Karina Judith Ortega, a Presidential Jaguar Scholar in her second year at UNT Dallas, recently returned from what she has described as a transformative trip to Boston, where she attended the Newman Civic Fellowship Conference. Ortega is the University’s first Newman Civic Fellow, an honor from Campus Compact that recognizes and supports community-committed students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions to challenges facing their municipalities.

“Being around so many like-minded people is absolutely inspiring and motivational,” Ortega said. “This conference was a reminder to continue the positive dialogue about the problems that we hold close to our hearts. So many students across the country talked about their projects within their communities. These students encouraged me to not be afraid of speaking truth to power and to be the difference that I want to see in my community.”

Ortega also wrote a bill and debated its merits against a student from Mercer University. A featured speaker who particularly resonated with Ortega, who aspires to go to law school, was Adam Foss, an Assistant District Attorney in the Juvenile Division of Suffolk County in Massachusetts who has become one of Boston’s leading voices for compassion in criminal justice.

“He inspired me to stop doubting my capability of becoming a lawyer and to not be afraid of setting big goals,” she said.   

Ortega was one of 256 students from universities nationwide who attended the conference. At UNT Dallas she is studying human services management and leadership, and as a Presidential Jaguar Scholar she has obtained one of the highest awards a first-year student can reach. This year she also started Finding Right & Natural Destinations (FRANDS), a student organization working to bring a mobile vet clinic to campus to offer low-cost vaccines and spay-neutering for animals in South Dallas.

The Newman Civic Fellowship is presented by Campus Compact, a Boston-based non-profit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education. The Fellowship is named in honor of Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman. It is a one-year experience emphasizing personal, professional, and civic growth.

Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides a variety of learning and networking opportunities, including the national conference that Ortega attended in Boston in partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The fellowship also provides fellows with access to exclusive scholarships and post-graduate opportunities.

While in Boston, Ortega also had the opportunity to visit the JFK Library, walk part of the Freedom Trail, visit Paul Revere’s grave, attend the TED talks and she sat in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s chair in the Massachusetts’ Senate Chamber. Ortega also stayed in the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States, the Omni Parker House, which opened in 1855.

She is also an active volunteer with Dallas Pets Alive, a local non-profit providing animals with a home and medical care. Ortega has worked with city officials to develop plans for an ordinance that requires residents to spay/neuter their pets to prevent more animals from living on the streets.

The UNT Dallas Experiential Learning Office, directed by Project Coordinator Sarah Davenport, worked to establish this opportunity for UNT Dallas, and coordinated the nomination and selection process with Campus Compact. Ortega was nominated by UNTD President Bob Mong, who cited her involvement particularly with FRANDS and other pet-related initiatives.

“Before the conference, I knew I was capable of making a difference,” Ortega said. “I knew that I had resources and certain abilities that make my answers to problems stand out. Now I know that my impact doesn't have to end with me. It can correlate to those other 256 students that also attended and came from different places and backgrounds.”

Campus Compact puts special emphasis on partnerships, such as the initiatives Ortega has developed with FRANDS, to support student success and civic learning.

“This experience was definitely a game-changer, and I am honored to have represented UNT Dallas as the first Newman Civic Fellow,” she said.

UNT Dallas offers additional opportunities for students to apply for the national Newman Civic Fellowship. For more information about the fellowship benefits, eligibility, and application please visit HERE.

Applications are due Wednesday, Dec. 19 by 11:59 p.m.  

More information on Campus Compact is available HERE

Judith's summary of her trip is available HERE