Work, learn, live: student’s passion ignites

Lauren Teegarden graduated from Carolina with highest honors in May 2010 and headed to a job with Deloitte Strategy and Operations Consulting in Atlanta, a global firm with ties to Latin America. She’s getting business experience in the part of the world that she loves. Her passion: to promote social and economic development in Latin America.

In 2006, Teegarden chose Carolina after her visit to campus. She’d also been accepted at Emory, Vanderbilt and Rice universities, the University of Southern California and elsewhere.

From Lake Oswego, Ore., she came to UNC, receiving one of the University’s full, four-year merit scholarships made possible by donors.

A Spanish seminar on indigenous literature in Teegarden’s sophomore year inspired a new interest: “I had no idea that both the Spanish language and Latin American development would become an academic and personal passion.”

Ever resourceful, Teegarden learned of UNC’s Burch Fellowships – competitive awards for “undergraduate students who possess extraordinary ability, promise and imagination.” A Burch grants up to $6,000 for self-designed off-campus experiences that enable a student to pursue a passionate interest. Teegarden applied; she won.

The Burch took her to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in summer 2008, where she researched the migration of indigenous Maya people to the western United States. “My beginner’s Maya was a continual source of amusement as I mixed words such as chiich (grandmother) with ch’iich’ (bird).”

Teegarden’s resulting paper was chosen for presentation at the 2009 Southeastern Conference on Latin American Studies; she became only the third undergraduate presenter in the conference’s 56-year history. A grant from the UNC Office of Undergraduate Research funded her trip.

In fall 2008, she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She arrived with a merit-based, $1,250 Halpern Award from the UNC Institute for the Study of the Americas. The award funded her research, conducted separately from her studies, on the migration of Paraguayan women to the city.

Next, the UNC Center for Global Initiatives funded her internship in Mexico City in summer 2009 with the Mexican Institute of Family and Population Research.

Believe it or not, Teegarden spent time in North Carolina as a UNC student. A Spanish and Latin American studies double major, she also completed a minor in the Kenan-Flagler Business School. She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and a Carolina honorary society that recognizes scholarship, leadership and service.

She was active in the Scholars’ Latino Initiative, in which UNC students mentor and tutor area Latino high school students, helping them boost their chances of college admission. Teegarden earned the distinction of Public Service Scholar after completing special training and at least 300 hours of community service while at UNC. USA Today chose Teegarden for its 2010 All-USA College Academic honors, placing her on the second team.

She’s glad she chose Carolina for a couple of reasons in particular.

First, “At Carolina, I had the opportunity to get to know professors from diverse disciplines and work with them on research projects and also develop my own interests,” she said.

Secondly, “UNC is very collaborative. In my four years, I never felt competitive with my fellow students. Everyone is so focused on learning and innovation and discovery that there isn’t room for competition.”