While some UTRGV students spent the summer traveling to new destinations via airplane or road trip, studio art major Karely Gallegos made her way to Washington, D.C., via illustration and a pressed penny.

Gallegos, 20, illustrated a children’s book written by Dr. Sergio Garcia, an information systems lecturer at UTRGV, titled “The Penny Press Series: Washington, D.C.”

The choice to pursue a career in art was easy for Gallegos, so being able to illustrate a book so early in her career was a dream come true.

“As a kid, I was always drawing and I knew that’s what I loved to do,” she said. “But when I first started college, I decided to do biology because I didn’t really think I could do anything with art.

“Then I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it, so I might as well take a chance,’” she said. “Looking back on it, I’m glad I made that decision.”

The person responsible for connecting the author and illustrator was Corinne Whittemore, a lecturer in the UTRGV School of Art, who knew Garcia needed an illustrator and saw Gallegos’s potential in one of her classes.

“I felt Karely would be a perfect fit and am extremely happy with the results of this beginning partnership,” Whittemore said.

The story follows two boys from McAllen, Texas, who are gifted a pressed penny by their father, as a souvenir from Washington, D.C. The pressed penny gives them the ability to travel to Washington, where they embark on an adventure that explores the nation’s capital as they find their way back home.

Gallegos said she enjoyed the task of illustrating characters from the Rio Grande Valley, and even got to include a special personal touch.

“I’ve always wanted to portray people from here – the Valley – where we’re pretty underrepresented and, too often, in a negative light,” she said. “There’s actually a scene where they’re in the classroom, learning about D.C., and I got to sneak in my mom there. She plays the teacher, and she’s a teacher in real life. I thought that would be a great way to thank her and my dad for being such a great source of support.”

The book, which is the first of an upcoming five-part series, was inspired by Garcia’s travels as a business consultant, and the pressed pennies he would bring his sons – the inspiration for the two main characters in the book.

“I hate to buy trinkets and tourist stuff, so it was nice to bring back the kids these pressed coins from wherever I was traveling,” Garcia said. “One day, while I was flying back home, I thought of writing a book for my sons as a low-budget Christmas present, and it came out better than I expected.

“As much as they liked the story,” he admitted, “they really enjoyed Karely’s illustrations.”

The series will explore different American cities where Garcia has either lived or worked. The second book currently is in the works, and the rest of the series is expected to be completed in the next couple of years.

As for the boys who inspired the story, they currently are enjoying the luxuries of elementary school fame.

“One of them took a stack of books to class and passed them out to all his friends, so he’s a popular little kid at school right now,” Garcia said.