Posted on March 13, 2024 by Amanda Cerreto

Daniel Zorrilla

Daniel Zorrilla

If someone approached Daniel Zorrilla in 2011 and told him that he would complete a law degree in Mexico, move to San Antonio to complete a master’s program, and end up in one of the best Ph.D. programs in the nation, he would not have believed it possible.

And yet, that is where the UTSA Master of Public Administration alumnus finds himself now – in a tiny town in Delaware, far from his hometown in Mexico.

“UTSA showed me how much was possible – in my time there, I accomplished and learned so much about the world,” Zorrilla said.

Before coming to UTSA, Zorrilla earned a law degree from Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo in Hidalgo, Mexico. He spent some time as a legal coordinator for electoral activities in Hidalgo and realized that his interests were more suited to work in policy.

daniel-zorilla1.jpegHe thoroughly researched public policy programs in both Mexico and the United States. When he inquired with UTSA’s Master of Public Administration program, he received answers – and assistance – quickly.

“There are a lot of extra requirements when you’re an international student,” Zorrilla said. “Professor Jennifer Alexander really went the extra mile from the start and throughout my time in the program. She served as such a wonderful mentor for me.”

As he progressed through the program, Zorrilla realized that he was missing a key component to scholarship: research. He partnered with associate professor Tansu Demir and discovered that he really enjoyed the process of research.

“The MPA program exposed me to so many new things, starting with research,” he said. “My ethics class with Dr. Alexander exposed me to social justice and civic engagement, and I knew these were all areas I wanted to keep pursuing.”

With Alexander’s guidance, Zorrilla successfully landed an internship with Congressman Joaquin Castro, where he worked on citizens’ cases involving immigration, veteran affairs, work permits and more.

“It was especially fulfilling when I could help people from my own country,” Zorrilla said. “It was a formative experience.”

After graduating with his MPA in 2018, Zorrilla returned to Mexico and spent time working as a legal and public affairs advisor for the city council, as well as for a consulting firm. He also became a professor of public administration and law at his previous university. While he enjoyed the work, he realized that he still had much to learn about research and that he needed more rigorous tools to address complex questions that arose in his role as a professor. It was then that he decided to pursue his doctoral degree, eventually earning a spot at the University of Delaware's Biden School of Public Policy.

“The UTSA professors were a crucial part of my acceptance,” Zorrilla said. “This program is really challenging, combining public administration and public policy. It’s centered on both theory and quantitative methods, and I received really good preparation for it during the MPA program at UTSA.”

The University of Delaware Biden School of Public Policy is ranked 28th in the nation and among the top 11% of all public affairs schools in the US. In addition to his studies, Zorrilla serves as a research assistant, focusing on NGOs, international aid, and social policy.

“It was evident to me that Daniel belonged in a PhD program, so we worked together to determine where he might go to fulfill his career objectives,” Alexander said. “He was accepted by all five programs that he applied to, and University of Delaware was the perfect choice for his interests in international policy and nonprofit organizations.”

While he is succeeding in his program, with current professors referring to him as “a real star,” Zorrilla remains humble and grateful for his time at UTSA.

“The professors at UTSA helped me with everything from scholarships to publication prizes and more,” he said. “I didn’t know I had the skills for any of those opportunities, and they showed me what I was capable of.”  

— Amanda Cerreto