- Published on Thursday, 21 February 2013 17:40
By Daniel Perez
UTEP News Service
A natural interest in politics and her community were instrumental in helping UTEP junior Elisa Tamayo earn a fall 2012 Archer Fellowship, and a position inside the White House.
The University of Texas at El Paso student worked in the communications office of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She wrote press releases and used social media to promote events such as the creation of the Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado and the 2012 GreenGov symposium in Washington, D.C.
Tamayo applied for the Archer Fellowship because she was interested in learning more about how the U.S. government worked. She juggled the 40-hour-a-week internship with 15 hours of political science classes taught by UT System faculty at The Archer Center in Washington, and social gatherings meant to help the students expand their professional network.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Tamayo, a junior economics and finance major who was born in El Paso and raised in Mexico. “There was a lot of pressure, but it was exciting. I loved every minute of it.”
She said she hopes that more UTEP undergraduates apply for the Archer Fellowship, a prestigious program that allows undergraduates and graduate students in The University of Texas System to serve in a wide spectrum of internships in the nation’s capital.
Michael Topp, Ph.D., associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts (CoLA) and professor of history, has helped UTEP students prepare their Archer applications for the past seven years. He plans to conduct several Archer open houses in the next few weeks and will host an Archer representative on campus March 14.
Topp said the Austin-based program is open to all students, but most applications come from CoLA. The University submits about 12 applications annually to the semester-long program, of which about four are selected. The judges base their decisions on applications, academic achievement and community service.
The undergraduate program was started in 2001 by outgoing U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, a graduate of UT Austin who wanted others to learn about politics, policy and public service by working in the different branches of government, as well as various public and private agencies that deal with government. The initial cohort was UT Austin students, but UTEP became a partner later that year. Today, all nine UT System campuses are involved. The summer Graduate Program in Public Policy started in 2010.
Topp said he anticipates about 30 competitive applications coming from UTEP annually in the coming years as more students become familiar with the Archer program. He said the best advertising has been UTEP’s Archer alumni who return to campus and share their stories.
“Participation in this program changes your world view in a significant way,” he said. “It is an experience that changes your perspective of what’s possible.”
Among UTEP’s Archer alumni are Erin Coulehan and Franciso Rodriguez, who said the program broadened their perspectives and built their confidence to follow their dreams. Both recommended it to current and future Miners regardless of their major because every background can be useful in Washington.
Coulehan, who earned her bachelor’s in English in 2011, was an Archer Fellow in fall 2010 and served as a communications intern with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Today she is a journalism graduate student at Georgetown University, an intern with Slate Media Group and National Geographic Society, editor-at-large with El Paso’s The City Magazine and a contributor to D.C. Music Live.
“I’m in a good position here. I get to do stories that will give me a strong portfolio,” said Coulehan by phone from Washington. She added she hopes to earn a full-time job in Chicago or New York writing for a major music magazine.
Rodriguez was a fall 2009 Archer Fellow in the Office of Central American Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. He graduated from UTEP in 2010 with a bachelor’s in political science and worked in Dallas for the Department of Homeland Security as he completed his master’s in public policy at UT Dallas. He earned his graduate degree in 2012 and recently joined the City of Dallas’ Office of Intergovernmental Services.
“My Archer fellowship was a great experience. It set the groundwork for me to be in public service,” he said during a phone conversation from Dallas. He said the experience taught him about advocacy and how government works. “It gets your hands dirty with public policy and cemented for me the idea that this was the path I wanted to follow.”
While the program fee and associated costs – an estimated $13,000 – could seem cost prohibitive on the surface, Topp stressed that there are scholarships and University programs that can offset some costs.
To date, 30 University undergraduate and graduate students have been Archer Fellows. They have interned at such places as The World Bank, National Public Radio, C-SPAN, and Capitol Hill. Each participant has been outstanding in his or her own way, said Katie Romano, Archer director.
“Fellows chosen from all UT System campuses have demonstrated qualities such as a commitment to public service, leadership in their community and/or campus and passion for politics and/or policy,” Romano stated in an email.