The old saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Ashly Estevez-Perez CCAS '21 is the living example of what a difference resilience makes. The fact that she was recently appointed by President Biden to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is all the proof you need. Estevez-Perez is a writer/editor and her work at DHS allows her to see all the components that make up the agency’s efforts to guard America’s security and safety.
“Growing up in Camden, you learn a lot about grit and resilience. You learn the stories of entrepreneurs, first-generation immigrants, students, parents and how they got to be where they are today. It helped me see how Camden breeds some of the most resilient, courageous, and hardworking people.”
But Estevez-Perez’s story goes back even further. Her family immigrated from the Dominican Republic when she was young. As her parents struggled to achieve the American Dream, they encouraged her in school and instilled a servant leadership mentality. She learned the value in helping others and imagining the impossible while still trusting she could achieve those dreams, despite the daily challenges she faced.
“I remember in middle school being surrounded by news constantly naming Camden as one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state and one of the most dangerous cities in the country,” Estevez-Perez said. “As my family and I were undergoing the process to obtain American citizenship, this prompted me to question the world around me as I yearned to understand the systems and policies that create such circumstances.”
Her experiences at Rutgers–Camden brought a new dimension of understanding to how she could participate in the process of fulfilling that vision. “Prior to my time at Rutgers–Camden, no one really told me I can work in government and impact others this way. During my freshman year, I went to Professor [Kelly] Dittmar’s office hours to pick her brain about her different career paths in government. She spoke to me about her time working in Congress, and this opened my mind to the possibility of shifting my career towards this path. I also took her Women and Politics class which opened my eyes to women of color’s “intersectionality” in the world of politics and how important it is for us to be in these spaces.”
In her work at DHS, Estevez-Perez calls on her experiences regularly. “All of my previous roles in internships and workplaces have helped prepare me for my current role,” she said. In particular, “My role with congressman Congressman Donald Norcross’ district office as a district representative helped prepare me. Handling constituent casework and assisting with community outreach especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, you learn to pivot in fast-paced situations and respond both quickly and effectively to the needs of the public. Also, working on legislative projects for the congressman strengthened my critical thinking, writing and overall governmental knowledge.”
With all of these high-profile experiences, if you asked Estevez-Perez to name the single-most important factor in her success, you might be surprised with her response: working in fast food.
“During my first two years of undergraduate school, I was a manager at Chick-fil-A®. During my time there, I learned some of the most critical skills you will need in any workplace: how to work as a team, to treat people with the utmost respect, and lead by example.”
Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah
Photos Courtesy: Ashly Estevez-Perez