Student and Alumni Leaders in the Spotlight
03/26/2024, 09:00:02 AM

The reputation of the Hobby School of Public Affairs as a dynamic hub for public affairs education, innovative research and civic engagement is evident in the Hobby School students and alumni who are active in their communities and workplaces. We turn the spotlight on a few of the emerging leaders and professionals making a difference in government, nonprofit and corporate arenas.

Public policy undergraduate accepts prestigious international fellowship

offers her a transformative opportunity to learn from renowned faculty and like-minded peers, participate in research activities and grow her national network. Hamdieh is one of 149 PPIA Fellows selected from an applicant pool of over 1,300 students from dozens of universities in states across the country and the world.


Hamdieh believes the quantitative and analytical thinking she developed through Hobby School classes has prepared her for the intensive requirements of the summer program.


"I'm most looking forward to being able to study with an extremely motivated and aspirational cohort and work with the research hubs available at the university," Gabriela Hamdieh said. She added, "There are so many tools for studying behavioral decision-making and urban development that I'm excited to dig my hands into."


The senior has extensive ties to the Hobby School. She is a Next Generation Leadership Academy member, serves on the school's student advisory committee, has interned at the local level through the Civic Houston Internship Program and is living and working in the nation's capital this semester as a congressional intern through the Leland Fellows program.

Thriving in D.C.

This month, the Hobby School team visited the 2024 Leland Fellows in Washington, D.C., to meet with the office staff and see the interns in their element. Hobby School internship program director Jessica Ruland O’Connor and communications manager Celeste Zamora saw the dozen UH Coogs hard at work, immersing themselves in federal policymaking.


Typically, they start the day with a quick walk or Metro ride from NoMa, north of Massachusetts Avenue, to offices in the Longworth, Cannon, Rayburn and Russell Buildings. Rohit Shajan commutes to the heart of D.C. in the historic Penn Quarter for his assignment at Husch Blackwell Strategies, a public affairs consulting firm.


Leland Fellows are tasked with congressional committee business, policy research and constituent relations. They may grab a quick lunch in the building cafeteria, often the hub for office, lobbyist and constituent meetings. Lunch and committee meetings often call for them to navigate the labyrinth of tunnels, parts of the 19 underground passages on Capitol Hill, often glimpsing Washington luminaries. After-hours are reserved for networking, working out and advanced reading for the day ahead. On weekends, you might find them volunteering at a local food pantry as part of their Leland Fellows commitment, practicing self-care, visiting historic landmarks, entertaining Houston visitors or taking advantage of the proximity of nearby East Coast cities.


During the visit, they took time to meet with Hobby School Advisory Board Member Powell Hutton, who shared his international and military experiences in public service and fielded the fellows’ inciteful questions.


The hardworking Coogs are halfway through their D.C. adventure, but the time has raced by. Initial butterflies have given way to meaningful work and eyes open for future opportunities as they learn more about policymaking and public service opportunities that spark their interests. They will work through the end of April and then return to Texas to prepare for graduation, career moves or the fall semester. We were excited to see them thriving and look forward to sharing more about their experiences in the months ahead.

The Hobby School experience: Finding a place

Gomez is active in the UH Association of Latinx/Hispanic Advocates and Allies. As a former member of the university’s marching band, the Spirit of Houston, Gomez’s Coog spirit has grown since transitioning to the Hobby School. She says she is learning the world of policy and believes she has found her niche: “I stepped into the culture, and the whole world opened up.”


Which course or professor have you learned the most from?

"All of them, but in Sara Sand's public policy lab, we used what we learned in the classroom and applied it to a voter registration volunteer opportunity. It did not feel like classwork. And, when I had questions about Dean Granato's political economy and ethics of market processes class, he was available to answer them."


What are your academic and career goals?

"I am looking at all the internship opportunities the Hobby School offers undergraduates. I am also interested in learning about the graduate programs after my bachelor's in public policy is completed. It was the program that caught my eye when I was researching the school.”


What is your favorite thing about the University of Houston?

"I love all the different people with diverse backgrounds and experiences I've met at the university and attending the Hobby School extracurricular opportunities like meeting the U.S. Census Bureau director and Anita Hill. I was wowed by her."

Graduate program boosts career, spurs insight

of the correctional system and the justice system. He sees his current role as guiding positive outcomes through rehabilitation and reintegration. Fadairo has his sights on further education and being able to apply his knowledge to his career and a future caring for his family.


“The last course I took, Innovation in the Public Sector, was defining for me. It helped shape my passion to specialize in process improvement and impeccable service delivery.”

On the Move

National leadership academy

A first-generation college graduate, Rodriguez served as a 2022 Leland Fellow in the congressional office of Rep. Sylvia Garcia. As the current press secretary for Rep. Garica, Rodriguez is hosting Leland Fellow Gabriel Hamdieh this spring. Rodriguez majored in political science and history. In 2023, she was honored with the Hobby Leadership Award.

New City Council District I Chief

Before joining the District I team, Santamaria worked in the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, where she oversaw federal grant programs in a five-state region, including Texas. The skilled public policy professional has also served as a district director for a Texas House member, worked in the office of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and managed successful political campaigns.

Stay connected with the Hobby School and keep others in the loop about how Hobby School students, interns and alumni are making a difference. Tell us about your Hobby School experience.

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