Interview with a Miner: Crystal Saavedra BBA '14, MBA '21, Associate Director of Advance for Vice President Kamala Harris

February 2024 

By Anna Carrillo '19 and '21

Video Transcript

Anna Carrillo: Helloooo Crystal! How are you?


Crystal Saavedra: I am so great.

Anna Carrillo: So happy to finally get to talk to you.


Crystal Saavedra: I'm excited to be here on Zoom but I'm super excited to talk to you as well.

Anna Carrillo: Yes. And I I know you've been so busy, so I appreciate you, you know, making some time for us and our Miner Nation family. So I'm going to ask you a few questions and I know you UTEP is so special to you, so let's get started. But let me go ahead and, well, let me just do a quick introduction.
Crystal and I, we go way back, back to when I was working at UTEP athletics, we were both interns. And I think we were just talking about it, but it we've probably 8 years ago now that we were together at UTEP. But now you are on a whole different level and you're out of El Paso, so I'll let you speak a little bit about what you're doing right now.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, so currently I'm living in Washington, DC. I've been here for about a year and a few months, so going on about a year and a half. I grew up, born and raised in El Paso, TX. I went to school there. I did my undergraduate in 2014 there at UTEP and I got my bachelor's in marketing and management and took a little break, did some jobs.
I worked back at UTEP because I love UTEP and I, you know, worked in alumni relations. I got to experience all of what the chapters and networks and all the alumni throughout the entire country and what that looks like, and got to network with all those amazing individuals. Then I went back and I got my MBA, and I also got it at UTEP and I graduated in 2021. So I'm a double alumni there at UTEP.

Anna Carrillo: Yeah. Wow. Wow, Wow. And so even working at alumni [relations], you went back just like, you know, me too. I was like, I left but let me come working back again. So we can't get away from UTEP! We love it!

Crystal Saavedra: We do, we do…everything that UTEP represents. Everything that, you know—I knew it since I was in high school—I knew about UTEP. I did many things, so I'm sure we'll get into that, but you know I did many organizations. I was super involved and UTEP just gave me a start to opening up my eyes to what my passion is, to what I want, you know, my journey to be, my career and life goals.
And so, yeah, when I graduated, I still wanted to work there. And maybe one day I'll go back and work there again because I do believe in everything that UTEP is doing for the El Paso community, but also for just the students that come through there every single year.

Anna Carrillo: I know, yeah. And we definitely appreciate you here at UTEP representing us out in DC So tell me a little bit about what you're currently doing right now and out in DC.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, so currently, I am the Associate Director of Advance for the Office of the Vice President, Kamala Harris.
I've joined the administration about a year and a half ago. And so I started off as just a volunteer. I was starting to do the Advanced Associate program Advance. For those who don't know, Advance Associates are individuals who are kind of based all over the country. So I was still based in El Paso at the time. I got the opportunity from another individual who I had interned with 10 years ago, who actually who opened the door for me, and gave me that chance… because to enter the space of the Advance world, it's only done by recommendation of others. There isn't of a job posting. Like I said, it's completely volunteer based. So I just worked my little tail off and proved myself for about 8 months, and then I was given the opportunity to then join the team back in in 2022, so last year. And I first came on as the Advanced Coordinator and then currently just got promoted to Associate Director. And so I'm just out here supporting…


Anna Carrillo: Whooo!


Crystal Saavedra: Yes, supporting the, the Vice President's Office and every engagement that she does, whether it's in town in DC, domestically, which is within any of the 50 states, or internationally. We've been everywhere from Japan to Germany to South Korea and most recently to Dubai. So logistically, supporting all of those events with all of our Advance Associates.

Anna Carrillo: Wow. I mean, I would say that's like an amazing opportunity, but it came with a lot of, a lot of hard work. So you were working, you were volunteering there for eight months.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah

Anna Carrillo: That’s a lot. Not a lot of people are willing to do that. You know, really show them that, you know, I'm, I'm really, I'm here, 'cause I'm, I'm, I'm passionate about this work and I want to learn as much as I can and help as much, help out as much as I can.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, 100%. I think that's super important. You know, I was just, I was so passionate about it. I knew that this is where I wanted to end up. I knew that I wanted to do more for my community, for everything that I…all of my background…I just, I wanted to continue to strive for more. So, I knew getting my foot in the door in that capacity was the way that I was going to hopefully do it,  and it worked out!
So, you know, all that hard work chasing that dream. For me it was this. But, you know, for someone else it could, it can be whatever that dream is. Sometimes you got to sacrifice a little. Sometimes we got to volunteer. Sometimes we just have to, you know, find those avenues. And for me, I found that avenue. I found that route and was so fortunate to be given the opportunity to come out here.

Anna Carrillo: How do you think UTEP was, you know, a part of that?

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, so UTEP was actually a pretty big part of it, tracking back to about 10 years. So like I said, I graduated in 2014, but even before that, a year before that in 2013, I took a leap to apply for a fellowship. And so…well I’ll backtrack a little more. I actually joined a business fraternity.

