For many students who aspire to serve in public office, landing an internship in Washington, D.C. would be a dream come true. And it was for Glory Lopez, a junior majoring in political science and minoring in philosophy at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
In fall 2012 she participated in the 14th annual Panetta Congressional Internship sponsored by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan study center located on the CSU Monterey Bay campus and designed to encourage and develop future leaders in United States government.
“This opens a lot [of doors], especially because it has Mr. Panetta’s name on it. So everyone knows this is a very prestigious internship,” Lopez said, referring to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
She was one of 24 students selected for the internship from 19 CSU campuses, the University of Santa Clara, Leon Panetta’s alma mater, and Dominican University, where Panetta’s wife, Sylvia Panetta, began her college education. Sylvia Panetta, the director of the Institute, has ties to the CSU system having attended Sonoma State University in the mid-1970s and serving as an advisor to the CSU Chancellor since 1997.
Encounter to Excellence (ETE) academic advisor Silvia Alvarez Lopez encouraged Lopez, who, at the time, was an ETE peer mentor, to apply for the internship. Lopez said she believes it was her work with ETE as well as her membership in the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and an internship as a freshman conducting phone banking and election campaigning for California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who at the time was running for Congress, that helped her secure the internship.
“They take everything that we’ve done before into account,” Lopez said of being selected for the internship program.
The 13-week, 20-unit internship began with an intensive two-week preparation course at CSU Monterey Bay where the students studied topics in administrative and legislative operations, media, finances and politics, congressional leadership and committee structure, legislative process, and congressional-presidential relations. The interns met with Secretary Panetta several times, as well as President Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, and representatives from the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
From Monterey the interns were flown, courtesy of the Panetta Institute, to Washington, D.C. where they were assigned to work in a congressional office.
“I wasn’t just answering phones or checking the mail. I was going to briefing or hearings about different issues,” Lopez said of her assignment at the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
Lopez was responsible for making recommendations to the Congresswoman based on what she discovered at meetings, which centered on topics ranging from the treatment of a group of horses in Tennessee, to the incidents of suicide among U.S. veterans, as well as the Sept. 11 security failure at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, to name a few.
“[The lobbyists’] way of getting a U.S. representative interested is to go through us–the staff and interns. …They have to persuade us in order to get [their concerns] into a memo to persuade the Congresswoman to take certain action,” Lopez said.
Lopez also compiled news clips–mentions in the news–concerning Congresswoman Speier, Capitol Hill, the economy, environment and energy (such as Hurricane Sandy), domestic and foreign affairs, and national defense. She also composed letters to constituents on behalf of the Congresswoman.
“I did two different important writings for her, one of them was writing back to a batch, which is when you get all these letters saying the same things about supporting a bill,” Lopez recalled. “You had to keep a certain structure… So, trying to get everything that the bill was into the letter… I had to be concise with my writing. That, I believe, was one of the best skills I gained from [the internship].”
While the interns were in D.C., they visited the White House and participated in up to three Panetta Institute seminars a week, composed weekly emails and monthly 140-character tweets, as well as a policy paper and a journal about their internship experience. Their participation and work ethics were also evaluated as part of their grade.
Seeing how much work Washington, D.C. interns, staffers, and representatives handle was an eye opener for Lopez. And after a city manager from Monterey shared with the interns how representatives from local, state and federal government offices work together and how local government works more closely with their constituents, Lopez reevaluated her career path.
“It made me realize that I actually want to stay on the local level for the very beginning and maybe work my way up,” she said, explaining that she might enjoy working for the City of Los Angeles or her nearby hometown of Paramount, perhaps one day as a director of parks and recreation or as mayor.
Growing up watching and discussing the news with her mother, Lopez has long been curious about the political process.
“Ever since I was a little girl, my mom, she’s always put this in my head that I was going to be the first woman president,” she said. “My mom has always told me I was meant for politics.”
Lopez’ interest in politics didn’t end in front of the television. While in the 11th grade, a teacher asked students what they wanted to be, she recalled responding, “I want to be in the U.S. Senate.”
Even though the internship was in the House of Representatives, Lopez said she wanted to see how works of Congress unfolded.
“I think at the end of it, all the interns, including myself, could have said this was a great experience. It was a life-learning experience,” she said, adding, “I still want to pursue the dream that I’ve always had, which is serving in the U.S. Senate.”
For an information packet and application materials for the Fall 2013 Panetta Congressional Internship, visit the Career Center in Welch Hall, room D-360. Application deadline is Feb. 6. The packet is also available on the Career Center web site, www.csudh.edu/careercenter. Click on the ToroJobs square, log in, and under Job Search click ToroJobs to search for Job ID #6464 “Congressional Internship Program.”
For more information on the Panetta Congressional Internship, visit www.panettainstitute.org. For more information on the Department of Political Science at CSU Dominguez Hills, visit www.nbs.csudh.edu/ps.