By Ian Edwards
Daniela Estrada, a third-year political science student at UC Irvine, was one of 54 students nationwide last month to receive the Truman Scholar award, a prestigious national scholarship for leadership in government or a public service sector.
The Truman Scholarship, a memorial to President Harry Truman, is a collegiate scholarship offered to college juniors. Since its creation in 1975, the scholarship has supported almost 3,000 scholars. This year, 54 students from 47 colleges and universities have received this award, including Estrada.
Estrada was awarded for her passion for providing legal representation to indigent or poor communities and her defense of a policy proposal which she herself designed.
“I always have this connection to the poor, because I grew up poor,” said Estrada. “That’s where my passion stems from.”
Estrada has been able to pursue her passion for public service through her work at the Orange County District Attorney’s office, her involvements in ASUCI and her development of a legal clinic at UC Irvine.
“I have received so much throughout my life from public service, so I feel like I want to be to do that for other people,” said Estrada.
Estrada has also been conducting research on the Los Angeles Police Department’s policies, such as those regarding training and recruitment, as well as complainant filing and internal discipline systems.
As part of her undergraduate research, Estrada, inspired by the discourse of the Black Lives Matter movement relating to police brutality, examined whether the 1992 Rodney King riots created any tangible change, and whether current protests can produce long-term change in police operations.
She found that, despite certain changes, adjudication procedures, or measures that act to punish law enforcement when they use excessive force, complaints of discipline have not really changed statistically before 1991 and now.
In addition, Estrada does community outreach in conjunction with the UC Irvine Law School’s Saturday Academy of Law, a program takes students from Santa Ana schools and exposes them to the legal field.
Estrada sees this as a valuable experience for these younger students, many who are from poorer Hispanic communities.
Outside of UC Irvine, her internship at the Orange County District Attorney’s office helped her realize her future ambition to defend those who she believes are not receiving adequate representation in the current system, rather than becoming a prosecutor.
Estrada, a Huntington Beach native, transferred to UCI from San Francisco State University, where she had to work long hours in order to pay rent. As a first generation college student, Estrada did not initially have the tools to navigate through higher education on her own. However, campus organizations and mentors have given her guidance.
Associate Professor of Political Science Mark Petracca was one of Estrada’s mentors, who recommended that Estrada apply for the scholarship and guided her through her study of the LAPD.
Currently, Estrada is working with ASUCI to try to create a legal clinic where students can obtain legal services and advice. She hopes to have the clinic in operation by next year.
According to Estrada, that applying to to the Truman Scholarship was one of the most difficult processes she has ever gone through, yet it helped her recognize her passions.
“It definitely tests your mental strength…but it was really exciting and I learned a lot about myself … it helps you find out what you are truly passionate about because you have to write about it.”
The Truman Scholar application process requires the applicant to present a policy proposal. Estrada proposed a federal mandate to cap the number of cases that a public defender can take in order to reduce caseloads and improve public legal defense.
Estrada encourages students to take advantage of the resources and support offered at UCI by its students and faculty.
“If higher education is foreign to you, you need mentors,” she said. “So don’t be scared to reach out and see what others are doing.”