Advocating for border communities
Growing up five miles from the Rio Grande in Texas, Estrada witnessed firsthand the impacts poverty and systemic underdevelopment had on his border community.
“If the looming border fence and inland checkpoints did not serve as a constant reminder of my community’s constricted condition, then the shuttered storefronts and abandoned lots on Main Street prompted me to question how border militarization policies curb regional development,” said Estrada, who is pursuing a joint BA/MA in economics and international relations.
Now, with an eye toward graduate school, the Odyssey Scholar aspires to be an advocate for underserved communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a joint JD/PhD in international development, and he hopes to study the causes and consequences of cross-border development and regional integration.
“At a time when border communities like mine are increasingly misunderstood and demonized, I seek to redefine the public’s perception of the border by elevating the region’s uniquely binational, bicultural and bilingual assets,” Estrada said. “The border needs an advocate now more than ever and is increasingly witness to the issues that are coming to define the 21st century.”
Estrada’s passion for service and humanitarian work began in high school when he became a volunteer with the American Red Cross. In Chicago, he has continued his commitment and deep involvement with the organization.
“Coming to UChicago, I did not want my college experience to be limited to the classroom, lab or library but to extend into the greater community through meaningful service opportunities,” he said.
As a lead volunteer for the American Red Cross in Chicago, Estrada and his team have helped over 1,000 asylum seekers, rendering direct aid in the form of food, clothes and medicine, and creating safe passage. Last year Estrada was named to the National Youth Council for the American Red Cross, and he also serves as regional coordinator for the American Red Cross Youth Action Campaign.
On campus, Estrada is a board member and mentor of the Institute of Politics Leaders of Color program. A saxophonist, Estrada channels his passion for music into service as community outreach director and a tutor for the South Side Free Music Program, an initiative aimed at connecting aspiring young musicians from diverse backgrounds with free music lessons.
As a research assistant, Estrada investigates the economics of opioids, studying the impacts of cross-border trade of illicit substances. His intergovernmental experiences include interning for the White House Domestic Policy Council, Office of the Texas Governor, and most recently, in the El Paso County Judge’s Office, where he pushed for innovative changes focused on cooperative economic development. This summer, he will serve as an economic development intern at the Borderplex Alliance in El Paso through the Jeff Metcalf Fellowship Grant for Odyssey Scholars.
The College Center for Research and Fellowships (CCRF) worked with Busch and Estrada for more than six months on their campus application and nomination processes and prepared them for their national interviews. The CCRF provides comprehensive guidance, application support and mentorship to students who pursue prestigious national fellowships like the Truman Scholarship.