Posted: 12/02/10

TAMIU Grad First to Earn Hispanic Studies Ph.D.



A distant dream encouraged by colleagues, friends and family has become a reality for Lola Orellano Norris.

Orellano Norris is the first doctoral graduate from TAMIU in the collaborative Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University.

In 2004  Orellano Norris was accepted into the collaborative Ph.D. program between Texas A&M University  and System campuses in Laredo, Corpus Christi and Kingsville (TAMUK). That cohort included three TAMIU students, one from Texas A&M University – Kingsville and five students from Texas A&M, College Station.

“After graduating with my Master of Arts in Spanish from TAMIU in 1999, a Ph.D. was the logical continuation of my studies,” she recalled.

But as she continued her search for a doctoral program Orellano Norris, then a single mother of six  with her late first husband (Reymundo “Tigre” Pérez), realized that leaving Laredo to pursue a Ph.D. was  simply not an option.

“Like many students, I had commitments: my children, full-time work and full-time classes.”

But it was a former professor that kept the flames fanned for her doctoral pursuits.

“TAMIU professor of Spanish and now president Dr. Ray Keck was the one that always encouraged me to continue my studies, said Orellano Norris, “ ‘you should get a Ph.D.,’ ” he said, “but it just never seemed that the Ph.D. was within my reach,” she said.

When the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved TAMIU’s collaborative Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies, Orellano Norris knew that it was the perfect opportunity to continue her education.

“I would not have been able to get a Ph.D. without this kind of a program,” she affirmed.

For his part, Dr. Keck said Orellano Norris was an inspiring student and will further inspire others as a faculty member.

“As teachers, we have the pleasure of working with remarkable students daily. I can affirm that Lola is one of the most brilliant students I’ve ever taught.

“She is analytical and practical, but also passionate about her study. The power of her life story, her facility with languages and her focused determination bring additional dimension to her teaching ability. She will be a powerful force in any future classroom. She’s truly made personal and institutional history here,” Dr. Keck said.

The innovative Hispanic Studies Ph.D. is conducted through distance learning via the Trans-Texas Videoconference Network (TTVN) with faculty members from 3 Universities: Texas A&M, TAMIU, and TAMUK. Some of the classes are taken at the home campuses.

“Taking classes via distance learning education was extremely convenient and incredibly enriching,” said Orellano Norris. “The unique aspect of the partnership is that you have an expanded ability to study with other brilliant, accomplished professors, all published scholars in their fields, something not often possible in a single university setting,” she explained.

Orellano Norris’ doctorate in Hispanic Studies concentrates on the Golden Age with an overlapping focus on historical linguistics and literature. This fall, she successfully defended her dissertation and hopes to soon publish it in book form.

Her dissertation, a linguistic analysis of the expedition diaries (1686-1690) of General Alonso de León’s five military expeditions into Texas, was an interdisciplinary analysis of some of the earliest documentary records written in and about Texas. De León’s diaries hold major linguistic, historical and anthropological importance.

Orellano Norris received several grants and scholarships supporting her tuition, books, travel and research. She sorted through 300-year-old manuscripts held in different archives in Spain, México and the United States.

“The dissertation was a challenge, but it brought me great satisfaction. The process of academic research is unlike any other in depth and intensity. When I chose my dissertation topic, I had no idea that the deeper I investigated, the more passionate I would become about it, the more fascinating facts I would uncover. There is a sense of exhilaration after having completed a dissertation, but actually, the most exciting aspect is the research process itself. I am very grateful to Dr. Brian Imhoff, my dissertation director, and to the committee members from A&M College Station (Drs. Nancy Joe Dyer and José Villalobos) and TAMIU (Drs. Jerry Thompson and Manuel Broncano) for their expert advice and guidance,” she noted.

Encouragement and support of her colleagues, professors, and family was crucial to her doctoral program success, she confirmed.

“My strong support system helped me through it, because really you cannot do it by yourself,” she said, “A doctoral program is very rigorous, strenuous, and you need people around you who believe in you and encourage you. My husband was my rock, no matter how stressful things got in the end.”

Orellano Norris is now married to TAMIU associate professor of political science, Dr. James A. Norris.

The sacrifice and journey to completion was uplifting, she explained.

“Now, looking back, “I’m very proud of it,” she added, “and I’m very happy and so grateful that we have this program for people like me: people who are not traditional students, and can’t pick up and move to pursue their educational goals.”

Now a TAMIU visiting assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, department of language and literature, Dr. Orellano Norris encourages others to pursue their academic dreams.

“I encourage everyone I know to further their education,” said Dr. Orellano Norris.

“I try to recruit students because it’s not every day that you can stay at your home university and get a Ph.D. I tell them that if they are determined and willing to work hard they can still continue their education with a family and the commitments that come with a family.”

For additional information on the collaborative Hispanic Studies Ph.D.., contact Dr. José Cardona-López at cardona@tamiu.edu or at 956.326.2690.

Information is also available on the Texas A&M University website at: http://hisp.tamu.edu/graduate-phd.html

This story by Rebecca M. Martinez, Student Intern

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Relations, Marketing and Information Services at prmis@tamiu.edu