Elsa Alvarado: Sciences Po Takes to the Campaign Trail
Elsa Alvarado, currently a Senior Vetting Analyst for the 59th Presidential Inaugural Committee, dreamed of attending Sciences Po, where so many influential French political leaders were educated. She spoke to us about her passion for politics, leadership in the Hispanic community, and dedication to being a global citizen.
Elsa Alvarado, a former Sciences Po exchange student, Schwarzman Scholar, and a member of the 59th Presidential Inaugural Committee, had dreamed of going to Sciences Po since she was in middle school. Knowing that Sciences Po was one of the best schools in Paris to study political science and that so many influential French political leaders attended Sciences Po motivated her to study abroad in France.
Upon arriving at Sciences Po, Alvarado challenged herself by taking all of her classes in French. She especially enjoyed a class about political communication and campaigning with two professors who were campaign managers for local and presidential elections. Outside of the classroom, she loved being part of the international students’ organization, where she says she “felt most comfortable with students from all over the world,” and took a trip to Barcelona with other Sciences Po students from Japan, Poland, and Canada. Alvarado was a Gilman Scholar and received a scholarship from the U.S. State Department. As part of the scholarship, she presented to middle school students in the U.S. about her time at Sciences Po, making “blog posts and videos compiling everything [she] did in Paris.” One of the most rewarding things, she adds, was volunteering for Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign when he was first running, giving her the opportunity to get political experience on the ground.
Alvarado concluded her exchange at Sciences Po and finished her undergraduate degree before applying for the Schwarzman Scholars program, a one-year paid master’s degree in China with students from all over the world. She received her degree in Global Affairs, with a specialty in US-China relations. After graduation, Alvarado joined the Biden Campaign and then the Presidential Inaugural Committee. On the Biden Campaign, Alvarado joined as part of the vetting team.
Our job was to make sure that the campaign did not have any PR scandals, so I was in charge of managing Dr. Biden’s trips and events… any restaurant that she visited had to pass vetting through me, and I had to approve it. Anyone that took a picture with her had to go through me. I had to make sure that the person or the restaurant was in line with our campaign values.
She describes the challenge of working seven days a week at all times of the day, but “the overall mission was so important that no one really complained about the time we put in.” After Biden won the election, Alvarado was asked to join the Presidential Inaugural Committee, where she was promoted to a senior role on the vetting team, handling everything from performers to COVID testing partners, in order to creatively plan a celebration that would still be fun to watch on TV, even without an audience present.
In addition to her work, Alvarado has been involved with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund since she received a scholarship from them in high school. She is now a mentor and an alumni speaker for their conferences, which bring 100 of the brightest students from around the country and trains them to be leaders post college. Alvarado remembers attending while she was a sophomore in college and now going “back as a speaker to talk about [her] experience in politics and [her] master's degree and everything that [she] did in college” as a way to give back. She is also part of their high school outreach, a mission with personal resonance.
I'm a first-generation American. My parents are immigrants from Nicaragua. I didn't have any idea how to apply to anything, and all I did was use Google and kind of figure it out. These programs really make the process easier, so parents can feel more involved in the decision for their kids to go to college.
For Alvarado, being at Sciences Po felt like learning at double the speed every day. Mastering French added to her desire to be a global citizen and being the only American in her classes took her outside of her comfort zone. “I really had to advocate for my own viewpoints, and I really had to come out of my shell in a different language,” she recalls. The small class sizes at Sciences Po allowed her to dialogue with peers with different life experiences, an experience that opened her eyes to “issues that were important to friends and that could be important in the U.S. as well.”
Alvarado advises current Sciences Po students to take advantage of volunteer opportunities on political campaigns because “for students that are interested in politics, that’s really the best thing you can do.” She also recommends taking the time to really get to know professors. While living in Paris, “I think every single experience I had was a learning one; so, whether it was ordering pastries at a bakery, or cooking with my host mom, everything changed my life in terms of the knowledge that I sustained while being there,” she says. “I always brag about how amazing my time abroad was, and a huge part is due to Sciences Po,” she adds. “Being an American and throwing yourself into a new world is so exciting.”