Santis studied literature as an undergraduate student. After
graduating in 2012, he next jumped at the chance to study Latin
American and Caribbean studies for a year at the University of
When he came back to Orlando, he took advantage of the
opportunity to work with AmeriCorps, which lead him to his next
decision and the next direction for his life.
"I always knew that I wanted to get a Ph.D.," Santis said. "So,
I decided that a Ph.D. program in public affairs would really get
me to a place where my work can be part of the community."
Santis returned to UCF for his graduate studies, thanks to
funding from the McKnight and McNair
Santis desires to become a professor and is currently an adjunct
professor with the School of Public Administration at UCF.
"If you want to make change in the community, being a teacher is
a big part of that," he said.
Having compassionate professors invested in his own development
during his time at UCF have been a major part of Santis'
"At this level, there is this expectation from professors to
reach out, to engage in discussion, to ask questions, and I've
taken advantage of that," he said.
Zavattaro, an associate professor for public administration,
worked closely with Santis this past year and saw first-hand his
unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
"He came to class prepared. He knew the material inside out and
would be able to ask questions that I had not thought about," she
said. "Esteban has these big ideas and as his professor and mentor,
I think I can give him the tools to turn those ideas into research
"I knew Esteban had not only the intellectual skills to do this,
but also the organizational skills," Zavattaro said. "I know he's
going to bring passion and enthusiasm. Having known him for the
past year made me not hesitant to ask him to join my team."
It will be an opportunity for Santis to grow and develop
professionally, Zavattaro added.
Santis jumped at the opportunity placed before him; one of many
opportunities that have grown and developed him personally and
professionally over the years.
Beyond his studies and work at UCF, Santis has traveled and
presented his work at the International Public Administration
Theory Network conference in June, and will present at the
Southeastern Conference of Public Administration conference in
Santis offers two pieces of advice to those afraid to take
advantage of the opportunities offered to them: Do not be afraid to
make mistakes and do not be afraid to fail.
"A lot of individuals who are from groups that are
underrepresented, I think there is a hurdle you have to get over --
this idea that the whole journey wasn't made for you," he said.
"But the idea is you won't know until you try. Give yourself the
opportunity to fail."
Photo and story by Drexler B. James '13
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The hallmark of our work is our strong community engagement.
— Mary Ann Feldheim,
Ph.D., Associate Professor
"The University of Central Florida was a valuable preparation for both graduate school and for the world of work within the field of public affairs."
— Ben Hagen,
B.S. in public administration, '10; Research and Communications Associate, New Economy Project