IGNITE is excited to introduce our new Las Vegas Fellow, Vanessa Aponte! Vanessa is coming into this role eager to serve her community and ready to share her thoughts on how she plans to IGNITE women's political ambition in Las Vegas!
IGNITE: Vanessa, congratulations on being selected to be the new Las Vegas IGNITE Fellow! How did your journey with IGNITE begin, and what led you into this new role?
Vanessa: I remember when my friend told me that she had established an organization on campus that promotes political activism and encourages women to run for office. After she explained IGNITE's mission to me, the only question I had for her was, "how do I join?" Ever since then, my experience within IGNITE has been phenomenal. I joined to connect with other empowered women at UNLV and enhance my political knowledge, both of which I have been able to achieve. I have seen firsthand how IGNITE educates, supports, and inspires young women to pursue their political aspirations and how the IGNITE Fellow amplifies it all.
IGNITE: Your devotion to elevating all women in politics is admirable and contagious! What other issues do you hope to bring awareness to in your community?
Vanessa: The Black Lives Matter movement really caused me to reevaluate the prejudices that people of color face. After witnessing the horrible murder of George Floyd, I realized that I could not stand by and do nothing. As an ally, it's important to know your power. I'm currently working with other students in one of my classes to create an intervention program that can solve this problem. Our goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated youth by increasing empathic awareness so police officers and school administrators are less likely to hold prejudicial biases against Black and Brown youth.
IGNITE: As someone who recognizes the need for more women in leadership, what political leadership experience are you excited to bring to and apply into your work as a Fellow?
Vanessa: Political leadership is more than just a title: it encompasses advocacy, civic engagement, and community service. Thanks to IGNITE, I was able to learn more about the political process and advocate on behalf of the legislation that was important to me. As a past volunteer for the ACLU, I was kept up to date on the 2021 Nevada legislative cycle so I could email my legislators and submit public comments. Prior to the 2020 election, I also volunteered with NextGen America to ensure that all eligible voters were registered to vote. I plan to pass on everything I learned from these experiences to ambitious women across the Vegas Valley, so they can become advocates in their community as well.
IGNITE: Your experiences across the political realm show your dedication to civic engagement and advocacy. How does your perspective on civic engagement guide you as you work to inspire other young women entering politics for the first time?
Vanessa: Civic engagement is honestly the bedrock for our democracy and our society at large. If people were not civically engaged, then there would be no progress towards the issues that matter most to them, nor would there be accountability towards politicians. Similarly, if people do not get involved in their communities, then everyone lives in an isolated bubble with no interaction or support from people around them. In my opinion, the most important act of civic engagement that any person can do is vote because that is the only way for a person's voice to directly impact who holds positions of political power. I hope my outlook on civic engagement inspires others to promote the impact of voting and, eventually, motivate young women to run for office.
IGNITE: We are so excited to have you join our new cohort of IGNITE fellows! What are you most looking forward to this upcoming year?
Vanessa: Thank you! I'm hoping to have lots of events where legislators can speak to IGNITE members and motivate them to pursue their political aspirations. Additionally, I'd love to establish a chapter at the College of Southern Nevada, that way all the colleges in the valley are connected through IGNITE. Finally, as the city starts to open up again, I'm hoping that all three Las Vegas chapters can come together to give back to the community by volunteering at local nonprofits and even high schools to reach out to future IGNITE leaders. By doing all of this, I hope that we can mobilize the community around political advocacy and make IGNITE a well-known name throughout Las Vegas.
IGNITE: What is your leadership philosophy and how has it guided you on your political and professional journey?
Vanessa: I would define leadership as an opportunity to use your position in order to guide, inspire, and uplift others. In every leadership position I have ever held, I always make it a priority that everyone I am leading feels personally supported by me. I think that if you serve in a leadership capacity, you must realize that you're working for something bigger than yourself. At its core, leadership is a position of service to others, and that is my primary concern whenever I lead.
IGNITE: At IGNITE, we're trying to broaden the definition of what it means to be a political leader. It's so much more than just being an elected leader. Political leaders can also be community organizers, policymakers, and campaign staffers. What leadership role do you identify with, and how do you want that to play out in your political career?
Vanessa: Most political careers start locally, in your community. So, I'd consider myself a community advocate. At the end of the day, I want what's best for the people of my community, especially the underrepresented and marginalized people. Like I said before, leadership revolves around serving others, and that approach applies as I embark on this journey with IGNITE and in my future political endeavors. Ultimately, when I eventually take office, I want the people I represent to know that I wholeheartedly serve them and will tirelessly advocate for their needs.
IGNITE: Vanessa, any closing comments to add?
Vanessa:For anyone reading this who's still on the fence about running for political office, this is your sign to go for it! We need more ambitious women in power, ready to change this country for the better. Get involved in your community and connect with IGNITE, as we are more than ready to support you. Finally, I absolutely adore IGNITE and what it stands for, and I can't wait to see what this year has in store!
More about Vanessa
Vanessa Aponte is the IGNITE Las Vegas Fellow. She is on the pre-law track at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, pursuing a bachelor's degree in Psychology. Vanessa serves as Associate Chief Justice in the student government's judicial branch and advises incoming first-year students as an Honors College mentor. Off-campus, Vanessa worked as an enumerator for the 2020 Census and as a volunteer with NextGen America, an organization dedicated to mobilizing youth voters. In addition, she volunteers with local nonprofits to help with food distribution, homelessness intervention, and community beautification. As an inaugural member and Treasurer of UNLV's IGNITE chapter, Vanessa fell in love with IGNITE's mission of political empowerment. She saw firsthand how the organization was able to support and connect ambitious women across the Vegas valley. Now, Vanessa is committed to furthering that mission in her role as the Las Vegas Fellow. Post-graduation, Vanessa plans to attend law school to become a public interest attorney and run for political office, where she can represent individuals from marginalized communities in both the courtroom and through the legislature. For Las Vegas inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.