Mary Elbanna BA’16, MPP’16

Mary Elbanna BA ‘16, MPP ‘16, chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, discusses the value of her experiences at UT Dallas and her internships as a student. Elbanna’s first internship, which she discovered through UT Dallas, led to her jobs as campaign manager and chief of staff for Johnson.

Mary Elbanna BA’16, MPP’16 came to The University of Texas at Dallas with plans to become a lawyer after graduation. Now, at the age of 24, Elbanna is the chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, and her plans for law school are on-hold indefinitely. That’s OK with her. She’s right where she wants to be.

Though she never planned to work in politics, she became interested in campaigns when she volunteered for one as a requirement for her “Campaigns and Elections” class at UT Dallas. To her surprise, she enjoyed the experience. During her sophomore year, Dr. Edward Harpham, Professor of Political Science and Dean of the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College, selected her to participate in UT Dallas’ Texas Legislative Internship Program (TLIP) during the 2015 legislative session in Austin. Through the program, she landed her first internship in Johnson’s Austin office during his service as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Says Harpham, “Mary’s TLIP intership with Representative Johnson took her outside the classroom, enabling her to acquire valuable practical experience in the world of politics. The internship also opened up the possibility of a new career in public service.”

Elbanna advises students to seek opportunities early in their college careers and to take advantage of opportunities that come their way. “Everybody’s looking for help,” Elbanna said. “Make sure people know you are ready and available to help them.”

At UT Dallas, Elbanna was a member of the Collegium V Honors Program and the John Marshall Pre-Law Society. as well as an Archer Fellow and Peer Advisor. She also completed the EPPS Fast Track program and graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Public Policy degrees in the same year. In addition to Dr. Harpham, Elbanna was encouraged and inspired by Dr. Tony Champagne, Dr. Robert Lowry and Dr. Greg Thielemann. It was Thielemann who encouraged her to accept the internship in Johnson’s Austin office, saying, “You’ll learn a lot from him.”

After her time in Austin, Elbanna continued as an intern in Johnson’s district office in Dallas. She was promoted to chief of staff in 2016, soon after graduating from UT Dallas, and then left the role to become his mayoral campaign manager this past February.

They ran a different kind of campaign, one without the TV ads and billboards of previous Dallas mayoral campaigns, which are traditionally handled by consulting firms.

It was a gutsy move. The campaign was a “true team effort,” says Elbanna. She credits her experience running Johnson’s 2018 re-election campaign to the Texas House of Representatives as a trial-run that gave her the skills and insights needed to successfully guide Johnson’s mayoral campaign to victory.

In her new role as chief of staff for Mayor Johnson, Elbanna said that she wants to help the Mayor accomplish his goals, which include education and workforce development and reforming the City of Dallas’ Code of Ethics. She stresses the need to be hands-on at the city government level. “Nothing happens unless someone is moving it,” said Elbanna. She also highlights the importance of stepping back from day to day operations periodically in order to see the bigger picture. “You have to make sure you’re actually doing the things you want to ultimately do for the people of Dallas.”

When asked about her proudest accomplishments, Elbanna said she is very proud of her UT Dallas degrees, as well as winning the campaign. “It’s still surreal,” she said, explaining that the reality of her career has not yet sunk in.

Regarding her future plans, Elbanna said she wants to see where life takes her. She may pursue a PhD and teach one day. For now, she enjoys her current line of work. “We need more folks putting good people into office and assisting them in governing well,” said Elbanna.

Elbanna suggested that students interested in government or policy should apply for internships and volunteer opportunities at government offices, and then be ready to help where needed. “No task is too small for you,” Elbanna advised. She also cited the need for good policy professionals to implement policy solutions in city government. 

Elbanna said that when she applied to the Texas Legislative Internship Program as an undergraduate, she did not expect to be accepted. When asked how UT Dallas prepared her for her current career, Elbanna said, “I give UTD full credit.” Without that first internship, she might not be Mayor Johnson’s chief of staff today.

This story was written by April Boyd, Senior, Political Science.
UT System Summer Intern in Philanthropy