Political Science student negotiating politics in the heart of D.C.


Former Democratic candidate for Texas governor Wendy Davis poses with UTPB Mesa Journal political writer Erica Esparza in 2015. Esparza is an intern on an Archer Center scholarship in Washington D.C.

Kelsie Clifton , Features Writer and Columinst

EDITOR’S  NOTE:  UTPB student Erica Esparza was present on the U.S. House floor June 14. After a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando shooting massacre, Democrats in the U.S. House erupted in chants of “Where’s the bill?” referring to gun control legislation.

Erica Esparza, a student and political writer/columnist for The Mesa Journal, will be representing the University of Texas of the Permian Basin as an Archer Fellowship Program intern in Washington, D.C., in Fall 2016. Eighty-eight elite undergraduate Archer Fellows (from across the nation) will participate in the Fall 2016 – Spring 2017 semesters. To date, there have been nine (UTPB) students that have participated and Esparza is the tenth student to participate in this prestigious program.

Growing up Esparza was not interested in chiming in or hearing the constant political talk that was going on, but as she matured she developed a deeper understanding, passion and was impacted by her family who was politically involved in her town.

“Political talk was always in our household. The funny thing is that I actually cringed at the discussion of politics at a young age because that was the only topic of discussion at the dinner table and it was always a civil conversation—usually between my paternal grandparents and my father about local, state, and federal affairs,” Esparza noted.  “It was just too mundane for my taste at a young age. But as I got older and began to understand the topic of conversation and incorporate my own understanding of how the system worked, it seemed to grow on me with maturity, and it became second nature. My grandmother was the first Latina municipal judge in the small town of Pecos, Texas, in the 1960’s and my grandfather (to my understanding), was one of the first Latinos in Pecos, Texas, to run and win a seat as city councilman. My father ran for county judge twice, so I was heavily involved with his campaigning back in high school, which really exposed me to the election process. He also stayed involved with his local community serving in the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Lions’ Club, as well as serving as on the board of directors for various local businesses,” Esparza said.

The UTPB student believes that her family’s ability and passion to serve their communities was her inspiration for community service and politics as a civic engagement and a personal responsibility that she bestowed upon herself to learn and institute a statecraft.

My family served as political influences with simple table conversations about current affairs; it influenced me to stay involved and aware of my surroundings because every aspect of our lives is political whether we like or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, and I do not want a puppet master pulling strings without my knowledge or involvement as a citizen; as I am sure most Americans would agree.”

— Erica Esparza

I hope, to one day, reach political heights in their honor to serve a higher purpose for my country and to serve as a voice for those voices unheard. Choosing a political science degree to me would be the first step in acquiring knowledge about government and politics that would build a fundamental necessity for future endeavors,” Esparza asserted.

This will be her first time traveling to Washington D.C. and she anticipates what is ahead. “I am so excited that I will have the opportunity to see history with my own eyes. I can’t imagine the personal experience of Washington D.C. having the same effect on me as seeing it on brochures or television; it will be so surreal. It’s a dream that I did not see coming so soon. I had hoped to one day serve in D.C. later in life—but never under these great circumstances provided by the Archer program. The ability to live and learn in D.C.—how great is that?” Esparza asked.

The UT Permian Basin student said that serving on campus as a political writer for The Mesa Journal has been a great learning experience that she will never forget.

“I have a huge soft spot for The Mesa Journal because this was more to me than just a job, I took so much pride and gratification in my assignments and it allowed me to acquire a voice through my political opinion pieces that could be sometimes controversial due to the issues being such hot topics within our society. The opportunity served as a preparation of how to deal with adversarial responses from the opposition, which definitely comes with the political territory. The Mesa Journal definitely helped prepare me for this experience because it created a wonderful opportunity to be involved with the Distinguished Lecture Series conducted by the UTPB’s John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute that exposed me to political leaders and commentators which I had the privilege to converse with and interview political experts including Wendy Davis, Geraldo Rivera, Allen West, and Juan Williams just to name a few.”

Esparza is looking forward to a hands-on learning experience of how the United States’ government works and functions on a daily basis in our nation’s capital. What she would like to see the most is The Supreme Court, a glimpse of the Supreme Justices, President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, and she would be delighted to meet the Obamas, Elizabeth Warren, and the Castro brothers.

