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Cal in the Capital Blog 2017

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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 2016-2017 class.

Marlena Trafas

UC Berkeley Class of 2017
Political Economy Major
American Humanist Association’s magazine The Humanist

Marlena TrafasAs I came into my last year at Cal I realized that I needed more professional office experience. I also knew that I wanted to put into practice the theories of general welfare I had spent my college years learning about. Cal in the Capital provided me with the opportunity to work at a nonprofit and get an inside view of the everyday workings of advocacy work. As an editorial intern, I was able to expand my repertoire of writing experience and gain new skills in research and editing. This has proved invaluable as it helped me get a speechwriting internship in the fall.

During my time at the AHA, I was honored to be able to attend their annual conference in Charleston, South Carolina and to hear prominent voices in the field speak out for science, compassion, and empathy during a particularly polarized time in our society. These values rang true back in D.C. as I worked alongside the staff crafting articles and brainstorming messaging about current events. My favorite day on the job was going to cover the Senate health care sit-ins on Capitol Hill. Dozens of activists, students, doctors, patients, parents, and the like risked arrest in order to voice their concerns and demand their rights. To bear witness on such an event in the capital city was inspiring.

In general, the city of D.C. made me appreciate the history and legacy of the United States, from the very shameful to the very magnificent. Being in a place teeming with such contradiction is an important reminder that in dark times, there are always people working tirelessly to do good and advocate for what is right.

CITC is such an important opportunity for Cal students because it takes them out of Berkeley, a place known for activism, and brings them to the heart of law and justice and advocacy. It was transformative for me to connect the values and teachings I cultivated in Berkeley to the work I did in D.C. Realizing that nothing occurs in a vacuum and everything is connected gave me a broader, more holistic view of the issues our society is currently facing.

Erika Zheng

UC Berkeley Class of 2020
Political Economy Major
U.S. Green Building Council

Erika ZhengThis summer has come and gone in a blink of an eye, but I am leaving D.C. with many fond memories as well as a better understanding of what I want to do in the future. I know as I head back to campus in a couple weeks, I am better equipped to tackle the issues that I care about with a more critical eye and much more confidence in myself and my abilities to make a difference, especially in the realm of public service.

As a Community Advancement intern at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a sustainable and green building and development non-profit, I was given substantive work and responsibility from day one. I was surprised by the amount of trust my supervisor had in me and my abilities. I knew I had interest in the field of environmental field, especially as it relates to policy, advocacy, and community, so diving right into the USGBC’s work and mission was definitely a learning experience. Working in the headquarters, my co-intern and I were able to create and pilot a new self-guided tour program for green buildings and help roll out a green janitor education program throughout the United States.

I head back to Berkeley with much more insight on the type of work I want to do in the future, as well as the hard skills to show for it. My internship experience took me outside of my comfort zone of campus into the real world and the workplace, leading me to interact with established professionals within the office, along with organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Nationals Park. Back at Cal, I hope I will have the opportunity to learn more about the correlation between equitable urban planning and public health.

Besides work, D.C. is a city full of culture, and a whole lot of history. From exploring the monuments at night, to brunching at the very booth John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie, to watching movies on the lawn of the Library of Congress, this town never sleeps. I was able to grow both personally and professionally as I was challenged each and everyday by my co-workers and this new, vibrant environment, all while having a lot of fun. All in all, the wonderful summer experience the Cal in the Capital program afforded me was well worth the time, money, and energy it took to make this summer a reality. Ten weeks in D.C. is not nearly enough, and as I bid thee farewell, I can only say – thanks for a summer to remember.

Ryan Saraie

UC Berkeley Class of 2019
Environmental Economics & Policy Major
Internet Education Foundation

Ryan SaraieAfter six long, hard years of being away, I finally returned to Washington DC. No, one week-long trip in the eighth grade wasn’t enough. I knew I had to come back. Every moment leading up to this summer was exciting, from applying for internships to buying plane tickets. I honestly had a great time going through baggage claim.

In spite of all of the expectations I had set for the summer, I never once thought that I would ever be experiencing DC as a normal city that people do normal things in. Sure, I checked out the National Mall and toured the US Capitol Building, but eventually I was going to less touristy things like farmers markets and open mic nights. Recently, I have learned that DC has a unique culture, one in which politics and personal life often mesh together. Here, politics has a role in its residents’ careers, beliefs, and aspirations. It’s nice to live in an environment in which most people care about the public problems that affect everyday lives, which is what partially drew to me to living in DC for the summer.

