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Crossing borders, El Paso native raised in Mexico inspired to study in UK

Alma Chavez ’17 had a typical childhood growing up on the United States-Mexico border. Born in El Paso, Chavez, the youngest of four children and the only girl, was raised in Juárez, Mexico. 

Chavez also grew up at a time when it was dangerous to be a girl in Juárez. According to Amnesty International, more than 370 women were killed in Juárez and in the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, between 1993 and 2005. Those murders, known as femicides, prevented Chavez from going anywhere without one of her brothers. 

“Being the only girl and the youngest in my family, I was aware of the femicides happening in Juárez,” Chavez says. “I watched the news, and had a friend who one day didn’t show up to school.” 

Chavez was inspired to pursue studies in forensic anthropology in hopes of one day bringing justice for the victims who have not been identified. 

“Since 1994, there have been 2,754 femicides, but only 200 victims have been identified,” Chavez says. “Even though these murders are not in the news as much as they used to be, there are families still waiting to have their loved ones identified.” 

Chavez’s drive to help femicide victims led her to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship to continue her studies in forensic anthropology at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. She was accepted in April 2021, and traveled to Kent in September 2021 to begin her studies. She will pursue research and development in forensic anthropology, focusing on generating more accurate identification methods to identify a diverse group of individuals, such as femicide victims and undocumented border crossers. 

Chavez graduated from the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, and after speaking with NMSU faculty, decided to attend the university and triple major in anthropology, psychology and Spanish. At NMSU, Chavez was a TRIO Student Support Services program participant, and was selected as the outstanding graduate for the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Chavez is so passionate about forensic anthropology, she had planned to attend the University of Kent whether or not she earned the Fulbright Scholarship. But with the help of her mentor, Andrea Orzoff, NMSU associate professor of history and director of NMSU’s Office of National Scholarships and International Education, she was successful in her Fulbright application. 

“Dr. Orzoff explained to me what the interview would be like, and I felt pretty confident,” Chavez says. “Usually, a lot of things I feel confident about don’t work out, but I got the news pretty quickly that I was accepted. When I told my parents, I started crying, my parents started crying. It was a big relief.” 

Orzoff says the Fulbright Scholarship application process is very competitive, especially for an award in the United Kingdom. 

“I think that says something about the kind of candidate Alma is, to be able to win a Fulbright at that level of competition,” Orzoff says. “She’s so smart, but also so kind and humble. She’s very typical of our Fulbright applicants from New Mexico State.” 

Alma Chavez was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship to continue her studies in forensic anthropology at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. She was inspired to pursue her studies after growing up in Juárez, Mexico, and learning about the murders of women and girls there.