Mary Elbanna BA’16, MPP’16 came to The University of Texas at Dallas with plans to become a lawyer after graduation. Now, at the age of 24, Elbanna is the chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, and her plans for law school are on hold indefinitely. That’s OK with her. She’s right where she wants to be.
Though she never planned to work in politics, Elbanna became interested in campaigns when she volunteered for one as a requirement of her Campaigns and Elections class at UT Dallas. To her surprise, she enjoyed the experience.
During Elbanna’s sophomore year, she was selected by Dr. Edward Harpham, professor of political science and dean of the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College, to participate in UT Dallas’ Texas Legislative Internship Program (TLIP) during the 2015 legislative session in Austin.
Through the program, she landed her first internship with Johnson, who represented District 100 in the Texas House of Representatives.
“Mary’s TLIP internship with Rep. Johnson took her outside the classroom, enabling her to acquire valuable practical experience in the world of politics,” Harpham said. “The internship also opened up the possibility of a new career in public service.”
Elbanna advises students to seek opportunities early in their college careers and to take advantage of opportunities that come their way.
“Everybody’s looking for help,” she said. “Make sure people know you are ready and available to help them.”
At UT Dallas, Elbanna was a member of the Collegium V Honors Program and the John Marshall Pre-Law Society, as well as an Archer Fellow and Peer Advisor. She also completed the EPPS Fast Track program and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public policy in the same year.
After her time in Austin, Elbanna remained on Johnson’s staff, working as an intern in his Dallas district office. She was promoted to chief of staff in 2016, soon after graduating from UT Dallas, and then left the role to become his mayoral campaign manager this past February.
The team ran a different kind of campaign, one without the TV ads and billboards of previous Dallas mayoral campaigns, which are traditionally handled by consulting firms. It was a gutsy move, but Elbanna credits her experience running Johnson’s 2018 Texas House re-election campaign as a trial run that gave her the skills and insights needed to successfully guide Johnson’s mayoral campaign to victory.
In her new role as Johnson’s chief of staff, Elbanna says she wants to help the mayor accomplish his goals, which include education and workforce development and reforming the city of Dallas’ Code of Ethics. She stressed the need to be hands-on at the city government level.
“Nothing happens unless someone is moving it,” Elbanna said. She also highlighted the importance of stepping back from day-to-day operations periodically in order to see the bigger picture. “You have to make sure you’re actually doing the things you want to ultimately do for the people of Dallas.”
When asked about her proudest accomplishments, Elbanna said she is very proud of her UT Dallas degrees, as well as winning the campaign.
“It’s still surreal,” she said, explaining that the reality of her career has not yet sunk in.