Working in this city has given me the opportunity to better understand my role as someone interested in being involved with politics. I have known for a while that I wanted to engage in the policy realm and help improve the lives of others, but I never knew in what capacity. From interning with the Internet Education Foundation (or IEF), I have gained a sincere interest in working within the intersection of tech and policy to solve pressing issues that affect the general public. Specifically, I’m doing work on the Congressional App Challenge, an IEF-sponsored national coding competition that exists to get kids of all ages and backgrounds involved in computer programming. Interning within this route of tech policy is rewarding, and I never would have realized that I found this field to be enjoyable without being in DC.

This summer experience has notably affected my future career path. I have always believed that Washington DC is an awesome city, and after going through this program I am now fairly certain that I would enjoy living in the DC-Maryland- Virginia area. I will probably be applying for future internships/jobs within the area. Prior to my time with the IEF, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to be potentially employed at a nonprofit. After almost two months in my internship, I am very satisfied with the work I do, and I am sure that I could thrive in a nonprofit setting. Above all else, I have honestly become more inspired than ever to work on public issues. A big thank you to those who supported me in my journey to DC, and GO BEARS!!!

Adam Braver

UC Berkeley Class of 2018
Political Science Major
Democratic National Committee

Adam BraverTo the prospective Cal student applying for summer internships, Washington D.C. can seem like a formidable place. It features some of the country’s most competitive internships in a city dominated by the fast-paced nature of American politics. BUT, do not let that deter you from what you will learn working in the Capital! Whether you are from California or outside of it, political science or computer science, the work you will perform in D.C. and the skills you will gain from it will undoubtedly enhance your resume and propel you upwards in your career.

Firstly, be open to applying for ALL internships generally available within your major. As much as you dream about interning on the Hill with political leaders like Nancy Pelosi or Paul Ryan, applying only for their offices or a select few on the Hill will disappoint you if you do not receive their acceptances. There are THOUSANDS of wonderful federal offices, legislative offices, think tanks, and NGOs that are seeking interns. And hey, you may more personally meet someone important in a smaller think tank than you would in even the Speaker’s office. That brings me to my second piece of advice: attend as many networking events as you can while in D.C.! It is an extremely social city, and networking is often the key to getting your feet in the door of high-powered political jobs. Whether your internship is hosting a softball game or you see a Facebook networking event for young professionals, go for it. Cal in the Capital will even email you weekly newsletters about major networking events happening around you. So even if you discover halfway through your internship that the work entailed within it is not for you, you may still network with somebody who can bring you towards your desired career path.

As far as useful skills for this experience – Networking! Even though I stated previously that networking in Washington D.C. is a must for any intern wishing to establish themselves, I was never fully aware of just how serious of a skill it was before coming here. You must truly put yourself out into the urban wilderness of D.C. and learn how to put on your political smile even when you are tired from a long week of work. However, it is a skill I am proud to have reinforced over my time in the city.

As for any existing skills you should carry with you to the Capital? It seems simple, but know basic office skills! That means understanding how to send a fax, how to organize a calendar on Outlook, and especially how to remember which staff members oversee which special projects. Additionally, if you have any basic research skills, let your staff be aware! You will stand out and honestly be that much more useful to them.

Laura Atukunda

UC Berkeley Class of 2019
Public Health Major
Women for Women International

Laura AtukundaThe most valuable part of my experience in DC has been the people that I have met, both in and outside of my internship. This summer I was fortunate enough to intern at Women for Women International, a nonprofit organization that provides social and economic empowerment programs to marginalized women in conflict affected countries. It feels like just yesterday, I was nervously stepping into the Women for Women International office for the first day of my internship, and although my summer in DC has flown by fast in my short time here I have experienced a lot of personal growth.

The term “networking” was thrown around quite a bit during my time here and initially I had many assumptions about what it entailed. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was completely wrong. The conversations I have had over the past few weeks have pushed me to reflect on my experiences, ambitions, and struggles and have been filled with insightful advice, encouragement and offers of support. I remember talking to my Cal in the Capital mentor about my uncertainty surrounding my career path. She told me about her journey and encouraged me to continuously reflect on what I was doing adding that there is no set path because I will always be growing and changing. Her words and those of many others helped me come to understand my purpose and motivation behind the work that I do.

