TAMIU Alum Selected Fulbright Scholar Recipient at Royal College of Art
Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) graduate Julio Obscura has always had a thing for storytelling. So it’s no surprise that the chance to tell stories using emerging technology was the cornerstone of his application selected for a 2020 Fulbright Arts award.
Obscura, who graduated from TAMIU in 2014 with a degree in Communications, becomes the first TAMIU alumni graduate selected for one of the world’s most prestigious academic honors by receiving the Fulbright-LUSK Award in the Arts. If all goes well, this Fall he will travel to London to complete his 18-month graduate program in Digital Direction as the first Royal College of Art “Fulbrighter.” The RCA is regarded as the best art school in the world.
RCA alumni are luminaries known worldwide and include painter David Hockney, industrial designer James Dyson, filmmaker Ridley Scott, sculptor Henry Moore, ceramicist Clarice Cliff, and many others.
While humbled by his selection, Julio does believe that his determination to simply “make it happen” may have helped set this path forward.
“I had really been impressed by the RCA program in Digital Direction for some time. The program is without parallel and uses technology to take us into new levels of being, outside the confinement of a rectangular-shaped TV or screen, into the very future of storytelling. I found it fascinating and sort of filed it away in my mind: ‘things to do/how to make it possible’ ?
“I applied. The expense was daunting, and the timing was impossible, so I waited. But I really wanted to find a way to make it work. I found the Fulbright opportunity, which is highly competitive and primarily funds students attending universities that already have existing partnerships with Fulbright. However, there was another option for an Open Study Award in the UK. It’s even more competitive, with only one or two awards available, as all those who do not qualify for the existing partnership slots apply for the Open Study Awards. I applied and then focused on my work and all those obligations,” he recalled.
Obscura’s job would certainly keep him focused and busy. He’s the Creative Director and Official Photographer for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and his Washington, D.C. life is an exercise in layers of planning. He can travel at a moment’s notice or stay in the office till the wee hours. It’s all in a day’s work.
But three distinct experiences guided his application, and he would mentally return to them as he awaited the Fulbright decision.
“The first was the TAMIU Reading the Globe program when I traveled to Ghana on 2009. It opened my eyes to the power of visuals and photography to tell stories that create awareness. It showed me I had an eye and talent to tell stories. The second experience came when I went to visit an old friend of mine at MIT who at the time was reshaping the DNA of seeds that would grow into whatever different shapes he wanted to, in his case he wanted the seed to grow into the shape of a house when planted. My mind was blown and it made me think… how can we change storytelling to move us to different ways of thinking?
“The third and final experience tied it all together. It took place in Washington, D.C., after participating in the Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality (AR/VR) experience Carne y Arena created by the filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. It created an immersive experience of an immigrant crossing the U.S.- Mexico border. You, alone, are in a large room, walking barefoot while feeling the sand between your toes and feeling the strong winds of the helicopter approaching. You are the immigrant and your individual experience ends with your arrest. This was a powerful story that literally puts you in somebody’s else’s shoes.
“All of this made its way into my application and my desire to use storytelling and technology to create empathy, change policy and make society better. I believe that an immersive experience that triggers all five senses has the greatest potential to do this, and that is what my Fulbright research proposal will be focused on,” he explained
Since receiving word of his selection during the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, Obscura is not sure how his Fulbright will be affected. But he is certain that his path will lead him to the RCA in London regardless.
“When I was a student at TAMIU I made it my mission to find and experience all opportunities available to me. Some universities only offer single or limited opportunities. But TAMIU offered multiple opportunities to explore. I worked for the student newspaper, The Bridge; I was the President of the Association for International Students and a Reading the Globe Ambassador. Study Abroad was key and I traveled to learn as much as possible. It was those experiences that shaped me and have made my life’s pursuits possible,” he maintained.
“Many times in my career, I’ve been the only person of color in the room and without an Ivy League education behind my shoulder…but I’ve managed to shine and make a name for myself thanks to the international leadership skills and opportunities I acquired during my undergraduate education at TAMIU. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the best and most powerful minds in the world and I’ve realized that what we all have in common is the relentless pursuit of opportunity. I did that at TAMIU and it has made all that followed possible,” he revealed.
A veteran traveler, he holds an official TAMIU record for traveling over 23,530 miles to four different countries while a Study Abroad student at TAMIU. Since then, he’s been to over 45 other countries and is looking forward to London, a new destination for him.
Obscura said he is likewise open to other destinations after he completes his Fulbright and Masters at the RCA.
“I am not sure what I will do after London. What I am doing now in Congress has an impact on people and I want to continue having such impact…but by doing something more artistic. I don’t know if I will come back to politics, but I do plan to use what I have learned to shape it. I think my talents might be well suited to working with advocacy groups fighting for issues important to me: climate change, diversity and immigration,” he observed.
One of his staunchest supporters who has shared her admiration for him publicly is Speaker Pelosi.
“During her visits to Laredo, she likes telling people what I’m up to and how proud she is of me and my other colleague from TAMIU, Jorge Antonio Aguilar (’11). She’s been to the border many times and loves Laredo and knows what motivates my story and our story,” he beamed.
Some 14 members of TAMIU's current and former faculty are former Fulbright Scholars.
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