Anna Carrillo: We'll track back. Let's tell everyone about how right now, just a week ago about, you were actually the distinguished alumni guest speaker for that fellows program, right?


Crystal Saavedra: Yes.

Anna Carrillo: So that's a big shout out. Congratulations.

Crystal Saavedra: Thank you.

Anna Carrillo: But yes, let's tell them about your fellowship program.

Crystal Saavedra: So UTEP played such a big role, I mean, even since I was a freshman. So right out the gate of super eager as a freshman…back then when I started in 2009, we were required to take this class where it was just kind of introducing us to how to write to your resume and how to apply for internships and all that sort. And right out the gate I did, and applied for the Disney College program.
So it was to do an internship at Disney World in Florida. So I got that within the first semester of being at UTEP through the help of my professor at the time and other alumni of the program they were assisting. Then I got to do that. Then I came back and I was like, I want to do more. So then I joined Delta Sigma Pi, which is a business fraternity. I was like, what else do I want to do? So I joined Delta Sigma Pi. It's just, it's an international business fraternity that's out of the College of Business. Well, formerly known, right, as the College of Business. I think it has a new name now.

Anna Carrillo: Yeah.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, The Woody Hunt…yeah, I got to brush up on it. But you know, formerly College of Business Administration, they, they have a bunch of organizations. I went to an org fair, which is still pretty big there at UTEP. I joined that, that business fraternity. I met some amazing individuals and one of them was a brother who had just done a fellowship in DC. I've seen all of her posts and I was super excited.
She came back, she was telling me all about the policy making process and the difference that you can make in DC, and how you can go intern. And through that she connected me with a professor through the College of Liberal Arts, which I think is such an interesting intersection… I was a business major. I was at the College of Business, but then connected with professors at College of Liberal Arts, who are willing to help students to get into this fellowship program, the Archery Fellowship Program. It’s a program, it's a fellowship that selects between like 40 to 50 students throughout the entire state of Texas. It's through the UT System. So you apply, you have to do a policy paper. You got to, like, write a bunch of materials. You got to go through an interview. I had so many people in my corner from UTEP helping me out, reviewing material.

Anna Carrillo: I think that's one thing that I always tell people, is everywhere, every position that I've got in, or any internship, it's always been through connections that I made through UTEP somehow. And it I mean that's one thing that I owe to UTEP, is just all the people that I met in different areas of life.


Crystal Saavedra: Oh absolutely, 100%. I mean, I think another organization that I was in also is that comes to mind is Miner Ambassadors. That was another… another avenue that I went and I was able to expand. And that's where I started getting in tune with, like, the alumni association and the President's Office, you know, Dr. Natalicio at the time, being able to learn and see from her…from other individuals who had gone through the Miner Ambassador program and be able to represent UTEp, I think prepared me to do the fellowship and an interview and be able to go. And so at the time, I was one, I was the only one from UTEP for my semester. So they select people for the fall and for the spring. At the time, I was the only one from the fall semester presentation for UTEP, 'cause there's only about 40 of us at that time that were selected. You know, you get a lot of people from UT Austin, a lot of people from UTSA and UT Dallas. So I was the only one from UTEP and I got a lot of a lot of support, which was amazing, got to intern out there and that's where I did my first internship.

So that was my first time at the White House, and I got to just learn and see my purpose through all of that. And I think, you know, again, just having the backing of my professors at the time, this was a fellowship that was based for primarily for political science majors. But my professors at the College of Business understood and they worked, you know, we reworked my, my classes and my scheduling. And, you know, they're like, OK, what class are you going to take? How are we going to make that count for this specific class so that you can graduate…just everyone pitching in for you, exactly.


Anna Carrillo: Yeah, they want you to be successful because you were representing us. And if it, if that's what it took, we'll make it work!

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah.

Anna Carrillo: Well, going into still talking about UTEP…do you have some, you know, some memories, maybe going back to alumni or with Delta Sigma or with any of your other organizations, some great memories?

Crystal Saavedra: Oh my gosh, there's so many memories.

Anna Carrillo: I know, I know, me too. And I'm like, oh my gosh, I can't even…it seems like so long ago, but yet it still wasn't. It's still such an important part of our of our life.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, I think it's, it's super important. The ones that come to mind is going through the Miner Ambassador program I think.
So you go through like almost an orientation or like a preparation, and I can still remember going to like etiquette classes, and going through, getting to meet all of the different. Whether it was the Deans, or whether it was directors of departments, and just like all these people pouring all this knowledge into us so that we could be successful representatives. I think even those tiny little bit of lessons, of course Delta Sigma Pi is a is a professional fraternity. So I was able to travel to different cities like Dallas to go to leadership conferences. Those are like core memories. But then I think also just the spirit that you have, I  had when I was a student, just like those memories of going to football games and creating your community, your family, not just of being a student, but just being part of that, that culture.

