Empowering Change: Yulissa Chávez's Journey in Public Affairs and Education Reform

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February 13, 2024
Yulissa Chávez, Barbara Jordan National Forum student chair

Yulissa Chávez, an MPAff candidate from Galveston, Texas, brings a deep passion for public service and a commitment to reforming public education to the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. One of three student chairs for this year's Barbara Jordan National Forum, she aspires to tackle challenges in education funding and equity, immigration, and economic development.


Yulissa Chávez, MPAff

Policy interests: Education Funding and Equity, Immigration, Economic Development

“I was drawn to pursuing a degree at the LBJ School because of the varying backgrounds of students, quantitative classes, and intimate size of the program. A Master of Public Affairs at the LBJ School would offer a cohesive understanding of how research in the social and economic field develops policy. Additionally, a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School is crucial to my goal of reforming public education, especially as a Latina woman working in politics. " 

My calling has always been to help people. I wanted to pursue a degree in public policy because I experienced the intersections of cultural capital and the public education system based on factors I could not control. People deserve the opportunity to flourish, despite where they come from. I believe one of these systems can be through reforming public education that enables intellectual mobility, economic development, creativity, and growth mindset." 

Yulissa Chávez, Barbara Jordan National Forum student chair quote: Barbara Jordan's legacy is in civic engagement and courageous conversations that led to actionable items: I hope to inspire others to exemplify that.


Please share your academic and professional journey.  

I completed my undergraduate career at UT Austin, majoring in Government with a certification in teaching. I initially wanted to help reform public education through a more transparent curriculum that challenges students to think critically and embrace creativity. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. I graduated and worked as a World History teacher in Austin Independent School District shortly after, teaching a variety of students from different backgrounds. At this point, I had worked as a published political cartoonist, a researcher, education advocate fellow, deputy registrar organizer, and teacher. 

Please share your background in public service. 

I have been a volunteer deputy registrar for Travis County since 2016, registering over 500 people. During this time, I also worked as a political cartoonist, often using satire and humor to draw attention to national and state news. Additionally, I have been an advocate for public education, participating in numerous coalitions of nonprofit organizations such as Texas Freedom Network, Children’s Defense Fund, Every Texan, and MOVE Texas. In my spare time, I assist high school students in applying for financial aid, understanding their rights, and navigating the college application process. 

 What do you see as the biggest challenges facing US or global policy today?  

There is much apathy in the world. The biggest challenge that I believe the U.S. is facing is that our public education system is not prioritized and lacks resources and quality supplies. I have seen inconsistent, vague policies in public education that discourage intellectual expression and immobilize the social and economic mobility of students.  

What goals do you hope to achieve in your career?  

I hope to be a policy analyst for a nonprofit, think tank, consultation, and/or grassroots organization. My goal is to help create interdisciplinary policies that acknowledge and address the cradle-to-prison pipeline, the funding discrepancies for schools in lower-income districts, the variations in the quality of education, and the achievement gap between students of different backgrounds. Additionally, I aspire to be an organizer to elevate the voices of stakeholders most affected. 

Are there any mentors, role models, or leaders in the public affairs field who inspire you? 

Not conventional, but Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican director in the film industry. His work reflects the experiences of many immigrants and people of mixed family status, like me, in an unconventional way. His work is that of advocates because it elevates the experiences of real people. Another artist that continues to inspire me is Puerto Rican rapper Residente, who speaks on poverty, police violence, corruption and immigration.

The 28th annual Barbara Jordan National Forum will hold student-led events throughout the month of February. The Forum will be highlighted by a keynote address from educator and public servant, Dr. Ruth Simmons on Wednesday, February 21 at 12:15 p.m. in the Bass Lecture Hall of the LBJ School. Additional details and registration are available on the BJNF event page. (Please note that the location has been updated to Bass Lecture Hall within the LBJ School)


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