After overcoming more than her share of roadblocks, regional site student Kinley Phillips studied abroad in Spain and is set to graduate next spring.
Being denied something you've wanted your whole life would discourage some people from continuing to pursue that goal. But for others, the rejection just makes them work harder.
As an education major at Texas Tech University who studied abroad and student-taught in Spain last summer, you would never guess Kinley Phillips was denied admission to the university the first time she applied. It was the only college she applied to.
“I am actually a first-generation college student,” Kinley said. “So, I am also a first-gen Red Raider. I hate to sound cliché, but I just always have felt a ‘pull' toward Texas Tech and knew since high school this is where I was going to be. I'm not sure what drew me to it; I just felt like this was my school. Even after getting denied acceptance, I worked hard to get where I am now.”
Hard work doesn't begin to describe the path that finally led Kinley to Texas Tech. It was a journey from failure and indecision to eventual and hard-fought success.
“I was very discouraged when my initial application was denied,” Kinley remembered, looking a little sad at the recollection. “Looking back, I am grateful this is what ended up happening in my situation. I think it helped me grow and have a bigger appreciation for my education.”
Coming from a small town about an hour southwest of Waco, Kinley began commuting to classes at McLennan Community College (MCC) in the fall of 2018, as a last resort.
“Long story short, I failed out of MCC after two semesters and left with a 0.3 GPA - yes, I am serious,” she said, with a chuckle. “I was not motivated toward school and was chasing after the thought of graduating, not actually working toward it.”
Kinley realized she needed to figure out the direction she wanted her life to go, which meant deciding to take school seriously or stop all together.
“I decided to move back home and had signed up for one class at my local junior college in Temple. From there, I took one class at a time. If I passed one, I would take two the next semester; if I passed those two, I would take three the next semester,” she explained.
During that process, Kinley discovered TTU Waco, a Texas Tech University regional site at MCC. That led her back to finishing at MCC and graduating with her associate degree in general education in 2022.
“Finding TTU Waco couldn't have been more perfect for me,” Kinley said. “I also knew from a young age, I wanted to be a teacher. Education was something I knew I would pursue in my college years, and beginning with that associate degree, I have.”
With clear direction and her initial degree in hand, she began her classes with Texas Tech that fall. Since then, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA and said she has tried to make the most out of this education she is so grateful to receive.
Kinley is now a senior in the Tech Teach Across Texas (Waco) program, which allows students to stay in their local communities and earn their credentials while working with local school districts. She plans to graduate in May.
Most of her classes are online, and her in-person classes have been connected with student teaching. She had one in-person class her first semester that was an intro to teaching.
Pairing her desires to be both an educator and become fluent in Spanish, Kinley started exploring the option of Study Abroad at Texas Tech's center in Sevilla, Spain. She said the application process was fairly simple once she figured out how to go about it.
“Getting the initial information was a bit tricky at first, and I had to do a lot on my own. But once I realized this was something that was doable for me as a regional site student, I immediately applied,” she explained. “I was so excited when I got the email that I had been accepted, I remember thinking ‘Oh my goodness, I actually get to do this!'”
“Kinley is excited and eager to learn and grow, so study abroad was such an exciting opportunity for her,” Ray said. “She has been connecting her experiences there with her teaching during her senior year. It is so exciting to see.”
With a sheepish grin, Kinley admitted she had an ulterior motive for studying in Spain.
“My main reason for studying abroad was wanting to be fully immersed in and learn the Spanish language. My partner of four years, Gabriel Kane, is Hispanic; his family comes from Mexico and Spain, so I've been trying to learn Spanish since we started dating,” she explained. “I knew studying abroad in Spain and living in that environment would help me learn more than anything else. Also, being able to say I taught in a foreign country would be a cool experience to have, but I had no idea how cool.”
Kinley's month-long study abroad curriculum included an AVID strategies class with Angie Cowart and Shelby Anderson. AVID strategies, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, are designed to engage students, build higher level thinking skills, and close the opportunity gap by making learning accessible to all students by preparing them for college, careers and life.
Cowart is not only a site coordinator but also an instructor at Texas Tech's Teacher Education Department. She said Kinley was serious about learning everything she could with her host family, the school placement, Spanish culture and her classmates.
“Kinley embraced studying abroad in Sevilla with passion and positivity,” Cowart said. “She wanted to broaden her global perspective, and she was open to each new experience. She interacted enthusiastically with students in the Spanish school we worked in.”
It was that experience in a foreign school that Kinley feels will help better round her as an educator. It will help her remain open to different types of learning and the different ways that a school and a classroom can work.
“It was absolutely incredible and was an experience no other class could teach. I feel like I was there to teach the kids, but they ended up teaching me. Their school culture and dynamic are completely different than what we have in the U.S., and I think gaining this perspective equipped me with tools for my own classroom,” Kinley said. “Working with the students gave me the ability to better understand English language learners for my future classroom and how I can help them be successful.”
Aside from the classwork and teaching, Kinley also observed many fascinating things about the Spanish people and customs.
“I learned so much about Spanish culture and their way of life. I was learning Spanish before this trip, and being there for a full month completely immersed in the language helped me to pick it up faster,” Kinley said. “By the time I got home, I was more than conversational.”
Kinley's eyes lit up when she recalled the time with her host family.
“I really enjoyed staying with this generous family. This is something I feel a lot of students are nervous about, but I came to love and appreciate mine so much. I loved Rosa, my host mom, and she was a big part of why I enjoyed my trip as much as I did,” Kinley explained.
One particular aspect of Spanish culture was a bit surprising, but refreshing, to Kinley when she noticed it and took it in.
“I learned to appreciate the present moment,” Kinley said. “In Spain, and in the Spanish culture, spending time with others and just appreciating life is so important to them. You rarely saw people on their phones; you never saw people distracted. Everyone was always talking, visiting, smiling, walking. It was a breath of fresh air to see this kind of lifestyle - it was very eye-opening.
“Just living a different lifestyle and having a different mindset for the entire month is something I really was grateful for. I learned so much about myself and I think this made for my biggest memory.”
Kinley's teaching certification is 4-8 grade English Language Arts and Reading, but she said she would love to eventually recertify with a bilingual certification for Spanish.
“Teaching is my calling,” she said. “I see myself doing something that always involves teaching and working with children. I hope to be teaching in my own classroom after graduation. I'm excited to see what the future holds and I'm grateful for the experience that study abroad gave me.”
Having spent that time in Spain with Kinley, Cowart knows the experience will help not only in her teaching career, but life in general.
“It was an honor to interact and learn alongside Kinley as we explored the sites in Spain,” Cowart said. “She stepped outside her comfort zone, and she learned that she was strong and courageous when she faced new situations. Kinley is a fearless champion.”
For any Waco regional site students or those at any other of Texas Tech's five regional sites, Kinley encourages them to explore all their possibilities, including study abroad.
“My biggest piece of advice would be to reach out and just get information about study abroad. As a regional site student, you have the same opportunities as a main campus student in Lubbock,” she advised. “Don't be shy. Ask the questions. There are people who are more than willing to help you.”
And for students considering attending Texas Tech through a regional site rather than in Lubbock, Kinley also shared her own experience.
“I'm happy to have gone this route. Weirdly enough, I think it was better for me than the main campus would have been,” she reflected. “I have had great opportunities and made great connections while going to school here. I've worked as a student assistant/ambassador, as well as helping with our social media pages. I don't think I would've gotten these opportunities anywhere else.”