Three Vaqueros in D.C. as Archer Graduate Fellows

BY Gail Fagan

Three UTRGV students are gaining invaluable knowledge and experience this summer, living and working in Washington, D.C., as participants in the prestigious Archer Center’s Graduate Program in Public Policy.

Established by The University of Texas System in 2010, the highly competitive public policy fellowship program brings graduate students from all disciplines to the nation’s capital to learn about public service and the federal government.

Thirty students from UT System academic and health institutions – three from UTRGV – were selected as this summer’s Graduate Fellows.

Fellows from UTRGV are:

· Gustavo Alonso Garza III, 23, from Hidalgo, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs and working in the office of U.S. Congressman Filemón Vela.

· Bernadette Sarah Perez, 27, from Pharr, who is seeking a master’s in public affairs and working at the U.S. Council of Competitiveness.

· Pedro Antonio Rangel, 23, from San Benito, who is enrolled in the social work master’s degree program and works in the office of U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey.

From June 1 to Aug. 10, the students are interning full-time with the organization of their choosing based on their own professional and academic goals and interests. They also are taking classes focused on the policy-making process from UT System faculty members, as well as exploring key monuments and museums. The fellows will earn nine hours of in-residence credit for their experience.

Garza seeks community impact as public servant

Garza, who has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and health from UT Austin, was an eighth-grade math teacher at Pharr’s Valley View Early College Campus, where he gained an interest in providing more opportunities for immigrants to succeed.

As an intern, Garza writes letters, does research for bills, attends hearings and briefs and attends meetings with local entrepreneurs, elected officials and constituents.

“I am learning how government works and how it has changed over time, and having the opportunity to learn from and network with people at the federal, state and local levels,” said Garza, who works on the Edinburg Campus as a graduate assistant in UTRGV’s Department of Public Affairs.

In his first trip to Washington, D.C., Garza said he has been inspired by visits to sites like the White House and Lincoln Memorial. The fellowship experience is also fueling his goal of becoming a city manager and, one day, possibly a Congressman himself.

“I want to have the opportunity to impact a community, where decisions will hopefully benefit everyone in the area,” he said. “Safety, clean environment, health, education and growth in business would be the areas I would primarily focus on.”

Perez setting sights on public health, education

The Archer Fellowship fulfills a long-time dream of Perez’s to work and live in Washington, D.C.

“I wanted to be in the city where policy is created and implemented,” said Perez, who holds a B.A. degree in communication from Texas A&M University in College Station and is the assistant executive director for the Hidalgo County Bar Association and the Hidalgo County Bar Foundation.

Her work at the U.S. Council of Competitiveness – a non-partisan leadership organization committed to advancing U.S. competitiveness in the global economy – includes researching different policies, such as taxation and education, and their impact on Americans for inclusion in the council’s annual report.

Perez, who hopes to one day work on policy initiatives as a school district director of advancement or in a public health agency, said she has developed many competencies living in a place that “is full of knowledge” and “stimulates your mind.”

“Adapting to the big city life and working with people from widespread cultures benefits my future in working for the public sector,” she said.

Rangel’s focus: Social injustices in healthcare, immigration

Rangel, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UTRGV, said being selected for the Archer Fellowship program has allowed him to be a role model to his younger siblings and others.

“I see this program as an opportunity to challenge myself and prove to others, especially the Latino population in the Valley, that you can accomplish great things as long as you have perseverance, passion and determination to be successful in life,” he said.

In his D.C. job, Rangel is helping conduct legislative research in the areas of immigration and public health and learning how public policy can be implemented to better advocate for social change and to diminish social injustices regarding those issues.

In the Valley, Rangel has had an extensive record of community service and, as part of his social work internship, interned at the Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance Family Medicine Center in partnership with the UTRGV School of Medicine, where he worked with the professional staff to assist patients in need of social services and provide clinical assessments and intakes.

“My goal is to seek a position in the healthcare administration sector and improve and implement social services to individuals, families and communities in need,” Rangel said.

A first-time visitor to the nation’s capital, Rangel said witnessing moments of history, like recent Supreme Court rulings and the passing of bills and legislation, have become some of the most notable experiences of his life.

“I have enjoyed every corner of the city and I have also learned that this city marches to the beat of a fast-forward drum. This city means business,” he said.

About the Archer Center

The Archer Center in Washington, D.C., was initiated by former U.S. Congressman from Texas Bill Archer, a UT Austin alumnus, with the goal of providing experiential learning opportunities to help educate the next generation of leaders for local, state, federal and international public service.

Fellowship opportunities are also available to undergraduate students, not only in the White House and Congress, but in a large number of federal agencies, nonprofit and international organizations and in governmental arms of private sector entities.