I want to say also, you know, I think at the time, Dr. Natalicio, the saying that she would always use, as you know, it was always about academic excellence. It was all about this, you know, academic success and excellence. And that's just like always stuck by me as almost a motto for me.

So like everything I did, whether it was the fellowship, whether it was representing now the Vice President, I continuously also still say that, like I expect excellence for myself. I expect excellence on the product that we deliver and the events that we put together, because that's where our success is going to be. But also just, you know, that's just…those are the things that I think you'd have, like, when I think back on the memories or moments, it's a culmination of everything. And having the opportunity to have been able to kind of dip my toes in almost everything that UTEP had to offer is really awesome.

Anna Carrillo: Do you have any advice for recent graduates, even students that are still, you know, almost on their way out?

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah. There's so much advice that can be given. I will say yeah…we'll go right off of that! There's so much more to learn. Graduating…it's a milestone. It is something to be celebrated. It is something to, like, hold on to.

Anna Carrillo: But you've never done learning.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, you just…you have to know that It's only it's only the beginning. It truly is. Whether you're graduating from undergrad or graduating from your grad degree, always have that curious mind. Whatever's next…

Anna Carrillo: I love that. It really is only the beginning. And I've had so many, you know, other alumni and people that recently graduated and they're like, oh my gosh, I feel like I didn't learn a lot. And now we're going into this field and I'm like, oh my gosh, relax.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, I exactly. Like, there's no rush to have it all figured out. My other advice would be for everybody…I think being in DC has helped me also realize like to hone in on to my culture and, and understand where we come from.
We come from one of the leading Hispanic serving institutes in the country. It is amongst a bunch of other you know Hispanic serving institutes. But understand that, that is actually a superpower that I like to call it. You know we are in a border town. A lot of folks that that graduate, they…they worked and they went to school at the same time. They raised families and went to school at the same time. We are, our stories are so unique compared to other colleges or backgrounds or degrees that you're going to be coming up against whether you stay in El Paso or you go elsewhere. Our culture, our Hispanic culture that we grow in in El Paso and that UTEP has fostered, that's also something special to hold on to. So I think, people who are graduating, understand like this is a step in yes, your college career, your college time is ending, but the real life is really starting. And don't forget to…at least I always tell myself…don't forget to just hone in on who you are, where you came from and who you're representing when you go forward.

And that's something that I carry with in what I do right now.
I am one of very, very few Hispanics and Latinas.

Anna Carrillo: Yeah, we are so proud to have you representing us, not just El Pasoans, but women, Hispanic women and of course, we're just so happy and proud of you.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah, and like, stay connected. I wish I could have, I would have stayed connected even more. And I, I did say pretty connected…but just never fault like what the power is of just having those connections, checking in with professors, letting them know what you're doing with your life, whether it's having a baby or getting married or moving to Washington, DC


Anna Carrillo: Yeah, I think people would love that. To see, you know, all the professors that helped you get to your fellowship and everywhere else. I mean, would love to see where you're at now and that they were part of that journey.

Crystal Saavedra: Exactly. And everything that you do, wherever it is that you end up, you know, for me, right now…it's here. The next step, I don't know what it'll be, but, you know, I just continue to strive for greatness because I know that our ancestors paved the way. And that's something that we're always reminded of here, you know, in the Vice President's Office. And she always tells us, you know, we're all living our ancestors wildest dreams.
And I love that statement because whatever it is that you accomplish—you open a business, you start a family, you get that promotion—you're just you're creating, you are creating history. So that's, that's what I would tell people.

Anna Carrillo: I think that's great advice and I I love that for me too. So thank you for saying that.

Crystal Saavedra: Yeah.

Anna Carrillo: So any last advice or anything you would want to tell to our Miner Nation family?

Crystal Saavedra: No…


Anna Carrillo: I think covers everything…


Anna Carrillo: I know, right? No, I just like, I guess I would say like I, I just thank UTEP. I thank everybody who has contributed and continues to contribute to the growth of UTEP. Thank you for giving me the opportunities that you did. And for current, future and past students, yeah, UTEP is a force to be reckoned with, and just you know, keep leaning, keep leaning into it. I know I continue to as much as I can.

Anna Carrillo: Well, we appreciate you and I appreciate you and taking the time to meet. And I hope you continue doing great things. And don't forget about us!

Crystal Saavedra: Never, no I’ll never! I'm always a Miner for life!

Anna Carrillo: Well, thank you so much. I hope you have a good night, and thank you so much.

Crystal Saavedra: Thank you. It was so nice talking to you.


Anna Carrillo: Go Miners!

Anna Carrillo ’19, ’21, born and raised in El Paso, Texas, is a proud graduate of The University of Texas at El Paso, where she earned her bachelor’s in business marketing and a master's degree in Leadership Studies. With a strong belief in the power of leadership to bring about positive change and commitment to community service, Anna's current role as the Stewardship Manager at El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank allows her to engage and serve the community.

To learn more about Anna and our other Miner Nation Contributors, click here.