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Cal in the Capital Blog 2016

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Cal in the Capital Interns in Washington, D.C.

Whether you are a student interested in applying to Cal in the Capital, an alumnus or alumna reminiscing about your experience, or a community partner interested in hosting a Cal in the Capital intern, be sure to check out the following blog posts about Cal in the Capital, written by program members from the 2016 class.

Cathlean Wheeler

Congressman Sanford D. Bishop (GA-02)
Class of 2016

Cathlean WheelerAs week two of most of our internships is ending, I am taken back by how much can happen in such a short amount of time. I’ve gone from listening to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, in the Chamber of the House of Representatives, to sitting in the first row of that very room facing the podium Modi spoke at just days before. Time and opportunities move quickly and it’s imperative to the growth of society that we utilize these opportunities we have been provided and create a more accepting, equitable society.

My image of D.C. used to be composed of snippets of politicians and monuments during a family vacation, but as I have gotten older, the image has grown to include D.C. as a place where things happen and society is changed on a legislative level. I knew this is where it happened, but I didn’t exactly know how. The legislative process seemed distant to me, but the policies have become even more real getting to, in a way, put a face to the name. I see now how these laws originated from people seeing an issue with society, and offering a suggestion backed by research. The loss of 49 lives in Orlando has spurred even more conversations about gun regulation. I have come to see D.C. as a complex and dynamic place where a single decision has a million implications and we take our value to the next level.

Coming from Berkeley, we learn quickly the importance of public service and how involvement makes for a richer experience. By attending briefings, I have seen a link between public service and government. Last week, I attended Black Men and Boys Caucus Roundtable Discussion that worked to bring the narratives of a few young men to the forefront of congressional and public attention. The men who spoke showed how involvement in certain programs has changed the course of their lives. Raheem DeVaughn, an R&B artist and founder of the LoveLife Foundation, described how it was his responsibility to help others achieve social mobility as he has through music. The LoveLife Foundation does just that — it provides programs for the disadvantaged youth.

Raheem learned to harness his growing influence to motivate at-risk youth and now, we must do the same and leverage our skills accumulated through UC Berkeley, CITC, and our various internship sites. Our impassioned suggestions are what will help dismantle the structural barriers and change the image of D.C. and society as a whole. We must reach back and help those behind us achieve more for themselves and more than ourselves.

Ishvaku Vashishtha

Office of Senator Barbara Boxer
Political Science
Public Policy and Philosophy Minor
Class of 2018

Ishvaku VashishthaWashington D.C. – the capital of the free world, an enigmatic bureaucracy that acts as the tiring, unidealistic engine of our nation.
To the child of immigrants, to someone who had only ever dreamt of being able to help reignite the dying embers of our venerable democracy forged in the days of yore, the thought of Washington D.C. was nothing more and nothing less than an ephemeral, fleeting glimpse of the possibility of locating the key that would unlock the confining shackles that prevent me and millions of others like me from pursuing the American Dream.

But, here I am.

Here we are.

As I find myself in my daily journey to the United States Senate Building, I board the metro, on which I find myself in a sea of faces, each with eyes that contain bottomless seas of sublime memories and ardent dreams. I am reminded of the incessant oscillation of the winds of change, and the continuous need to adapt and adjust my sails.

Working in the Office of Senator Barbara Boxer, I have had the privilege of being able to take on a role that has provided me with a tremendous amount of insight regarding the inner workings of our government. Attending congressional hearings with individuals like Senator Warren, Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein, Senator Paul, and Senator McCain, attending briefings with individuals like the Director of the CIA and high ranking officials from the Department of State, as well as receptions that focus on issues of great importance like global food security and climate change conducted by organizations like USAID and NASA – any and all of it has been more than I could have asked for.

But, still, I sometimes find disillusionment in the glacial progress that occurs within the Capitol. I find myself feeling disempowered. Up until this point in my life, I have constantly tried to leave a mark on society, to make sure that in the little time I have on this planet, that I can provide the world with as much happiness as I can.

Becoming lost in the mundane proceedings of life can and have severely impacted my motivation; if I feel that I cannot help others, then I feel no motivation to continue to work. However, in the short period of time I have worked in Washington, one of the most precious pieces of advice I have received is this:
It is crucial for our generation to maintain our idealism, to act as agents of change, to act as the lights that will illuminate the prospect of hope for the future of our nation.

I believe that no one is powerless, as long as a love for others persists. Even if a candle’s flame is dying, if it can help ignite another, then it can always be relit.

So, let’s find happiness in what we are doing for others; let’s harness our intrinsic potentials; let’s work towards a greater future, and, when we feel disempowered, unengaged, or insignificant, let us remind ourselves that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.

Eva Thomas

Department of Education, Office of the Inspector General
Political Science and Minor in Russian
Class of 2017

Eva ThomasEva ThomasI’ve always been grossed out by the idea of networking. Whenever networking came up during preparations for my trip to D.C., I’d always imagine smarmy businessmen chuckling about sports at a secret gentlemen’s club. If I tried to picture myself networking, I’d just come up with a strong feeling of embarrassment and not having business cards. However, I’ve been surprised at how easy and natural networking has been here. First of all, it’s a bit like a date in that both parties know the other one is interested in talking. If you’re at a networking event or have set up an informational interview over coffee, your conversational partner has already agreed to share knowledge with you. So you don’t have to worry about infringing on someone’s time. Second of all, when I’m networking for any considerable length of time, I’m probably talking about something I’m very interested in. The questions to ask come naturally, because if I am interested in a relevant career path or issue area, I want to find out everything about it. The hardest part is just getting the conversation started and trying to push past the initial self-consciousness.

Reaching out can sometimes just lead to an interesting conversation, but it can also be a great opportunity. At an alumni event – which I highly recommend attending – I connected with someone in the department I am interning in, who helped connect me to others whose work I am interested in. From that one conversation, I’ve received a lot of contacts and advice that help me to contextualize my internship experience and get outside of my small office. Since I work directly with only three other people, those connections have been valuable for getting a variety of perspectives on the work of our department and exposure to different opinions and experiences.

Finally, when talking to people in a professional context, I frequently feel the desire to censor myself, or to tailor my answers to what I think my conversational partner wants to hear. These impulses often come up unconsciously, and only after do I realize that I did not portray my thoughts accurately. While a certain amount of self-guidance is necessary in professional contexts, I believe for people like me it is best to try to be bolder. After all, I want feedback that is tailored to my personality and my experiences, so being cautious will result in accruing information that is less relevant for me. Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on who you are and the context in which you are operating.

It’s been easier than I thought to reach out and connect. I think I’ve also gained a lot of confidence in terms of approaching people I’d like to know more about, and I hope to carry that forward into the next semester and onward. The summer is still young – and I know networking, even though the word still sounds a bit repellant to me, will be a part of making the most of it.

Esther Kim

United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Political Science
Class of 2017

vOn June 23rd, the Cal in the Capital students directors and four interns were invited to our D.C. Alumni Club’s Annual Reception Dinner.

Esther KimMy personal experience at this dinner was particularly touching and inspiring. I got to meet a host of people that were so warm and encouraging. The honored guest of the night was Maureen Orth, a journalist who blazed the way for women in writing and changed the face of education for villages in Colombia. After humbly acknowledging these accomplishments, she spent the majority of her time, urging her fellow alumni to support UC Berkeley. She spoke to the increasing difficulty of financing our education, despite being a public school. She continually emphasized the importance of creating a culture of philanthropy amongst Berkeley graduates to give back to the school that gives each student so much more than a formal education. Alongside her inspiring speech, Elizabeth Keenan, or lovingly referred to as Betsy, spoke with pride about Cal in the Capital. Unbeknownst to the directors and interns at CITC, the Alumni Club has been working tirelessly for three years to create an endowment for our program. It is well known that being a part of CITC requires being able to pay a large sum in order to live in the UCDC Center and to simply survive in a city with such a high cost of living. With most of us being unpaid interns, the costs of this program are high and the alumni are well aware of our struggle. For myself, hearing the alumni speak of our program with pride while working so hard to cover costs for our students…was moving. I had no idea that our alumni cared so deeply for the success of our students. I had no idea that people who had never met me were fighting for me and for a program that has opened countless doors for me.

Throughout the night, many alumni approached me and simply said “I am so proud of you.” Without knowing anything about me, these alumni were proud of the accomplishments I made in coming out to Washington and being apart of this program. It was incredibly touching to see the camaraderie that exists between fellow Bears and their relentless willingness to help us, to advise us, to support us. That night, I was so proud to be a Bear, to be apart of a community that is so giving and genuine. I hope to become as generous and warm as the alumni I’ve met in my time in D.C. Whether they’ll read this post, I can’t be sure but thank you so much, D.C. Alumni. You’ve impacted myself and the CITC interns more than you know.

Rigel Robinson

Office of the Secretary of Education
Political Economy
Class of 2018

Rigel RobinsonRigel Robinson“Have a good weekend!” I told the Secretary of Education. He instructed me cheerfully to do the same. Friday evening of my first week on the job, that was our first real interaction of the summer. It wasn’t a press conference, a photo-op, or a speech. On some level, we were just two coworkers excited to get home after a busy week.

Working down the hall from the room where so many transformative decisions are made for our country has been truly humbling. As the other interns and I labor away on our projects in our shared office space, we regularly see outside stakeholders, assistant secretaries, and leaders of nonprofits and think tanks make the journey from the elevators on the top floor of the Department to the Secretary’s conference room. Every once in a while, we’re invited too. Despite the gravity of the work that happens here, we have become as much a part of the space as the space has become ours.

We enjoy the same office shenanigans as any other work environment: there are slow days, there are days when you can barely keep up, there are always missing staplers, there are lunch breaks that last longer than any lunch break should, and there are conflicts over who gets to use the comfiest chair that doesn’t squeak. But at the heart of it all, there is an omnipresent sense of purpose. Every minute has felt intentional and has felt like a step in the right direction towards some higher goal.

Accessible and affordable higher education. Reduced discrimination and harassment in schools. Protecting youth vulnerable to chronic absenteeism. Improving college completion rates. Supporting students who depend on financial aid. Expanding the use of campus climate surveys. Lifting up the teaching profession. Fighting campus sexual assault. The utter destruction of the for-profit college industry.

Here in D.C., distant as we are from the grassroots activism that sparks all true change, the endgame feels incredibly close. Change seems tangible. Possible, even. And in some miniscule way, our work is helping us get there.

It feels good. It’s a feeling many of us will spend our lives chasing.

I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to spend my summer here doing work I’m passionate about with people I admire and adore. It’s not an opportunity accessible to everyone, and I bear that in mind every day. I’m intensely lucky to be here not just as an intern of the Department but also as a fellow with Cal in the Capital. The resources that UCDC has access to, from connections with employers to scholarships for students to offset D.C. housing costs, are priceless. I’m most grateful, however, for the sense of community that comes with experiencing this city and this work with a squad of other UC students. Whether Golden Bears, Bruins, Tritons, Gauchos, Aggies, Anteaters, Banana Slugs, Highlanders, or Bobcats, we’re experiencing the magic of the Capital together, and we’re ready to bring what we learn here back to California.

Caroline Fogarty

Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02)
Political Science, Society and Evironment
Class of 2018

Caroline FogartyWhen the wave of summer interns hits D.C. there are a lot of new small fish in a big pond. We pile into the Metro, crowd the halls of the Capitol, and frantically work to impress our office staff. The lifestyle is not always the most glamorous, but all these small fish are swimming towards high aspirations.

The current that helps us interns are people we are surrounded by in this swamp. The chance to see what we want and how to get there. Each legislative staffer in my office tends to a different collection of issue areas. For example, the same person works on education, agriculture, and health. In one day he can field meetings with multiple groups advocating on behalf of each issue area. As an intern, I work on just about every single subject area depending on who needs briefings attended or projects executed. The same day I collected research about the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, I attended a democratic caucus gun violence prevention meeting on strategies to push forward legislation. After compiling a list of all the Confederate soldiers buried in National Park Service owned cemeteries, I helped edit a letter to constituents on rural broadband access. That is a taste of how diverse the issues covered in a congressional office in a day.

The staffers I am surrounded by are bright and hard workers who handle all subject matters with agility and expertise. They are fighting on the right side of history for the environment, society, and country; I cannot imagine better people to learn from. When the Democratic gun violence sit-in occurred last month, my Congressman was down there with them, steadfastly representing what he and his constituents believe in. He was speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves. My office has taught me that politics is about the people and always keeping that in mind is critical to the work we do in D.C. A summer on the hill has given me memories and skills that will accompany me into my professional career. Interning for an office that serves to better the lives of American people has allowed me to better myself.

Lana Ramadan

International Relief and Development
Political Science and Middle Eastern Students
Class of 2016

Lana RamadanIn the beginning of June, I was working at a relatively new NGO; different from the one I am at now. During the short span of my time there, numerous red flags arose. My boss, who had made various inappropriate comments to me and my five other female peers, created such an uncomfortable environment that each of us made the choice to resign. As you may be able to imagine, the decision to walk away was not an easy one. By then, it was the middle of June, almost all other organizations had filled their summer internship positions, and I didn’t know if I would be able to find another job. I was left to wonder if my time in D.C. was about to come to an abrupt end.

It was difficult to give up a known internship for the unknown, even though the situation was untenable. I spent the time between internships focused on the belief that when you take action to stand up for yourself, you open up the possibility to something better. With the help of both CITC and UCDC staff, I was connected to my current internship at International Relief and Development (IRD) only a week later.

Working at IRD this summer has been a very rewarding experience. So far, I’ve worked on numerous projects to provide aid to Syrian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons located in Iraq and Syria. I’ve been welcomed so graciously by the full time staff and my opinion and thoughts on each of our projects have been consistently encouraged and taken into account.

During my last year at CAL, I was strapped with anxiety over my professional career. Like many other seniors, I knew what I was passionate about, but I had no idea how I was going to be able to accomplish such goals. I had written my senior thesis on the Syrian refugee crisis and originally thought my topic was so niche that I would never be able to find an internship in D.C. that dealt with exactly that. Being able to work in an organization that is full of well-accomplished, passionate and dedicated human beings has impacted my career trajectory and personal growth in a meaningful way. I think the most important lesson I have learned about this experience is that sometimes-good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

Jessica Son

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
Political Science
Class of 2017

Jessica SonThis summer, I was fortunate enough to work at a research institution called the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies as part of the International Center for Terrorism Studies (ICTS), a think tank focused on international security and counterterrorism in Arlington, VA.

A typical day at ICTS consisted of going to the office around 9-9:30 am, checking my email, and updating my databases and timelines. Then I proceeded to work on whatever brief or report I was assigned to. Every other week the Potomac Institute hosted a seminar, where a distinguished panel would speak about a relevant issue such as the coup on Turkey, lone wolves, or aviation security.

I loved everything about my internship from the office, the people, the seminars, and my projects. It was a privilege to be able to contribute to Professor Alexander’s research through substantive work rather than typical administrative tasks such as filing or making coffee. I learned how to quickly and accurately write briefs, a skill I know will be crucial for future jobs. It was especially fulfilling because Professor Alexander tried his best to match us with projects that aligned with our interests. For example, I had mentioned my interest in US-North Korean relations, and as a result he assigned me to several projects regarding North Korean nuclear policy. I especially enjoyed the seminars. Getting the chance to meet distinguished people like ambassadors, CIA veterans, government officials, and other experts in the field was both humbling and inspiring. Finally, it was a pleasure to work with such smart, dedicated, and passionate co-interns devoted to bettering the world.

Aside from the internship, I learned so much simply by being in D.C. The unique opportunities offered here were what made my summer truly unforgettable. I met many fascinating individuals through opportunities like the Cal in the Capital mentorship program, various networking events and happy hours, even Uber pool rides. Other opportunities like weekend trips to New York, bumping into Senator Elizabeth Warren (yes, this actually happened!), touring the White House and the EEOB, living next door to CSIS and the Human Rights Campaign, and attending events hosted by Politico, the Brookings Institution, and the State Department were all experiences that gave me tremendous insight and inspiration. I will forever cherish memories like the Black Lives Matter march down to the Capitol, strolls on the Mall gazing up at the Washington Monument, and watching the July 4th fireworks on the Lincoln Memorial steps with hundreds of other people decked out in red, white, and blue.

In my opinion, interning in Washington D.C. is about taking advantage of every opportunity and moment. Despite its small size, I found D.C. to be packed to the brim with passion and a hunger to make a difference in the world. No one wastes a second: every metro ride is an opportunity to squeeze in one more chapter of reading; each happy hour brings the possibility of meeting one more person. Spending the summer in this unique city was a blessing and a constant eye-opener. I am so thankful to Cal in the Capital for making my dream a reality.