When the student criminal-justice association was looking for a way to get involved in the community, Political Science major Skylar Garza ’19 leaped into action. He connected with the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center in Austin and discovered that the simplest thing could make a difference: hanging out with the kids at the center.
The students from St. Edward’s could teach the kids to play guitar, write poetry together or just have a conversation. Garza helped put many of the pieces in place for the partnership, which will officially launch this fall.
“I didn’t know what steps to take for civil and political activism prior to St. Ed’s,” Garza says. “But after taking classes and being involved, it showed me how to help the people around me.”
His interest in activism inspired him to intern at the capitol with State Representative Oscar Longoria. Garza shadowed the legislator and met with lobbyists from the healthcare industry. He watched Longoria work with politicians on both sides of the aisle to pass grants that allocated millions of dollars for parks near Garza’s hometown of Harlingen. “The park grants showed he was well liked by both sides, and it was legislation that made a change in people’s everyday lives,” Garza says.
During the internship, Garza was taking a Legislative Process and Lobbying class taught by Assistant Professor of Political Science David Thomason, which meant spending even more time walking the halls at the capitol building. Thomason’s students lobbied for a civics education bill, which would provide a curriculum for Texas students to learn how to advocate in their communities. The students from St. Edward’s were tasked with passing out information and making pitches to legislators and their staff about the merits of the bill.
“The way I teach that class gives students practical, hands-on experience,” Thomason says. “We need real-world problem solving, and in the case of this class, they’re doing it. And they can have actual experience on their resume.”
Students in Thomason’s class worked tirelessly to promote the bill; Garza even made an appearance on the local NBC affiliate, KXAN. The bill passed in the House, but they ran out of time to get it passed in the Senate.
The idea of bringing civics education to Texas students has been an ongoing priority for Garza. During his time at St. Edward’s, Garza also worked as a democracy coach for the organization Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that teaches civic participation and engagement by students. Through Generation Citizen, Garza worked with the Austin Independent School District to come up with a plan for a student-led advisory council that would give high schoolers a voice in the district and effect change, like getting more books, in their own schools. “Not only did I get to work at the capitol, but I also got to work with students directly while trying to help them figure out their own path through the political world,” Garza says.