Taking Risks Translates Into Rewarding Career For PoliSci Graduate



Fausto Cardenas, ’18, said it was the risks they took as a UCF student that taught them the road to change is built on taking chances.

Born in Ecuador, Cardenas moved to the U.S. with their mother at age 4. Cardenas said their mother always had at least two jobs to support them during their transition to obtain permanent residency, and her perseverance inspired them at a young age to work hard.

“My mom has always been someone to push me to excellence, whether that’s moving to a different country for education or professional development,” Cardenas said. “She supports my dream 100 percent and wants the best for me.”

Cardenas said they struggled with their identity throughout middle school and early high school. During their sophomore year, Cardenas volunteered at their first pride parade and became involved with the Human Rights Campaign in Broward County. It was the first time Cardenas said they began openly involving themselves in the LGBTQ community.

In 2012, Cardenas started petitioning for a gay-straight alliance club at their high school in West Palm Beach, the same time former President Obama began his re-election campaign. Cardenas said they saw parallels between Obama’s political views and their own activism, which began their interest in LGBTQ advocacy.

“I knew I wanted to major in political science and sociology with an end goal to join an LGBTQ advocacy group because policy and politics affect all LGBTQ people,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas pursued that dream at UCF, where they founded the Pride Student Association, an LGBTQ student organization, and assisted in opening Pride Commons on campus for an area specifically offering LGBTQ programming. They also served as the Pride director at UCF.

“Advocacy is primarily one of the biggest reasons I wanted to found the association,” Cardenas said. “I feel like we needed to have a way to engage queer voices. I think many queer people have thoughts and feelings about the current political climate and every campus deserves a place to have that LGBTQ voice.”

Cardenas said they wanted more experience working with LGBTQ advocacy groups, and began to consider internships outside of the Orlando community. After much deliberation, Cardenas left behind their home at UCF and took a semester off to intern with the Trevor Project in Washington D.C., a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth. Cardenas next served as a congressional intern with U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s (D-Winter Park) district office.

Cardenas graduated UCF in spring 2018 with a double-major in political science and sociology. Through their experience in student roles at UCF and internships, Cardenas found a position at Equality Florida, an advocacy group for Florida’s LGBTQ community. As a field organizer for Orlando area, Gainesville and Jacksonville, they train activists and build partnerships to pass pro-LGBTQ policy.

Looking back, Cardenas suggests students interested in activism to take chances that further their professional development. Cardenas said leaving UCF behind to move to Washington D.C. was one of the biggest risks they ever took, but it immensely propelled them forward in their activism.

“Now I can educate the community about elections and make sure people are getting out to vote,” Cardenas said. “I want to make sure voices are heard, and LGBTQ is a big voting voice. If they stay home, our voices aren’t heard.”


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