Salvador Salinas ’03

This history major learned to dream big at Appalachian
Friday, September 11, 2015

Salvador Salinas ’03 earned a History (BA) degree at Appalachian State University. In Fall 2015, he began teaching as assistant professor of Latin American history at the University of Houston-Downtown.

From an undergraduate, to University of Oxford, to The University of Texas at Austin, Appalachian shaped the way Salvador engaged with the world through his liberal arts education. Salvador recently shared how his Appalachian experience transformed his life, and led him to find his passions and success.

I grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina. My father is a Mexican immigrant and my mother is from a family that has been living in the Carolinas since the 1760s. My interest and love for history developed during the fall semester of 2001. I had transferred to Appalachian State University in the summer from Caldwell Community College and began taking core courses such as World Civilization and World Geography. That fall, I remember taking Dr. Bortz’s History of Spain course. I had never had a teacher like Dr. Bortz and wanted to take more courses with him. But what really stoked my intellectual curiosity were the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Like many people at the time, I did not understand why the United States was being attacked. I soon found that history enabled me to better understand the world we live in. Sept. 11 left a profound impact on me and my group of friends. That fall, I began to tear through history books and biographies, seeking answers to my questions. Then, during the spring 2002 semester, I took Dr. Bortz’s History of Mexico course. I enjoyed that course so much that by the end of the semester I knew I wanted to do a Ph.D. in Latin American history. Latin American history was a way for me to discover my roots, and I found it a fascinating region with its mixture of European, African and indigenous cultures.

Faculty who care

Taking history courses at Appalachian was a real eye-opener for me. Before then, history was nothing but a bunch of names and dates, but my history professors at Appalachian taught me that history is about social processes. I remember professors inviting groups of students to their houses for dinner and informal talks, and I thought that was really cool; they cared.

After I graduated from Appalachian in 2003, I took two years off from my university studies. I worked and saved up money to travel. I traveled around Mexico, Europe and the U.S. in 2004-05. I applied for graduate school and was luckily accepted to the University of Oxford, where I completed a master's degree in Latin American Studies. After graduating from Oxford in 2007, I took another year off from university studies, worked and saved money, and went to Brazil for four months in 2008. I lived in Bahia with a local family and studied Portuguese, and then I traveled around the country a bit. Later that fall, I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a Ph.D. in Latin American history. I graduated from UT Austin in December 2014, but in the meantime, I had taken up a visiting assistant professor position at California State University, Long Beach. I gained valuable teaching experience in Long Beach. It helped me to land the assistant professor position that I now have at the University of Houston-Downtown.

This semester I started as an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Downtown. I love it here. Like Cal State Long Beach, many of my students are first-generation college students. I really enjoy teaching this type of student. They know it is a privilege for them to be here. My goals for the future are to continue developing my courses, and to turn my dissertation into a book. I also hope to engage the community of Houston with my knowledge of Latin American history, especially since Texas has a large Latino population.

A broad-based education

I learned to dream big while at Appalachian. For instance, I thought I would never be accepted into Oxford, but professors like Dr. Bortz insisted that I apply to the elite schools. It was not only the history courses at Appalachian that shaped me, but also taking courses in anthropology with Dr. Jeff Boyer and in geography with Dr. Kathleen Schroeder. I received a broad-based education in the humanities and social science as an undergraduate. App State offered so many interesting courses that it was difficult to select which ones to enroll in. That is a strength of the university. My experience at Appalachian made me want to explore the world.