Texas Tech University

Fulbright Scholar's Passion for People Brings Her from Colombia to Lubbock

Cara Vandergriff

November 4, 2015

Paulina Velez was selected by the Fulbright Scholars program to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees in human development and family studies from Texas Tech.

Paulina Velez
Paulina Velez

Growing up in Colombia, Paulina Velez saw firsthand how families can be affected by violence, internal displacement and social inequalities. These experiences made her curious about how different realities shape individual development, and she wondered how she could help individuals develop more healthily. This newfound interest, along with some help from the Fulbright Scholars program, brought Velez to Texas Tech University.

Velez came to Lubbock from Medellin, Colombia, to earn her master's degree in human development and family studies (HDFS). She is now pursuing a doctorate.

“I have always been interested in knowing more about understanding people,” Velez said. “I decided to become a Fulbright scholar because I wanted to be a well-rounded professional who can think thoughtfully about the world around me, and use that knowledge to have a positive impact in the lives of those who I work with.”

Velez applied to the Fulbright Scholars program for the opportunity to study in the United States. She was selected in 2009.

“I knew being a Fulbright scholar is a recognition that would open a world of opportunities to me, both professionally and personally,” Velez said. “I've not only gotten the opportunity to study in the U.S. and enhance my career, but I've gotten to meet wonderful people from around the world.”

Velez said her mother predicted she would become a researcher due to the amount of questions she asked as a child, but she thought her interest would be engineering because of her excellence in math.

“I was good at math, but my curiosity was always more about human behavior and social problems,” Velez said. “I wanted to have the knowledge to be able to develop programs that could promote healthy development and well-being for individuals and families.”

This curiosity, Velez said, is why she decided to stay at Texas Tech and pursue a doctoral degree in human development and family studies. She originally chose Texas Tech because of the success and notability of the HDFS program and wanted to continue her education here because of the program's focus on understanding individual development.

“This program is focused on delving deeper into the understanding of the social, cultural and historical contexts in which individuals develop, and the application of research findings to programs and policies that enhance the lives of individuals and families,” Velez said.


The faculty research interests of the HDFS program attracted Velez to Texas Tech as well, since they aligned with her personal interests.

“I also noted the expertise of some faculty members in working with Hispanic individuals and families,” Velez said. “Being Colombian, that was obviously of significance to me.”

Nancy Bell, an HDFS professor at Texas Tech, said Velez came to the College of Human Sciences with exceptional credentials from her undergraduate work in Colombia and consistently receives excellent faculty evaluations of her doctoral course work.

“Since her arrival, Paulina has been an exemplary student in our program,” Bell said. “In her teaching, she relates exceptionally well to students, creates a classroom environment that promotes student interest and learning and is especially effective on topics related to diversity.”

Bell said Velez has worked with several faculty members on research topics such as constructions of motherhood in cross-cultural perspectives, parent-child synchrony and shared emotion in Mexican-American families, and depression and neighborhood violence among children and adolescents in Medellin, Colombia.

“Paulina's dissertation on identity negotiations of Colombian international students will contribute to a more elaborated understanding of the Latino international student experience and more generally to theory and application with respect to international students,” Bell said.

Bell said she believes the Fulbright Scholar program is advantageous for both the student and the host institution.

“Not only does it provide support for outstanding students to gain international experiences that can enhance their educational and career opportunities,” she said, “but these students bring diverse perspectives to a university, which can benefit its teaching and research missions as well as contribute to a more globally oriented campus environment.”

Though she misses her family, friends and the landscapes of Colombia, Velez said living in the United States. has allowed her to get to know herself better in terms of her priorities and goals.

“I have learned so much about myself, others and the world around me,” Velez said. “Living here has given me the opportunity to learn about people from all over the world and better understand their cultures, traditions and customs.”

Most importantly, Velez said, her experience at Texas Tech has broadened her understanding of the realities faced by individuals and families from different cultures.

“Getting the chance to live in a culture different than mine and getting to know people from different nationalities has helped me learn more about the differences and similarities of individuals from different cultural contexts,” Velez said. “The knowledge I've gained from this experience will be of great importance for my career.”