Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Gregory Schmidt


Gregory D. Schmidt grew up in Austin before it became weird. He graduated from John H. Reagan High School in 1971. Reagan won the Class AAAA (the highest at the time) state championship in football for three of the four years that Greg attended high school. Although he was not on the football team and hung out with the nerds and hippies, Greg was elected president of the student council.

In Fall 1973 during his junior year at the University of Texas at Austin, Greg was a foreign exchange student at the Catholic University in Lima, Peru. This was UT’s first foreign exchange program, and it had a philosophy of self-sufficiency. Students were responsible for making their travel arrangements, finding housing, and navigating the bureaucratic maze of a Latin American university. No classes in English, special group activities, or faculty baby sitters, as are characteristic of foreign exchange programs nowadays. There was no internet, international telephone calls were expensive and difficult to arrange, and the mail was slow and unreliable. Fortunately, one could buy Newsweek magazine in Lima, and each week Greg would devour it as the Watergate crisis unfolded. After losing one of his contact lenses, Greg wore a patch over his left eye in order to avoid headaches while studying. He soon had a nickname, El Pirata.

Greg Schmidt

Marcela Hernández, a student at the Catholic, noticed El Pirata in the library. On the last day of the semester, they happened to be sitting at the same table and struck up a conversation, but did not exchange any contact information. After the break for Christmas and New Year’s, both happened to go to campus on the same day to check on grades. They happened to meet again, and the rest is history. Greg had planned to travel to Argentina in January, but he stayed in Lima until March in order to be with Marcela. He returned to Lima in August 1974, when they were married.

Greg and Marcela finished their B.A.s at UT Austin, and the couple moved to Ithaca, New York, where Greg entered the Ph.D. program in Political Science at Cornell University. A daughter, Christie, soon arrived. After Greg completed his Ph.D. in 1984, the family moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where Greg took a job at Northern Illinois University. He rose through the professorial ranks, teaching a broad range of classes in Political Science. Most of his research has focused on Latin America and especially Peru, a country that has never ceased to amaze him. He is the author of Peru, The Politics of Surprise and many other publications on the country. As the recipient of three Fulbright fellowships, he has also taught at several leading Peruvian universities. Meanwhile, after Christie left for college, Marcela completed a M.A. and began teaching Spanish.

In 2008 Greg and Marcela returned to Texas to take jobs at UTEP. They love El Paso, the Bhutanese campus, and especially UTEP students. They also share interests in exercise, classic movies, and travel. Greg’s hobby is playing with the bulls and bears of the stock market. 


Dr. Gregory D. Schmidt
Political Science

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