While listening to a fellow intern talk desire to ensure that women in her community received the same opportunities she did to obtain an education, I began to think about the women in my community back home in Uganda. According to the World Bank in 2010 only 8.02% of Uganda women were able to complete their secondary education as a result of institutional, cultural and societal factors. In these women and girls, I see myself and when reflecting on the rarity of my situation, I am motivated to create an environment that educates and empowers them to be leaders of their own change.

When I pictured my experience in DC in the months leading up to it, I never really thought about the relationships that I would build or the impact they would have. Yet, they have played a major role in shaping my perspective about the future and helped me find a purpose in and connection to the work that I hope to do and the communities it would serve.

Chelsea Burroughs

UC Berkeley Class of 2019
Political Science Major, Geospatial Information Science & Technology Minor
Office of Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano, US House of Representatives

Chelsea BurroughsWhen I was mentally preparing myself for the reality of living in Washington, DC for ten weeks, one of the things I was most nervous about was networking. I’m a natural introvert, and I nervously expected my encounters with Cal Alumni and other “real professionals” to be awkward and stilted.

Fortunately, I was completely wrong. I was assigned a mentor for the duration of the program, Kathie Westpheling, who has made an incredible difference in my summer already. She graduated from Cal with a graduate degree in Public Health and spent her career in the health information and public health fields. From our very first conversation, Kathie was very sweet and welcoming, and extremely helpful when answering questions about topics most new interns are interested in: graduate school options, networking with coworkers, adjusting to life in DC.

But Kathie really went above and beyond. Not only did she mentor me herself, but she has put me in touch with tons of Cal Alumni that want nothing more but to be helpful. I was able to meet an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of President Obama’s domestic policy advisors, and a public health program pioneer. And every single one of these people fit two broad descriptions: they were Cal Alumni and they were extremely kind. All the people I have “networked” with (that word makes it sound so cold and unfeeling) has been incredibly helpful, sweet, and seems genuinely interested in my career goals.

I’ve learned a lot from my experience with Cal Alumni this summer. Firstly, their excellent guidance has led me to more clarity on my post-graduate plans, and goals for the future. I’ve also been left with networking skills that will surely serve me for the rest of my career and beyond. But most importantly, I’ve realized how lucky I am to have a strong alumni community here at UC Berkeley, and how important it will be for me to give back and be a resource to the next generation of Cal in the Capital interns when I’m (hopefully) living in DC someday. We owe every alumnus who gives us a helping hand a huge thank you!

Leah Jaffe

UC Berkeley Class of 2019
Global Development Studies Major, Education Minor
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Urban Education Leaders Internship Program – Office of Instructional Practice

Leah JaffeI still remember finding out that I got accepted into the Cal in the Capital (CITC) program just one day before the entire world discovered that Donald Trump was elected to be the new President of the United States. Up until that moment, I had a distinct idea of what interning in D.C. would be like, and then all at once I was unsure whether or not to follow through with this plan. Ultimately, I decided that this is one of the most interesting and crucial times to be in D.C., especially as a driven UC Berkeley student. Even in the face of adversity, there is still a lot of work that needs to get done, and that’s what I’m here to do.

Now that I’m here in D.C., I’ve realized that the city is both breathtaking and intimidating in the best of ways. I have never been surrounded by such passionate, driven, and intelligent individuals who all care about a multitude of pressing issues. Even in the first two weeks of my internship with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), I have had the opportunity to talk to teachers and educators who are all invested in improving the D.C. public education system. All my co-workers have been teachers prior to working for the DCPS central office, and they are all devoted to improving education policy at the state and district level.

DCPS takes in a large cohort of interns every summer, and this summer I am fortunate to be one of 60 interns working for the central office. The majority of the cohort is composed of students from east coast schools, so they were naturally surprised to find out that I made the trek all the way from the west coast. All of us are interested in education policy, and the majority of us look forward to being teachers in the near future, which is incredibly exciting for me. Up until recently, I had never really considered the idea that education would be in my future, but the more I think about it and the more I learn from my internship, the more I see myself pursuing this path.

I have always been intrigued by education and the idea of taking new classes that challenge my worldview. I am a product of the American public education system and and firmly believe that every human being has a right to an equitable and excellent education. However, in order for this to be possible, we need to have passionate teachers and policy makers advocating for children at the local, state, and federal level. I am eager to see the work that DCPS will accomplish throughout the summer, and I am grateful for the opportunity to spend my summer in the nation’s capital.