Political Candidates Reflect on UCF Experiences

Anna Eskamani

Three political science alumna — including Florida’s youngest representative — are looking forward to seeing their names on ballots next week.

Anna Eskamani, ’12 ’15 MNM, MPA, is currently senior director for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, and the Democratic candidate for Florida House District 47. Also running is Carol Lawrence, ’71, an attorney in DeBary running as a Democrat for a seat in Florida House District 27, and Amber Mariano, ’17, a Republican running for reelection in District 36.  Although the three candidates don’t always agree on political issues, pursued different careers, and attended UCF at different times, they share a passion for politics and a degree in political science.

When looking back at the choices that led them to running for political office, they all agree UCF played a central role.

“I always want to be humble and kind and never forget where I come from, and UCF is part of that” said Anna Eskamani, an Orlando native running for a seat in Florida House District 47.

Eskamani began harnessing the power of activism at the age of 10 when she presented her principal with a petition to share a lunch period with her friend. Her interest in politics grew from there, but it was really her mother’s death from cancer in 2004 that motivated her to stay in the community and attend UCF.

UCF was already a family tradition. She remembers playing by the Reflecting Pond with her twin sister, Ida, while her father, an Iranian immigrant, studied for a degree in electrical engineering. Eskamani double-majored in political science and women’s studies, and received dual master’s degrees in nonprofit management and public administration.

She said student organizations at UCF helped her become a better leader on campus and in the Orlando community. For instance, Eskamani was the Women’s Caucus Chair and eventually the State Women’s Caucus Chair for the College Democrats at UCF.  She was also a member of the Iranian Student Organization and the Political Science Honor Society.

Eskamani led the Keep PBS in Orlando campaign in 2011 to support educational programing, and planned a rally called Rise Up UCF at a legislation meeting in front of the Alumni Center.

As a UCF alumna, Eskamani said the best advice she has for current students is to find out what drives them, commit to it and follow through.

“If it’s an issue, candidate, nonprofit to volunteer with… figure out your passion,” Eskamani said. “And if there is none, start your own.”

Carol Lawrence

Carol Lawrence, a candidate for a seat in Florida House District 27, also has a long history with UCF. She did clerical work in Duval County before enrolling in classes when UCF was still called Florida Technological University. She graduated cum laude in 1971 with a degree in political science. Lawrence attended law school at Barry University in 1998, and became an attorney at age 60.

“It took me 46 years, but when you set your mind to something and make it your dream you shouldn’t let anyone talk you out of it,” Lawrence said. “And don’t let yourself talk yourself out it, either.”

Lawrence said she had an urge to run for office while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Shortly after she recovered, she told her husband she was tired of yelling at the TV news, so she drafted a plan of who she needed to talk to and things she wanted to help change.

Her advice for current students considering running for office is to try to understand other people’s points of view, and that being respectful will carry them a long way through life.

“Every experience in life is a blessing if you just look for the blessing,” Lawrence said.

Amber Mariano

Another UCF alumna on the upcoming November ballot is already in office, and achieved the title of Florida’s youngest elected state representative.

Amber Mariano said her father’s hard work as a Pasco County Commissioner showed her the side of politics not always highlighted in the media. She was also inspired in 2008 when the late Sen. John McCain chose former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

When Mariano studied political science at UCF she became politically involved on and off campus. She interned for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and participated in UCF’s Legislative Scholars Internship program. After her internship, Mariano joined UCF’s Student Government Association, which she said was her favorite part of her college experience.

“I learned so much and met so many different people. The stakes aren’t as high, but it’s still the same atmosphere,” Mariano said. “It was a good stepping stone to learning how that process would work in the real world.”

Mariano was elected to her seat in District 36 in 2016. She said the opportunities she seized while at UCF helped her follow her dreams and can help current students if they have the passion to find them.

“What’s so cool about UCF is that it’s so big and there are so many opportunities,” Mariano said. “But since it’s so big you have to go after those opportunities yourself. You have to work for them.”

As of Monday, early voting numbers in Orange County have already exceeded 2014 totals; more than 1 million have voted statewide in advance of the Nov. 7 election.

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