“This opportunity is once in a lifetime, and I intend on soaking up every minute of it and observing and indulging in every bit of our country’s history. I look forward to making lifetime connections with my fellow Archers, learning about them, experiencing this special event alongside students that are like minded and share similar interests, so that we may feed off of each other and learn from each other to make us better future leaders. I hope that networking through Washington D.C. to become better familiarized with the inner workings of the government by positive associations and connections may lead to another door of opportunity in our futures. There is something exciting and hopeful about the unknown, not knowing what to expect is the most daunting and the anticipation rises with every passing day, that in itself is an experience worth learning about life in general, and the Archer fellowship magnifies that moment,” Esparza said.

UTPB Archer fellow alumni Gaven Norris, who is now a well-known lawyer and owns his own practice, attributes much of his success as a lawyer to his internship he received in Washington D.C. through the Archer Fellowship program.

“The Archer Program was life-changing for me! During my semester as an Archer Fellow, I was surrounded by 31 of the brightest and best, cream-of-the-crop students that the U.T. system had to offer. Most professionals in D.C. seemed to have some form of an advanced or professional degree. It appeared to me that the key to professional success was to obtain an advanced degree. My love and passion is politics, so, naturally, a law degree just seemed natural. Among other things, professionalism, timeliness, critical thinking, and critical analysis were just some of the things that I learned while being and Archer Fellow, that helped me become a lawyer,” said Norris.

Norris vividly remembers his experience and the doors that were opened for him through the Archer fellowship program.

“I was the first Archer Fellow to intern with the N.A.A.C.P (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and I would not change that experience for anything. I interned in the Legislative Branch of the NAACP where I sat at the negotiation table where the 1965 Civil Rights Act was drafted by civil rights leaders. I also worked as an advance man for the previous past president of the NAACP, Ben Jealous. While traveling with Jealous, I met several civil rights leaders like John Lewis. I was also able to sit in the briefing room with Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Mark Muriel, Valerie Jarret from the White House, National News Anchors Roland Martin and Suzanne Malveaux, Nancy Pelosi, Congressman, John Conyers, and many others. I also met influential CEO’s (Chief Executive Officers) like the CEO of McDonald’s. Most importantly, I met the late Dr. Dorothy Heights, one of the Big 6 of the civil rights March on Washington, and one of the mothers of woman’s rights in America,” Norris said.

Katie Romano, who is the director of the Archer Center, believes that the Archer fellowship program is a good opportunity for students who are hoping to one day have a career in politics. “Students have the unique opportunity to intern full-time in an organization that directly aligns with their academic, research or professional goals while taking in-residence courses that connect their experiences.  Students learn about the role of our government in their daily lives and how the government will impact their future careers in fields ranging from medicine to education. The Archer Center’s mission is to educate the next generation of leaders for local, state, federal and international service.  Not only do students live and intern full-time in our nation’s capital for a semester, but they also have exposure to policymakers and leaders from across the country through the Archer Fellowship Program.  This firsthand experience and the leadership training provided by The Archer Center are two critical components of shaping thoughtful and effective leaders for our world,” Romano stated.

Dr. Robert Brescia, Executive Director of UT Permian Basin’s John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, would encourage Esparza as she begins this new season in Washington D.C.  to keep her eyes and ears open, show up, work hard, volunteer for things, and in her spare time to try to see as much of Washington D.C. as she possibly can. He believes that this is a great opportunity and beneficial to any student who gets the chance to intern.

“It’s essential. If I were a political science student, I would jump at the chance to be in the center of government and the heart of our nation. The heartbeat of politics is right there in Washington D.C. What better opportunity can you have to experience a heavily supported internship that will place you in that heartbeat in the nation?” Brescia asked.

Norris welcomes Esparza as she joins the Archer family and would like to offer her some advice to make her experience even more impacting. “First, I want to congratulate Erica and welcome her to the ‘members only’ Archer family. I would like to encourage Erica to enjoy every moment of each day of her fellowship; meet as many people as possible–network, network, network; go to as many receptions as possible, there is always free food; and take each weekend to do something different and something new, inside or outside of D.C.—including trips to New York or Philadelphia, PA. Last, I want to advise Erica to have fun and share her story—especially share the story of her experience at D.C. with her family, friends, supporters, and professors. Send them a diary type email message of her experiences every other week. Readers  will appreciate it, and it will allow her to keep a diary of her experience. We are all Archer family, and Ms. Esparza can reach out to me or any other Archer, at any time and we’d love to help her.”