2021-2022 Policy Leaders of Texas Fellows Isabel Agbassi and Braelynn Barborka share their experiences with the program and why eligible students should apply today.
My name is Braelynn Barborka. I am a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, double-majoring in Government and Women’s & Gender Studies. I had the privilege to be a part of the 2021-2022 cohort for the Policy Leaders of Texas Fellowship Program. I am currently a legislative and policy intern for Every Texan. During the summer going into my junior year, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my time. I knew I wanted to be in a program where I would continue to gain and apply knowledge. I came across Every Texan and really loved the message that “social justice requires public policy.” The Policy Leaders of Texas Fellowship program gave me a platform to not only learn but also talk about my experiences within higher education.
I learned about many subjects and tools during my time as a fellow, but one of the most valuable things I learned is that policy work can and must be done in collaboration with those who are currently being affected by the issue. It was great to work on something like higher education as a current student. I was also able to speak with Every Texan staff members from other departments about policy areas beyond higher education. I loved that I was given an opportunity to learn about the state budget, food insecurity, and other issues that heavily affect policy reform and are connected to higher education. I was able to take that knowledge and create ideas that will be used for the structure of future legislation.
The PLT Fellowship program also helped me develop a bird’s-eye view of the higher education system and understand the intricacies of the problems it faces. I was able to hear from other students to get a better understanding of the struggles we all have to endure and how we can come together to fight them. Throughout my time in the program, it truly felt like Every Texan was interested in hearing from current students, and I was given many opportunities to voice my concerns about policy issues and what I wanted to get out of my time as a fellow. If you are someone who is interested in joining a program that gives you not only opportunities to learn about an array of issues, but also spaces to create ideas and to be heard, then the Policy Leaders of Texas Fellowship Program is for you.
I went into this fellowship as a sophomore eager to learn about how to better advocate for other college students, and I left as the student body vice president of my college institution.
I’m Isabel Agbassi, and I’m a junior at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Public Health with a minor in Health Care Reform and Innovation. I was a part of the 2021-2022 cohort of the Policy Leaders of Texas Fellowship and am now a health and food justice intern.
As a pre-health student, the root of my policy interests has been equity in the health care sphere, whether it be about addressing social determinants of health, tackling health disparities, or understanding the ethics of health care policy. But as I navigated my journey to graduation, I noticed universal higher education issues that had the potential to hinder my success and the success of so many others. These issues — which include the lack of diversity and inclusion in STEM and research, food insecurity, the financial barriers to pursuing graduate education, and inadequate mental health care — consistently interfere with academic retention. In the face of such issues, one can either accept them as the norm and try and make due in spite of them or take action to make positive change and empower others to do the same. I chose the latter because I am a firm believer in helping improve your community. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The fellowship introduced me to passionate and inspiring college students who I constantly learned from throughout the year. Together, we grew as advocates under the amazing mentorship of Simona Gabriela Harry, the Policy Leaders of Texas Program coordinator, Skyler Korgel, the higher education policy analyst, and Chandra Villanueva, the economic opportunity team program director. From the beginning, they centered our personal learning styles, optimal working conditions, and aspirations. We always started meetings with mental health check-ins before diving into a wide variety of topics such as the Texas budget and legislative process. We were always in a comfortable environment where questions were welcomed and encouraged. Some of the highlights of my time as a fellow include doing a team exercise where we made our own Texas budget, creating my first theory of change, and hearing from the various experts at Every Texan who joined meetings as guest speakers.
My major takeaways from this fellowship include a more comprehensive view of the current state of higher education and actionable steps to fixing issues, empowerment to advocate for myself and others, and an understanding of how much goes into making positive change come to fruition.
In these formative years in college, it’s important that we students remember the power each and every one of us has to create a better and more equitable environment for everyone. I truly recommend participating in the PLT Fellowship Program to learn and become a better advocate for your community.