With no prior filmmaking experience, University of Houston Honors College student Erica Fletcher picked up a camcorder and documented the experiences of Latina women with HIV/AIDS.
And when there were no international volunteer opportunities on campus, Fletcher founded her own group – the UH chapter of the World Aid Organization.
For Fletcher, who is triple majoring in anthropology, sociology and psychology on top of her Honors College coursework, there are no closed doors, only opportunities to learn or try something new.
“I’m just really interested in learning about a whole range of fields. I think that interdisciplinary research is something that is going to be a growing trend in academia,” she said. “If you don’t know how to adapt to different modes of learning and research, then you are going to be left behind.”
The love of learning is something instilled in Fletcher at an early age by her parents, who homeschooled her through her sophomore year in high school in League City.
As a child, she spent hours in the library, reading and exploring a wide variety of subjects at her own pace.
“I really enjoyed that about homeschooling. I think it gave me a different perspective on society and about reading and learning,” Fletcher said. “I think just having that time to think about the possibilities and just be imaginative and creative really helped me.”
After graduating from Clear Creek High School in Clear Lake, Fletcher and her sister both came to the University of Houston, grateful for scholarship assistance and the opportunity to receive a great education near home.
“My sister is in the same year in school that I am, so going to college with two students was tough for my family,” Fletcher said. “We didn’t know how we were going to do it. When the university stepped up and gave us scholarships … that helped.”
Fletcher said she has loved her experience at UH, particularly with all of the opportunities that are available because of its location in the nation’s fourth largest city.
“I really like the diversity on campus. I think that is one of the most important things that UH has to offer,” she said. “I also like the ability to network with different companies and nonprofits in Houston. I think that is extremely important.”
For instance, when Fletcher was producing her documentary as part of her summer research project with Janis Hutchison, a UH anthropology professor, she was able to work closely with AIDS Foundation Houston – an opportunity she says she would not have had elsewhere.
The end result, a documentary titled “Marianismo,” which explores the cultural factors that contribute to the disproportionate spread of HIV/AIDS among Latina women, has been very well-received. It was screened on campus at UH, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and as part of the Voices Breaking Boundaries series “La Voz Femenina.”
“My main goal was to raise awareness that HIV is still a huge problem in the U.S., particularly among Latinos, but also among a broad range of people,” she said. “There is still a lot of stigma and a lot of confusion over how to get it, and I think because there is still so much information, I think that people are still scared to talk about it.”
The desire to change people’s perspectives about HIV/AIDS in this particular documentary, and Fletcher’s broader goal to make a difference in people’s lives is something the Honors College has helped instill in her.
“The Honors College got me thinking – I think that is the most important thing I got out of it,” she said. “It just got me thinking about what is really important and what do I want to change in the world and how best to do that.”
But as valuable as her coursework has been, Fletcher said the key to her success has been to look beyond the coursework, to be open to the many different opportunities available on campus, and to create new ones.
“As much as academics has to offer, I don’t think there is any substitute for practical experience and application of the knowledge that you have learned,” she said. “I think that just going to class and going home is not the full university experience. It is not why we are here.”
That is why Fletcher is so involved in so many organizations on campus, including serving as president of the Anthropology Student Association, and founding the World Aid Organization, which has successfully completed three international service projects in Brazil, Peru and the Philippines.
“To get that holistic experience, you really have to participate in student organizations, you have to talk to professors and you have to make an effort to stay on campus longer than just for your coursework,” she said.
Living on campus is one easy way to get involved, she said.
“Living on campus was fun. I got involved in a lot of different organizations, like Club Theater,” she said. “I tried to explore different possibilities, to do some art and photography. It has been really fun. I really enjoy meeting people here on campus.”
Ultimately, Fletcher said she believes her experience at UH has prepared her well for her future.
“I think I got real-world experience here,” she said. “[UH] is a very student-centered organization. This university and professors really care about their students, and they want them to succeed.”