Student demonstrating leadership during first year at UTSA

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Texas Border Business

Tristan Pepper, UTSA student
Photo Courtesy The University of Texas at San Antonio

First-year Top Scholar and Honors College student at UTSA Tristan Pepper has been named a participant in the Fulbright United Kingdom Summer Institute. The prestigious award recognizes promising first- and second-year students for their academic potential and ability to serve as a cultural ambassador to the United States.

The award will see Pepper travel to Scotland in summer 2021 to take part in the three-week program “Technology, Innovation, and Creativity,” hosted by Glasgow School of Art and University of Strathclyde.

For this particular award, the Fulbright United Kingdom Commission selects students who have limited overseas travel experience of four weeks or less and want their first abroad experience to be in the UK.

“In the moments following being named a Fulbright Scholar I remember being overcome with gratitude and appreciation for all those who have supported me along my academic journey,” Pepper said. “To be a Fulbright Scholar means to serve as a global ambassador and, given this immense opportunity, I intend to bridge the cultures between the U.S. and the U.K. in order to establish a greater understanding between the two in academic disciplines and cultural understanding.”

“Given this immense opportunity, I intend to bridge the cultures between the U.S. and the U.K.”

At UTSA, Pepper is part of the National Institutes of Health–funded Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Educational Diversity Program, which helps freshman- and sophomore-level trainees develop as scholars and scientists. Pepper spent his first year working in Teja Guda’s biomedical engineering lab and Lyle Hood’s mechanical engineering lab, receiving close mentorship in research and professional development.

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Participating in the UK institute will allow Pepper to step outside of the lab at UTSA and learn about how research institutions and health care services operate overseas.

“I seek to understand the meaning of health care in the U.K. through study and experiential learning in order to better understand how the global community may blend privatized and socialized aspects of health care into one system. Likewise, I am very interested to see how U.K. and Scottish culture affect the ways in which research is conducted and how this may direct the concentrations of biomedical research at the University of Strathclyde.”

While he has focused on research in engineering, Pepper has made it a point to develop secondary areas of interest in educational policy so that he can learn about how it impacts research. As a freshman, he attended the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering two-day Public Policy Institute for Rising Leaders, where he was one of only two undergraduates.

He has since become a fellow with the organization, which is a position typically held by doctoral-level students. Through AIMBE, Pepper hopes to enlist a group of UTSA students to advocate to U.S. congressional members for more funding for research and education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

He cites his own experiences growing up in schools that did not emphasize the importance of STEM, relating it to the experience of students at schools who do not have access to the resources they need. “There is tremendous talent and ambition lying dormant within underprivileged school districts,” he said, “and it remains untapped.”

Kristi Meyer, senior director for special programs and student development in the Honors Collee, said, “Tristan is completely rewriting the rules for what a first-year student, even a high-achieving one, can accomplish as a Top Scholar. He is focused, intense and driven in his search for innovative and creative solutions to some of our world’s greatest health problems.

“In addition to his research he maintains membership in club sports teams, mentors with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas, volunteers with UTSA Alternative Breaks, and has recently created a nonprofit with three other UTSA students that aims to address inequities in STEM education. Truly he has shown that he will exceed whatever expectations I might set for him as a mentor, and he will consistently set higher expectations for himself.”

Pepper’s dedication to education is being noticed in Texas as well. In June he was named a student member to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board ApplyTX Advisory Committee, where he will serve from June 2020 to May 2022. The group provides advice on the common admission applications procedures and is made up of representatives from two-year, four-year and private institutions plus one nonvoting student member. The previous representative was an upperclassman from The University of Texas at Austin.

As Pepper prepares to begin his second year at UTSA, he has the support of numerous colleges and offices in addition to the ESTEEMED and Top Scholar programs. To prepare for his Fulbright interview, for example, Pepper worked with professor John Phillip Santos of the Honors College, who has extensive knowledge of U.K. institutions from his background as a Rhodes Scholar.

Andrew Chapman, director of Nationally Competitive Awards, said, “National Award winners like Tristan routinely draw support from faculty and staff mentorship from all over the university, whether that includes application advisement on a grant proposal, doing a mock interview, or helping to foster connections with researchers throughout the world. We are grateful for UTSA faculty and staff whose mentorship and inclusion of undergraduate students in their academic lives help our students get noticed on the national level.”

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