Promoting Social Justice Through the Autry Fellowship: An Interview with Elsa Mota

Jan 06, 2017
Autry Fellow Elsa Mota
Autry Fellow Elsa Mota

The Autry Fellowship is an opportunity for recent college graduates committed to equity and social change to work for one year as a full-time, paid staff member at MDC in Durham, NC. Fellows will learn MDC’s strategies for promoting economic and social justice, and will have the opportunity to work on a collection of projects determined by the fellow and MDC staff. Fellows receive a stipend of $30,000 and medical benefits.

Elsa Mota, a current Autry Fellow, shares with us the highlights of her experience and tips for aspiring applicants.

1. What inspired you to apply for the Autry Fellowship?

After serving as a Teach For America Corps Member in Denver, Colorado, I applied to many post-grad opportunities, but MDC truly stood out. I love MDC’s mission and the way they work to ensure that their vision becomes reality for Southerners. As an organization, we look at root causes, like racial inequity, education, and socioeconomic inequities, and work with communities to address how these root causes can be changed at a systemic level. My personal life mission is to equip people with the tools they need to succeed and rise to their maximum potential, no matter where they may have begun in life. My work at MDC helps me get closer to this life-long mission.

I hoped to learn more about state and federal policies that help and hinder certain social, political, ethnic, and community groups in the United States, and what nonprofits can do in those arenas to increase equity. I also enjoy participating in research, grant writing, and presentations.

2. What is a typical week like for an Autry Fellow?

My weekly activities and responsibilities vary based on what projects I am working on. On a typical day I will start in the morning by monitoring our social media accounts and posting updates. I am currently working on a total of six projects. My primary focus at the moment is Great Expectations and Transferring Success. Both of these projects have to do with education, which is of great interest to me.

The goal of Great Expectations is that all young children, birth to age six, living in Forsyth County, N.C.—particularly those who are living in financially-disadvantaged families—will meet age-appropriate developmental milestones in their first five years, enter kindergarten ready for the grand adventure of schooling, and leave kindergarten fully ready for learning and life success. In working toward this goal, I have done a literature review and a training webinar to lay the foundation for a parent leadership team in Forsyth County.

On the Transferring Success project, I have been part of a team that is conducting focus groups in various community colleges across the country (Florida, North Carolina, and Texas). We are interested in seeing what state-wide, institutional and student factors lead to successful transfer from community college to a four-year institution.

A personal project I have undertaken as part of MDC’s upcoming 50th anniversary is a feature on all past 16 fellows and how their work today contributes to our vision of equity and opportunity in the South. I will also continue my research on the growing Hispanic population in North Carolina to blog about in the coming weeks. All of these activities lead toward goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year: to develop my research and writing skills, represent the importance of the Hispanic population in the South, and have a fun and authentic Autry experience.

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Autry Fellowship?

First and foremost, read our website and learn about the projects we work on and our mission. I would advise you do some serious self-reflection on what you are passionate about prior to answering the questions and make sure that passion is reflected in your responses and your resume. I think what made my application stand out was my honesty and openness. I shared a piece of my personal story in my responses and linked them to the greater issues faced in the South. Once I was selected as a finalist, I decided to just be myself during interviews (seriously… I mentioned Netflix binging) and it worked in my favor!

Interested in this fellowship? Bookmark the Autry Fellowship to your ProFellow account for updates.

Elsa Mota was born and raised in Miami, Florida and is of Dominican descent. She attended the University of Florida as a Florida Opportunity Scholar, where she mentored other first-generation, low-income identifying students and obtained a full tuition scholarship. Elsa graduated Summa Cum Laude with B.A in Criminology & Law and a B.S. in Psychology in 2014. Elsa then joined Teach for America in Denver, Colorado where she taught a bilingual class of fourth graders. During her Autry year, Elsa hopes to learn about and develop relationships with the communities she will be working with as she conducts policy research.

© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved.