For Oscar Mancilla, living through history can be a lot more exciting than just reading about it.
The California State University, Dominguez (CSUDH) history major learned this firsthand during his recent participation in the Panetta Institute for Public Policy’s Congressional Internship Program in Washington D.C., where he spent three months as an intern for California Representative Jimmy Gomez (CA-34th District).
Mancilla had only been living and working in the nation’s capital for six weeks when the impeachment inquiry of President Donald J. Trump was announced on Sept. 24.
“I was very fortunate. For a history major, there is no better place in the world to be right now than Washington D.C.,” he said. “I also had the opportunity to get out of California and experience something that I had only seen on TV.”
Founded in 1997 by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his wife, CEO Sylvia Panetta, the Panetta internship serves the entire 23-campus CSU system, along with Dominican University of California, Santa Clara University, and St. Mary’s College of California. The internship provides students with a variety of educational opportunities in government, politics, and public policy, and to experience the legislative process firsthand.
“Secretary Panetta and his wife were strong and charismatic figures throughout our internship. The secretary was very intelligent, wise, and at times comical, which was great,” he said. “When you think of those in government, you think of serious-minded people – he is that, too – but it made me feel at ease when he cracked a joke or two once in a while.”
Mancilla, a Compton resident, applied for the Panetta Institute for Public Policy’s Congressional Internship Program because he wanted to experience how Congress functions from the inside. He first learned about the opportunity from CSUDH History Department Coordinator RaÃºl Rubio, and faculty members who explained to him what an unforgettable experience it would be.
“As the deadline to apply for the internship came close, I began to learn more and more about what a great learning opportunity it would be,” said Mancilla, who spoke with 2017 Panetta intern and CSUDH alumna Cambria Rodriguez about what to expect. “I love history, and important U.S. history was being made every day while I was there. I didn’t directly participate in it, but I like to think I helped it along in a small way.”
After an intensive two weeks of preparation for the internship in mid-August at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, located on the campus of CSU, Monterey Bay, Mancilla and 25 other interns set out for D.C.
Mancilla’s role in Gomez’s office consisted of monitoring calls at the front desk, welcoming guests, and putting the research skills he had acquired through his history education to good use.
“I did some complicated projects, such as researching the history of specific congressional bills – some related to immigration – and preparing binders for the congressman to use during committee meetings,” he explained. “I also sent emails to different congressional offices to communicate with them about the work we were doing.”
Mancilla also spent time with Representative Gomez and his staff discussing the 34th District, such as Downtown Los Angeles, where he likes to spend some of his free time. “A good chunk of the Congressman’s staff were from the district, so a huge smile grew on my face every time we discussed familiarities back in Los Angeles, like the Metro A Line, and the diverse food options.”
Mancilla didn’t get the opportunity to directly connect with other members of Congress during his internship, but he did see several leaders in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol Building, such as Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi; Representatives Maxine Waters; all members of “The Squad” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib); and President Trump at the White House.
To conclude his internship, all of the Panetta interns submitted an 18- to 20-page journal reflecting on their experiences working in Congress, and a policy research paper.
Mancilla chose “Promoting Civics Curricula for a More Politically Educated and Engaged American Public” as his topic for the paper. He believes a more civically-educated and civically-engaged public would eventually stem the deep division that has haunted the current state of politics and social affairs in the nation.
“I experienced so much during my time there. I met 26 amazing individuals who I can now call my close friends. They helped me grow a sense of confidence that I did not possess before this experience. I still keep in touch with them and plan to continue doing so for a very long time.” said Mancilla, who also reaffirmed the importance of remaining humble while in D.C.
“I’ve been telling myself that ever since I was in elementary school,” he said. “Now, I always tell my friends to be humble, but competitive.”