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JBS sending UTPB student for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Washington, D.C.

575afd097e0fe_imageWhen former U.S. Rep. Bill Archer founded the University of Texas’ System’s Archer Center in 2001, he wanted to give young people a chance to develop leadership capabilities, not only for Texas, but the nation and world.

Next fall, University of Texas of the Permian Basin student Erica Esparza will be one of those invited, as part of a group of 88 undergraduates, to Washington, D.C., as part of the program. There, Esparza and fellow Archer Fellows will intern at some of the highest offices in the country, such as the White House, Supreme Court and U.S. Attorney General’s Office, and take classes in things like political process.

“They have the ability to experience learning in the area of the capital city and the shadow of the Supreme Court. In fact, a number of our students have had internships in the Supreme Court and have been very well received. It creates a very different environment to learn and to develop than if you’re studying in a classroom in the state of Texas,” Archer said in a conference call.

Archer Center Director Katie Romano said Esparza will be in Washington from late August through mid-December.

Esparza said she will intern all day and take classes at night. Since she is studying political science at UTPB, she hopes to obtain an internship in the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.

Her ambition is to earn a law degree from UT Austin, become a criminal prosecutor, and one day, the first Latina governor of Texas.

Esparza, who is involved with the Mesa Journal and National Honor Society at UTPB, said she was “over the moon” about her selection. She added that UTPB didn’t have a lot of applicants and it had been a while since UTPB has had a student chosen as an Archer fellow.

“… When I heard about it I really wanted to jump on it. I thought this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s available to the students and it seems almost a steal not to take advantage of it and seize it,” Esparza said.

The 30-year-old Pecos native and her husband, Jacob, live in Midland. Along with attending school, Esparza took a night auditing job at a Midland hotel because her husband was laid off from the oilfield.

The couple has two daughters, 7-year-old Kaiden and 5-year-old Erilynn. Esparza said her husband and parents will care for her daughters and provide support to her while she’s gone.

A Pecos High School graduate, Esparza initially wanted to pursue a career in acting and film. She earned an associate degree from the KD Conservatory College of Film and Dramatic Arts, but said the degree didn’t seem to go with acting.

She moved back to Pecos from Dallas and began working as a correctional officer for the federal prison in Pecos.

“I got a taste of law enforcement and corrections and I really fell in love with the criminal justice system, being involved in it, seeing it firsthand how it runs, how it functions daily. …,” Esparza said.

She got married and moved to Midland, which was when she decided to go back to school. She enrolled in Midland College to become a paralegal, which exposed her to the legal process.

“It fascinated me. It seemed to me that paralegals do a lot of what the lawyers do,” Esparza said.

Taking her education a step further, she transferred to UTPB with an eye toward becoming an attorney.

“I’ve loved my time here. I’ve learned so much. I loved my professors. I loved the administration. I’ve been exposed to a lot of great learning experiences working with the Mesa Journal,” Esparza said. That experience connected her to the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

“That was a huge opportunity for me to really be exposed to political leaders, political commentators that the JBS center put forth for the lecture series. I had the privilege of interviewing them and it was a learning experience because I got to see how they carried themselves, how they talked in interviews. That was something to learn from firsthand,” Esparza said.

Growing up, Esparza said politics was a staple in her household. Her grandparents and father talked about it all the time.

Her grandmother was the first Latina municipal judge in Pecos and her grandfather was one of the first Latino city council members back in the 1960s, she said.

“It was during a time when racism was strong in the country, but mostly in a small town in Texas. They broke down barriers. I’m very proud of that,” Esparza said. Her family owns Alfredo’s Mexican Restaurant in Pecos and Fort Stockton and has been serving the community since the 1970s.

 Her family also has been involved with the local chamber of commerce and other civic organizations.

At first, Esparza said the political talk was boring to her, but as she got older and learned more, she understood more and started getting passionate about it.

When she met some of the Distinguished Lecture speakers Esparza said she was star struck.

“I’m a follower of politics and the government, so I know these individuals through television,” she said. Esparza gathered herself and learned some etiquette and decorum in their presence.

“That helped a lot. That was another learning experience. That’s something I want to take with me on this new journey with the Archer Fellowship in Washington, D.C. There, I will be exposed to political leaders of our country and the world. I will want to know how to act in their presence and not fall over and faint in their presence. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great opportunity and I’m very blessed to be a part of it and to be able to have the privilege to participate,” she said.

JBS Public Leadership Institute Executive Director Bob Brescia said he is proud of Esparza’s selection and hopes he is around to see her become governor of Texas.

“She is just showing so many signs of great leadership, the type of leadership that John Ben Shepperd would certainly be excited about, as well,” Brescia said.

“… We’re the proponent in UTPB for the Archer Center program,” he added. “We have been for a little bit better than two years now. It dovetails right into our mission of teaching leadership, ethics and public service. It’s a match made in heaven. We’ll be supporting Erica during her time in Washington, D.C.”

Brescia added that Esparza will have many opportunities to make contacts that will last a lifetime. “I think she will be well served when she’s there making those contacts and turning in a high level of service. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.

As the proponent the JBS institute will fund Esparza’s Archer experience by realigning a scholarship. “We realigned it to the Archer Center in case there are times when there are candidates who can’t support themselves,” Brescia said.

The institute’s proponent status also allows it to propose Archer Center fellows, although the center selects them.

Article written by Ruth Campbell, Odessa American