Fellowship Puts Alumna in Center of Capitol Activity
Spring Public Affairs Grad To Serve As Texas Senate Legislative Assistant
Jan. 21, 2011
The 2011 session of the Texas Legislature is expected to feature rough-and-tumble political battles, but recent UT Dallas graduate Lissette Villarruel is prepared for the front lines.
Villarruel, a McDermott Scholar from the Class of 2006 who earned her bachelor of science degree in public affairs from the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences last spring, was selected for a prestigious Luna Fellowship. The Senate Hispanic Research Council awards the fellowships, which offers recipients assignments in the Texas Senate as full-time legislative assistants.
Villarruel has worked closely with Dr. Gregory Thielemann and other faculty members in the Center for the Study of Texas Politics. She plans to attend law school and wants to pursue a career focusing on public education policy, so she’s excited by the prospect of working with the political leaders who help shape the state’s future.
“I'm thrilled about this opportunity to be involved in the entire legislative process, especially during a session that will have to face such contentious issues as redistricting, immigration and budget shortfalls,” she said. “I’m buckling up for the ride.”
Thielemann praised Villarruel for her intelligence and commitment to public service.
“Lissette is one of my very favorite students in over 20 years of teaching,” Thielemann said. “I love her enthusiasm for making a difference in the world. I am very proud of her and all in the UT Dallas community whose support and collaboration with the Texas Center make opportunities like this possible for our students.”
Villarruel will be assigned to the office of a state senator and will perform a variety of tasks, including preparing research summaries, tracking bills, corresponding with constituents and drafting floor statements, articles or news releases. Fellows will participate in weekly development sessions that allow them to meet with local and state leaders and engage in leadership and policy discussions.
The fellows also create a service project designed to benefit the community and must present individual policy research projects at the end of the session. The program is named after the late Gregory Luna, a longtime Texas senator from Bexar County.
Villarruel previously got an insider’s view of federal politics while serving as an Archer Fellow in Washington, D.C. She was actively involved with a number of student organizations, such as University Democrats and Students for Political Education, Action, and Knowledge, through which she and other members helped register hundreds of people to vote. She also has volunteered as a tutor at several elementary and junior high schools.
To qualify for the highly competitive Luna Fellowship, recipients must demonstrate high academic achievement and show a strong commitment to public service. The committee that selects fellows also looks for exceptional writing and analytical skills, as well as evidence of leadership qualities and the potential for further growth.