UA student balances classroom, public office

By Yvonne Condes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

When UA freshman Jennifer Eckstrom was a young girl, she would watch her father Dan, now on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, at South Tucson City Council meetings.

"It was really interesting. That's what made me want to join politics," Jennifer said.

Last June she was elected to the South Tucson City Council and juggles her time between school and public office. She is working on youth programs, one of which encourages teenagers to stay in school and another dealing with gang prevention.

"I'm young, and there are a lot of people in South Tucson, and the only way to express (themselves) is through someone their own age," she said.

Jennifer is 18-years-old, and her age was brought up during the election. Betty Liggins, a community activist living in South Tucson, worked on Dan Eckstrom's campaign for his position on the Board of Supervisors and has known Jennifer for 15 years. She was in opposition to her campaign.

"I didn't think she had any experience. It was her first time voting. I think she's a very nice lady, but she's too young," Liggins said.

Her age is an asset, said South Tucson Mayor Shirley Villegas and second cousin to Jennifer.

"In fact, I find it more helpful. She can relate with the younger generation and has more input," she said.

When Jennifer decided to run, people in the community said that her father was influencing her to do it and that he would be running South Tucson through her, she said.

This is wrong, Dan Eckstrom said. She came up with the idea herself, he said.

"It bothers me when people take a shot at me through her. Conversely, I'm real fortunate when people say good things about her it rubs off on me," said UA graduate Dan Eckstrom.

With the council and school work, Jennifer has time for little else.

"I don't stay at school enough to meet a lot of people," she said.

Her weekdays consist of classes until 2 p.m. Then she goes to the South Tucson Dan Eckstrom Municipal Complex to pick up her messages and mail. She stays a few hours doing work and making phone calls. Afterwards, she goes home for the day, where she lives with her parents and brother. She then has dinner and does homework. She hasn't seen much of her boyfriend or her best friend.

"Sometimes I go with her to public meetings," said Alonzo Marquez, a first year student at Pima Community College. "I think it's great. It shows what young people can do in their community."

Public office hasn't changed her, said Liz Rivera, a second year student at Pima.

"She seems the same old Jennifer to me, but more responsible now ... We keep in touch, but ever since we started school, it's pretty hard," she said.

Jennifer hopes to use the experience she is gaining throughout her college career. Her plan is to become a lawyer.

"It's helped with everything I'm doing right now," she said.

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