February 2, 2022 – Growing up in a small East Texas Town, James Rivera ’18 had never even heard of the University of Texas at San Antonio until he happened to catch a football game on television.
Rivera is the youngest child in his family, raised by a single mother, and when he approached her about wanting to visit UTSA she was a bit uneasy. “UTSA was about a five-hour drive from my hometown,” Rivera said. “But she supported me. We attended a football game and took a tour, and I fell in love with the campus. And honestly, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Originally a Criminology and Criminal Justice major, Rivera’s course of action changed when he began taking classes to find a minor.
“I took Intro to Public Administration and loved it so much,” he said. “I switched my major right after that.”
Apart from the course material that drew him in, Rivera instantly connected with his professors. “They’re experts in their field,” he said. “They’re very engaging with the students.”
“While at UTSA, James demonstrated a tremendous commitment to mentoring and encouraging others,” said Gina Amatangelo, assistant professor of practice. “He encouraged students to pursue their highest aspirations.”
Rivera fully immersed himself into every opportunity available, and as a result had a very full UTSA career. He served as the Chair of the Alumni Leadership Network for Communities in Schools National Office and has delivered compelling speeches at Communities in Schools conferences on the role their organization played in shaping his educational trajectory. He contributed his perspective on overcoming the challenges of being first-year student at a large university to the Student Voices blog for the Texas College Access Network. He was elected as a senator for Student Government and was able to advocate for the Downtown Campus. UTSA Public Administration faculty regularly relied on Rivera to meet younger students who were visiting UTSA to learn about the college experience.
As an undergraduate, Rivera worked for Congressman Castro through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Internship program. Now, Rivera is working as a press secretary for Congressman Gonzalez in Washington, D.C.
Rivera’s day-to-day work consists of reviewing press material from the district, keeping up with state and national news and discussing communication strategies with the chief of staff. Rivera writes press releases and drafts talking points, connecting with other offices, both in the House and the Senate.
“There’s two sides to the job,” Rivera said. “I have to be proactive and also reactive – I have to keep up with what’s going on in the district and in Texas as well as nationally, and try to figure out where things go to gain traction. But then, something happens out of the blue that we have to be quick on our feet to think about. Do we issue a statement on this? Is it in our lane?”
Rivera credits his undergraduate education with giving him the knowledge to stay on top of such a fast-paced job. “You have to come in knowing the legislative process, the basics of how a bill becomes a law,” he said. “You also have to be able to discern between a federal, state, and local government issue.”
Rivera encourages all public administration undergrads to branch out of their comfort zones. As a boy growing up in a small town in East Texas, he never imagined he’d be living in Washington, D.C. The series of events – choosing to come to UTSA, choosing to apply to internships, and taking the risk to apply to jobs – paid off for him.