With a mother from Nicaragua and a father from Guatemala, Ivonne Pereira of Arlington didn't learn to speak English until she was in the second grade.
But having English as her second language didn't stop her from taking eight Advanced Placement exams as a student at Arlington's Bowie High School and earning 47 hours of college credit.
And it didn't stop her from earning her college degree. Two years and four months after becoming part of the first group of UNT's Emerald Eagle Scholars, Pereira became the program's first graduate when she received her bachelor's degree in international studies in December 2009.
Pereira wasn't sure if she would be able to afford to go to college until she heard about UNT's Emerald Eagle Scholars program, which provides full tuition and fees to selected recent high school graduates in Texas who live in households with annual incomes of $40,000 or less. The program's primary goal is timely completion of bachelor's degrees for the scholars.
Pereira's parents, Mayra and Nohel Pereira of Arlington; her sister, Jazmine; and her brother, Josh Arguello, all attended the graduation ceremony.
Pereira says she wanted to go to UNT because of its international studies program, which is designed to inform students about the serious global challenges of the 21st century. It aims at increasing awareness and understanding of social, political and economic global issues.
"I like to travel, and I love the whole idea of globalization and international relations between countries. International studies seemed like a great major," says Pereira, who also earned a minor in her native language, Spanish. "But I didn't know how much financial aid I could get to go to college. The Emerald Eagle Scholar aid made going to college possible."
All Emerald Eagle Scholars must enroll in UNT as freshmen to qualify for the program.
To maintain their eligibility for the program, scholars must commit to becoming actively engaged in the campus, working in on-campus jobs when possible. They must enroll in 15 academic hours of classes each semester, plan to graduate within four years and maintain an overall grade point average of at least 2.5.
President Gretchen M. Bataille introduced the Emerald Eagle Scholars program in April 2007 during her inauguration as UNT's 14th president. The program, which strengthens UNT's already considerable undergraduate need-based financial aid programs, is funded by donations and a combination of federal, state and institution funds.
The university raises more funds for the program through its annual Emerald Ball, which was first held as part of Bataille's inauguration. The next ball is set for Feb. 27 at the Gaylord Texan. Tickets are available by calling 940-565-3480.
As an Emerald Eagle Scholar, Pereira worked for the America Reads-Academy of Empowerment organization at UNT's Center for Public Service. The organization places UNT work-study students in local schools to provide comprehensive reading support to students who are below their grade level in reading. Pereira tutored students at Razor Elementary in Denton.
She was also active in the Hispanic Business Student Association; Sigma Iota Rho, the academic honor society for international studies; and the Arabic Club. This past semester, she began taking Arabic courses in UNT's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, which was the first department at a college or university in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to offer a minor and advanced study in Arabic.
Pereira will continue taking the courses this spring as she prepares to enter graduate school in the fall. She plans to enter a master's degree program in Middle Eastern studies.
"Going to the Arabic Club meetings has been great because students who are native speakers of Arabic attend. They help us with their language, and we help them with their English. They also share their culture," Pereira says.
She lists Liljana Elverskog, a lecturer in foreign languages and literatures at UNT who began the Arabic courses, as one of her mentors, along with Andrew Enterline, Cullen Hendrix, Idean Salehyan, Emile Sahliyeh and Nancy Stockdale in the international studies program.
"They're so knowledgeable in their subjects and able to engage the students in their classes," she says.
Pereira plans to use her degrees in international studies and Middle Eastern studies to become a translator and eventually work for Amnesty International, the CIA, the State Department or another organization or governmental body. She says she may also teach English abroad.
None of her goals would be possible if she had not attended UNT on an Emerald Eagle Scholarship.
"Many low-income students don't think that they can go to college, but you can if you study hard and qualify for scholarships," Pereira says.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.