AUSTIN, Texas—University of Texas at Austin student Sara Cecilia Galvan always has been interested in the way buildings were made — going all the way back to her “Lego days” as a child growing up in the West University area of Houston. She decided long ago that she wanted to be someone who could help make cities more livable.
Galvan recently received a $30,000 award that will help her realize these dreams and ambitions. The UTsenior was chosen from nearly 600 students nationwide to receive one of 61 Harry S. Truman Scholarships.
This is the third consecutive year in which a UT Austin student has won the award. Scholarship recipients are selected for their commitment to public service and leadership potential. Galvan, who is a Plan II Honors Program, architecture and Spanish major, is to use the monetary award to further her education in graduate school.
Galvan will participate in the University’s Honors Day Program April 15, which begins at 2 p.m. in Bass Concert Hall. More than 3,500 junior and senior undergraduates who have a grade point average of 3.5 or better will be honored. Galvan will be introduced and will be seated on the stage.
“Sara has got a great contribution to make to public life and to public service,” says Dr. Larry Carver, chairman of the UT Truman selection committee. “Sara is a leader. She sees that so many problems of our society, whether they be racial injustice or economic inequalities such as access to education, really have their setting and origin in our cities.
“And what she seeks to do is to bring her technical knowledge, along with a knowledge of people, to help fashion cities that serve our utilitarian needs — while being places of beauty, inspiration and joy,” says Carver. “She’s a winner. There’s just no question about it.”
In her application, Galvan wrote about her experience in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the summer of 1999. She discussed how the architecture and the infrastructure of the city changed the attitudes of the people who lived there. “Although the economic conditions were terrible and the political climate was full of greed and crime, people were able to alleviate their problems by being able to interact with each other in the context of the city,” she says.
Her focus on the way architecture impacts us as human beings stems from her youth. “When I was little I used to play with Legos. I’ve always been interested in the way buildings were made.”
Although she is originally from Houston, she lived in Crosby, Texas, for a while and commuted to attend school and piano lessons in Houston. “The toll that took on me affected me a lot. I think the development of suburbs in America is one of the most tragic problems affecting us and we don’t even know it. We’re now separated and insular.” She explains that this personal experience left her believing that she just wants “to be somebody who can help cities make themselves better.”
“When I was younger, I used to work at my grandparents’ Mexican restaurant,” she says, adding that economic pressures forced them to close the restaurant down. Galvan was strongly affected by that experience. She says that’s when she knew what she wanted to do with her life. “I have to change this. That’s where the scholarship helps me do that and solidifies my dedication.”
In addition to her Russia trip, Galvan was in Korea in January of this year participating in an international design seminar examining Korean architecture. There she learned about ancient building methods and the current building explosion. This summer, she will travel to Bosnia on a reconstruction project through the UT Austin School of Architecture. “Most of the cities are totally destroyed. Maybe, we can help them with some architectural skills — and in that small way I can help make that community better.”
On the UT campus, Galvan has served on the faculty building advisery committee, which recommends campus building projects to the University president. Galvan also is the current chair of the Cabinet of College Councils and edits its newsletter. She has served as the president of the Architecture Planning and Student Council and edited the Plan II student’s association magazine.
Galvan is honored to be a Truman Scholar. “I feel very grateful that somebody has been able to listen to me and feel confident enough in me to give me such an honor,” she says. “I know there are many other people who are just as deserving, and I was very lucky. I really feel inspired to do something good with my life”
Galvan plans apply to graduate schools with strong programs in both law and urban planning. “There’s too often a mistrust between architects and planners,” she says. “I feel like — if I’m going to be able to change something — I have to be able to say that I have expertise in both fields.”
Note to Editors: Photographs of Galvan can be obtained by calling UT Office of Public Affairs photographer Marsha Miller at (512) 471-3151, or by e-mailing her at marsha.opa.wwh.utexas.edu
You also may find Galvan’s photograph on the OPA Website: /opa/news/00newsreleases/nr_200004/nr_truman2.html.