Student Thrives by Seizing Opportunities, Taking Chances

 In Alumni, Public Administration, Public Affairs

Esteban Santis does not take the opportunities before him for granted. He is not afraid of taking chances and walking down the road less traveled, either.

Santis – the first student to enter the Master of Public Administration + public affairs Ph.D. dual-degree program at UCF – has taken advantage of every opportunity open to him since he first came to UCF in 2008.

Santis studied literature as an undergraduate student. After graduating in 2012, he next jumped at the chance to study Latin American and Caribbean studies for a year at the University of Chicago.

When he came back to Orlando, he took advantage of the opportunity to work with AmeriCorps, which lead him to his next decision and the next direction for his life.

“I always knew that I wanted to get a Ph.D.,” Santis said. “So, I decided that a Ph.D. program in public affairs would really get me to a place where my work can be part of the community.”

Santis returned to UCF for his graduate studies, thanks to funding from the McKnight and McNair Doctoral Fellowships.

Santis desires to become a professor and is currently an adjunct professor with the School of Public Administration at UCF.

“If you want to make change in the community, being a teacher is a big part of that,” he said.

Having compassionate professors invested in his own development during his time at UCF have been a major part of Santis’ success.

“At this level, there is this expectation from professors to reach out, to engage in discussion, to ask questions, and I’ve taken advantage of that,” he said.

Staci Zavattaro, an associate professor for public administration, worked closely with Santis this past year and saw first-hand his unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

“He came to class prepared. He knew the material inside out and would be able to ask questions that I had not thought about,” she said. “Esteban has these big ideas and as his professor and mentor, I think I can give him the tools to turn those ideas into research and projects.”

Recently, Zavattaro became the new editor-in-chief of Administrative Theory & Praxis and chose Santis to serve as an editorial assistant.

“I knew Esteban had not only the intellectual skills to do this, but also the organizational skills,” Zavattaro said. “I know he’s going to bring passion and enthusiasm. Having known him for the past year made me not hesitant to ask him to join my team.”

It will be an opportunity for Santis to grow and develop professionally, Zavattaro added.

Santis jumped at the opportunity placed before him; one of many opportunities that have grown and developed him personally and professionally over the years.

Beyond his studies and work at UCF, Santis has traveled and presented his work at the International Public Administration Theory Network conference in June, and will present at the Southeastern Conference of Public Administration conference in October.

Santis offers two pieces of advice to those afraid to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them: Do not be afraid to make mistakes and do not be afraid to fail.

“A lot of individuals who are from groups that are underrepresented, I think there is a hurdle you have to get over – this idea that the whole journey wasn’t made for you,” he said. “But the idea is you won’t know until you try. Give yourself the opportunity to fail.”

Written by Drexler B. James ’13

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