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When Rocque Perez graduates this spring with a B.A. in political science (with an emphasis in American politics) and a minor in public relations, he hopes to get a job that is intersectional in higher education, government relations, and marketing.
His prospects will certainly be aided by the fact that his education, work history, and extracurricular activities have given him valuable experience in all three arenas. He is currently a media specialist with the Office of Research, Innovation, and Impact. He’s also worked at the Office of Multicultural Advancement and at the Office of Government and Community Relations.
Perez also served two terms as a Student Body Senator with ASUA, helping to advance equity in education and establish the institution’s designation as a Purple Heart University in support of veterans. He’s served on the City of Tucson Commission of Public Service & Compensation and the Board of Directors for Tucson Pride. This spring, he had the opportunity to be a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran.
Perez’s accomplishments are all the more impressive given his personal story.
In addition to the hostilities he’s faced as a member of the Latinx and LGBTQ communities, Perez is also a first-generation student who’s dealt with many challenges growing up, including an abusive household. Being a self-supporting student, he’s at times had to work full time in addition to carrying a full course load.
Perez’s own experiences being resilient fed his desire to serve others and address inequalities in higher education. He recently launched the nonprofit Changemaker Foundation, which aims to aid, empower, and advance young leaders with means to create change and advocate for the welfare of their communities. He also runs a small business called Wonder Media, which sells apparel promoting multiculturalism and identity pride, with a portion of each sale benefiting his nonprofit’s scholarship funds.
As he prepares to graduate this spring, Perez reflects on why he chose his majors, why he felt inspired to create a nonprofit on top of his many other responsibilities, and what advice he has for future Wildcats on making the university experience their own.
Q. Why did you choose to major in political science and minor in public relations?
In my senior year in high school, we were in the middle of the 2016 election, and as polarizing as that was, I think that was where my initial interest in politics began. I chose political science because I'm very interested in history, how our democracy works, and how I can better serve it. I also grew up very curious, and so the word ‘why’ comes up a lot. Why do things work the way they do?
I chose the public relation minor because that is where my skills and interests lie. My experience is very intersectional in politics and marketing/communications.
Q. What has your experience as an SBS student been like? Any favorite classes or professors?
Being a part of the People College has been very expansive, because it’s not “here’s what we can teach you.” It’s “here is this information, here’s how it applies to the real world, and how you fit into it.” I love my college.
The college very much does offer this real-world perspective, and I've had amazing professors. One of my favorite teachers was Elizabeth Palmer, a lecturer [in the School of Government and Public Policy], who taught a class on the American Presidency. Another favorite class was the “Struggle for the American Presidency” taught by Communication Professor Kate Kenski in the midst of the 2020 election – it was an amazing learning experience.
Q. You are clearly busy with school, work, and extracurricular activities. What inspired you to start the Changemaker Foundation?
In June, I was unemployed, and I started thinking about how I’m going to leave my mark on the university as I exit my senior year. It started out with the idea of “hey, I'm going to create a scholarship,” but that didn't seem like enough. And as ideas usually do with me, it kind of grew. One scholarship turned into 10 resiliency funds, each involving an advocate, and so it continued to grow with the help of community leaders, politicians, and fellow students. The money that is collected from the donations and merchandise sales is divided between the different Resiliency Funds, which help underserved students.
In terms of advancing young professionals, right now we're in the talking stage, but I'm very hopeful about doing a southern Arizona “25 under 25” to recognize younger folks changing what it means to be a young person wanting to better their community.
Q. What has it been like to attend college during a pandemic?
There’s some pros and cons to the pandemic happening while in college. I always had the mindset that I needed to abide by a four-year experience. And I think, personally, as a first-gen student, the four-year experience can really put a damper on a person's sense of self-worth. Because you are rushed and might not always perform the best in your classes because you're trying to meet that timeframe.
And so I think realistically, while a pandemic sucks because I haven't seen a lot of friends in person or participated in senior-year homecoming or football games – all the things that really make the University of Arizona experience – it’s allowed me to be more self-paced and have more free time to reflect on what I want to do.
Q. Do you have any advice for students starting at the University of Arizona?
When I was coming into my freshman year, I was completely blinded to what the classes were going to be like. For me, the thing that alleviated that overwhelming feeling was having the support of a community that I was able to build around myself.
What I would tell absolutely anybody that comes into their freshman year is get involved, get active. That’s the awesome thing about college – you get to explore what you like or don’t like in terms of academics, people, and the world.
And the Student Engagement and Career Development Office is honestly a really great resource. It helps you build your resume and find internships that will give you the experience to decide whether you like something or not.
I think the really awesome thing is that the UA is really what you make of it. The UA is really diverse in the people that are here but also in the opportunities that we have. And so I can only hope that any Wildcats that come our way have the confidence to ask for help and get involved.