Everything changed for Paulina Sosa, a philosophy and psychology double major, when she journeyed to a landfill community in Mexico on a church mission trip. At age 13, she was overwhelmed by a young boy’s desperation for basic needs when she presented him with a couple of trinkets.
“I remember thinking that a piece of candy and a toy car wouldn’t mean that much to him,” Sosa says. “He has nothing, so why would this make much of a difference? But to my surprise, he was completely ecstatic and incredibly grateful for this small gift.”
That experience kickstarted her life’s mission: Fight and end extreme poverty around the world. She began by joining the ONE Campaign, an international antipoverty advocacy group, and encouraged elected officials in her hometown of Brownsville to help make a difference at home and across the border.
While here in college, she found the key to finding sustainable solutions for poverty is through public policy. Her interest in politics intensified as she interned for several political leaders, including Deputy Ciarán Lynch in the Irish House of Parliament in Dublin, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and State Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville).
Sosa also served as a student representative for the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative University, an annual meeting that brings together students, celebrities, youth organizations and world leaders to take action on global challenges (watch a video she created about her experience at CGI). She then created the ONE-UT Austin student chapter and ONE Austin city chapter, organized a coalition of partnerships with other like-minded Austin groups and gathered the support of elected and community leaders.
Her next move is to pursue a master’s degree in public health/global health policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Her goal is to become a policy analyst with a government agency that focuses on eradicating extreme poverty.
We caught up with Sosa to learn more about her undergraduate experience in the College of Liberal Arts, the lessons she learned in several high-profile internships, and what lies in store for the future.
How has your liberal arts experience shaped your success?
My major in philosophy and psychology have both trained me to become a better leader in the community and university by helping me embrace individual differences. Philosophy taught me the art of conversation and deliberation, the beauty behind different beliefs, lifestyles and perspectives. Psychology taught me how to utilize those philosophical skills, by analyzing situations, people and circumstances with a more open mind to both biological and sociological factors. Through my different leadership roles in the community and university, I have mediated, moderated and synergized different individuals, groups and communities, and I attribute that success to the knowledge I attained through my education. I must also add that as a Gates Millennium Scholar, Rapoport Scholar, and Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program intern I was given the tools to better embrace everything I learned throughout my college years. Overall, my experience in the College of Liberal Arts has equipped me with the skills and knowledge I need to confidently pursue my goals anywhere I may go.
How did your study abroad experience in Dublin help you discover your interest in politics, particularly anti-poverty advocacy?
I had the honor of interning with Deputy Ciarán Lynch in the Irish House of Parliament in Dublin. This opportunity gave me the chance to further understand international policy and politics– one of the most interesting legislative experiences I have undertaken yet. Deputy Ciarán had me work with him on legislation regarding the implementation of various economic, housing and homelessness policies. The mere fact that I was in a new country deepened my understanding of policy of the European Union. I also gained a more globalized perception of policy, politics and economics. The reality is that we live in a very globalized society, and we cannot forget this vital truth. My work in Ireland particularly deepened my passion to work with international policy and led me to the realization that global health was my heart’s passion and priority. I realized how important of a role policy plays in leveraging any poverty-fighting work in developing communities. This internship helped me view the world in a different light, and encouraged me to research how I could impact global health policy, which is why I am now pursuing a master’s in public health.
During your time at The University of Texas at Austin, you’ve taken on an impressive number of internships and leadership roles. Could you highlight a particular accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
I am extremely proud to have worked with U.S. Senator John Cornyn. This internship provided me a very unique perspective on national policy, legislation and politics. Throughout my college years, I worked with city and state entities, State Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) and the City of Austin Community Engagement office, but working with a national elected official brought the need for a whole different set of skills and understandings. So I am happy to say that because I pursued this unique legislative opportunity, I gained a more well-rounded perspective on national policy and further understood the different kinds of pressures and expectations of the office. It was quite an exciting time for me.
Could you tell us about your involvement with the ONE Campaign?
I have been involved with The ONE Campaign for about six years. I started as an online member in high school, the founder of ONE Brownsville in my college freshman year, and the Austin Congressional District Leader my sophomore year. In Brownsville, I had one main goal: to fight the city’s apathy toward global poverty by empowering them to use their voice and create change. So I mobilized Brownsville leaders to join me in proclaiming Brownsville a ONE City, a city standing in unity with the global fight to end extreme poverty.
Soon after, I became Austin’s Congressional District Leader, and after attending the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Conference, decided to synergize and collaborate with other groups fighting for the same cause. I have since created the ONE- UT Austin student chapter and ONE Austin city chapter, organized a coalition of partnerships with other like-minded Austin groups, and gathered the support of elected and community leaders. I am happy to say that we have raised awareness on the fight to end extreme poverty across Austin through different events like our collaborative event, Saving the World 101, and ONE Austin’s newest initiative, the Global Art Show.
In the end, I am grateful to be a part of this movement to educate and empower people to voice their support for the fight to end extreme poverty. I have seen that together as ONE we all do make a difference, as we are the change. We are the future and will make poverty history.
What do you plan on studying in graduate school?
I will pursue my Masters of Public Health–Global Health Policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I am excited, grateful and humbled by this amazing opportunity to attend one of the country’s best public health programs. As an MPH candidate, I aspire to gain the skills, training and knowledge needed to achieve my goal of becoming a policy analyst in a poverty-fighting governmental agency, like USAID, the World Bank, or The State Department. I am thrilled to continue conducting research on public health solutions for impoverished communities. And, most importantly, I am determined to attain more international experience in developing communities, particularly in Latin America. This will give me a deeper perspective and sense of awareness on these communities’ needs, which will allow me to better serve them as a policy analyst, or possibly even a Foreign Service officer.
Do you plan to run for office in the future? If so, what do you hope to accomplish?
I have been involved in the political world since I was 15 and absolutely love it. I had the opportunity to work with elected leaders that truly made a difference, like State Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville), State Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville), and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Through my work with these admirable elected leaders, I have seen how much good an elected official can do for their community. If I do run for office, I hope to accomplish what these noteworthy leaders have and more. It is easy to walk into the political world with an overly idealistic mindset, but rest assured, I am completely aware of the pressure, difficulty and effort it takes to accomplish what is best for the community you represent. The goal is to create effective, collaborative and progressive policies that will benefit and progress the community. True leaders know how to lead, follow and collaborate. Politics is not about what you can do alone, but about what you can do collectively. I aim and aspire to demonstrate such leadership.