For Valerie Marquez, perusing the Cal Poly Pomona website at just the right moment turned into an opportunity.
The junior, who is majoring in philosophy, was internet surfing when she found information about The Panetta Institute Congressional Internship. It was Feb. 1, and the deadline to apply was Feb. 9.
She scrambled to craft a personal statement and get two letters of recommendation from her professors. She did initial interviews on campus and then traveled to CSU Monterey Bay for a final round.
The resident advisor at Aliso Hall recalls sitting in her room when she got an email from her department offering congratulations.
“It was an amazing experience to even interview at all,” she said. “When I got the email, it kind of took me by surprise. I called all my friends, and I told them that I had been traveling for interviews for the internship and I got it. And then I started crying.”
The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which is located in Monterey, selects a CSU student from each of the 23 campuses every year for an intensive two-week training course on how the U.S. Congress operates. Then, the students head to Washington, D.C., for 11 weeks to serve on the staff of a California member in the House of Representatives. The internship is fully funded and interns receive a stipend and college credits.
Marquez, who does not know which member of Congress she has been assigned to, heads for Capitol Hill on Aug. 10.
It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for the Lynwood native who once was unsure if she would be able to attend college.
While the first-generation college student had the grades, her family told her when she was a teen that they could not afford to send her to college. Her high school counselor told Marquez that college was the path she should take and gave her information about applying for financial aid.
“My parents were shocked when I told them about financial aid,” she said. “I came to campus to visit with my parents. The (W.K. Kellogg) Rose Garden was so beautiful, and I fell in love. I said, ‘This is my home.’ ”
Inspired by one of her favorite high school teachers, Marquez decided to major in philosophy.
She hopes to attend law school after she graduates and wants to work in public policy.
“Being educated about different issues makes me want to be a proponent for change,” she said. “I want to be a change agent for people who need it.”
In previous years, Panetta interns worked with specific House committees and helped with legislation packages. The interns provide support to congressional office staff, attend hearings and briefings, conduct legislative research, and meet and greet constituents.
“It will be an amazing experience to be in a completely different environment and working at a completely different pace,” she said. “I think it will be an amazing opportunity to move forward on my future goals.”