When Maria Luisa Parra-Sandoval, a senior in political science, graduates in May, she'll look back on her years at UNLV as some of the most eventful and challenging of her life. The honors student served as a Capitol Hill intern, gained her U.S. citizenship, and launched a service program at UNLV. As she prepares to move on to law school and a career in public policy, Parra-Sandoval reflects on what she has achieved along the way to becoming the first college graduate in her family.
Child immigrant: I crossed the border from Mexico when I was 6. When my parents applied for residency, I learned all about immigration policy. I was the one who compiled all the records. I was the translator for my parents and family. I love public service and being able to help people, and it all started with being able to help my family.
College track: In middle school I was admitted into UNLV's Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach's educational talent search program. They go to low-income schools to find good students who are college material. I always knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn't have the guidance, and they provided that. If your parents haven't gone through the process, it's hard to understand it. I didn't have my residency until I was a sophomore in high school, and that's a deterrent to higher education.
Capitol experience: In the spring of 2006 I was a press office intern for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid in Washington, D.C. I had the opportunity to see how many things function behind the scenes.
Everyday people: I was impressed by the work of these diligent public servants. Our office was very close to the Senate gallery and floor, so I got to see a lot of senators just walking and riding the subways. It was different to see politicians as human beings, not just political icons on TV. These people believe in what they do; that's what hit me.
A dream come true: I was a finalist for a Truman scholarship [it provides $30,000 for graduate studies in public policy]. The last interview was in Colorado on St. Patrick's Day 2006. That same day, I had to be in Vegas to become a U.S. citizen. I had to choose. I decided that I had been waiting so long to be a citizen that I was going to make one of my dreams come true that day.
Ivy League honors: In 2005, I applied for the Public Policy and Leadership Conference at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. In the summer of 2006 I went to Princeton University as a public policy and international affairs fellow with the Woodrow Wilson School of Government
Future plans: I'm in the Mc- Nair Scholars program, which is aimed at helping minority students pursue their doctorates. After graduation in May I'm planning on law school. I want to get my J.D. and master's in public policy in a joint-degree program.
UNLV legacy: I helped charter a community service-based sorority, Kappa Delta Chi, the first Latina sorority in Nevada. Eight of the nine charter members met at the annual Latino Youth Leadership Conference at UNLV when I was in high school. We stayed friends, and we wanted to create a club that
would be long-lasting.
First election as an American: I made sure I was informed before I attended the Nevada caucus. I read a lot of newspaper coverage, and I watch TV - but I don't like to rely on it so much. There are always the websites for candidates, so that you can look at their stands on everything.
My issues: I've read about Iraq, the health-care crisis, the budget deficit, the possibility of recession, gas at $100 a barrel. I'm concerned about the future of Nevada and Yucca Mountain, immigration -- especially immigrants who are already here -- and diplomatic relations with Mexico. Those topics are on my agenda.
Would you run for office?: I always respond that maybe I will -- when I'm older and wiser. My ideal job is to be a Supreme Court justice. Parra-Sandoval was invited to ask a question at the CNN presidential debate held on campus but was surprised and disappointed when her moment on camera was limited to a throwaway question -- to Sen. Hillary Clinton: "Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?" -- rather than the serious one she had prepared on Yucca Mountain.
Priorities: I didn't know CNN had planned to end the debate on that note. This happened on a Thursday, and I had an exam on Monday for an honors literature class on Western civilization. I had all these calls from the media (wanting to turn the moment into a story). I decided I wasn't going to ruin my GPA for that. I turned my phone off, and I got an A.