, helping e3 partner medical teams and working with the local children. In Peru, Lewis lived and worked at an orphanage high in the Andes Mountains.
“As soon as you get off the plane in Cuzco, you notice the thin air at that altitude,” she said. “Those of us accustomed to sea level had a little trouble breathing. You have to take it easy the first couple of days and stay hydrated, and after a while, we became acclimated.”
At the orphanage, Lewis and her fellow volunteers facilitated the rotating medical teams’ visits. Several teams came and went during her stay, including a dental unit from Newcastle, England and a medical team from Boerne, Texas.
“We cleaned the clinic to have everything ready for their arrival; plus, we made sure their quarters were clean and ready with sheets and towels and propane for the showers,” she said. “This way they wouldn’t waste time but could hit the ground running. They packed as much care into their visits as possible, seeing children from the orphanage and school as well as folks from the surrounding villages.
Every day Lewis’ group prepared lunch for over 100 people – the medical personnel, teachers, staff and field workers for the orphanage’s working farm where they grow the purple potatoes native to Peru. Peeling potatoes or boiling pasta for 100, Lewis is no stranger to being productive with her time and talents.
“Throughout my time at UTB, I have struggled to balance pursuing excellence in my studies while working, taking care of responsibilities with my family and serving in my church,” she said. “It hasn’t been easy, but having the blessings of scholarships definitely enabled me to push through.”
Lewis received the Johnny N. & Nena S. Cavazos Endowment for Elementary Education and the Neal and Lourdes Simmons Scholarship Endowment, also for education, along with South Texas Academic Rising Scholars scholarships (STARS).
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “I was fortunate to enjoy the company of the Simmons at the endowment dinner last year. They were both so sweet to me, and I could tell they have a heart for this community and they really believe in the power of education.”
Lewis, who was home-schooled by her mother, said she has always wanted to pursue a profession in education.
“My mom instilled a love of learning in me – the idea that the sky is the limit, and if you can read well you can learn anything,” she said. “Home schooling gave me the opportunity to pursue my interests, such as reading and writing, traveling and serving in different ministries.”
Lewis hopes to find a teaching job in Brownsville, where she wants to give back to her community that she feels has been so supportive of her.
“I love the sense of community, culture and strong family values we have here,” she said. “I know there are a lot of areas where the community needs to grow, and I would love to have a part in that by teaching here. I got a good start this semester by learning from the example of excellence at Villareal. They were quick to make me a part of the family and I am truly sad to say goodbye, especially to my students.”
Lewis said it is easy to draw contrasts among the classrooms in Peru, Sudan and Los Fresnos, yet what remains constant is the universal principle of the power of education and its ability to change lives for the better.
For more information on giving opportunities, visit utb.edu/giving.