Within the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences, there are many internship opportunities, but one stands out among the rest: The Panetta Institute Congressional Internship in Washington, D.C.
These interns serve as part of the general staff in a congressional office, with the focus on being a research assistant.
In past years, interns focused on the work of specific committees and legislation packages. Students get an opportunity to develop expertise in specific topics and provide background briefings for representatives and staff members.
A committee comprised of faculty selects candidates, and then university President Soraya M. Coley conducts the final interview.
Each CSU nominates a candidate for the program, but Coley was so impressed with the applicants that she received special permission to send two: Nafisa Ahmed and Mary Ashley Cherney.
Ahmed and Cherney are both political science majors who want to give back to the community through their careers. They say that the Panetta internship will equip them with the knowledge and skills to achieve their goals.
“Dr. [Daniel] Lewis mentioned it in freshman orientation and I knew right then: ‘That’s what I want,’ ” Ahmed says. “So I tailored everything to make myself as good of a candidate as I could since then.”
That tailoring includes joining a culture club —she is now on the executive board — working on the 2014 ASI Elections Committee, joining the political science club, and serving two internships: a judicial one offered by the political science department and one with JusticeCorps.
Ahmed wants to go into congressional law, specifically public policy.
“I realized that if I want to make a difference, I should look into public policy,” she says. “I did a judicial internship offered by CLASS and it really opened my eyes to how everything works. I saw how there was a lot of problems in local systems and it trickles down from what gets done in Washington, so I was interested to see through the Panetta internship how what they do up there effects what happens here.”
She looks forward to meeting influential people, whose experiences are unlike anyone’s in Southern California.
“I’m really excited about the new learning opportunity,” she says. “I’m truly humbled by this opportunity that the university and the Panetta Institute is offering. I’m really excited to be there.”
Ahmed has a piece of advice for students seeking direction.
“Look at what your priority is, what your ambition is, and make that your goal,” she says. “If you want something, you have to do whatever it takes to get there.”
Like her fellow intern, Cherney heard about the Panetta internship during her first year on campus. She didn’t think that being away for an entire quarter would fit into her schedule, so she didn’t consider applying until political science Professor Mario Guerrero suggested the program.
“The most exciting thing about the Panetta internship is basically being able to find out what I want to do,” Cherney says. “But I know that I have a huge passion for higher education, and I have a huge passion for the families who live under the poverty rate, so I know I want to work in government programs.”
She grew up as one of those who lived under the poverty line. Without federally funded programs, Cherney says she probably wouldn’t have gone to college.
“It was those administrators, those state officials who work those programs who saw potential in me and inspired me to become a leader and to get involved on my college campus,” she says. “I want to be able to do that for someone else.”
She is looking forward to networking opportunities and plans on absorbing as much knowledge as she can.
Although she was nervous about applying for the internship, Cherney says it’s important to not let fear stop students from pursuing their objectives.
“Don’t be too scared to do something because you never know until you try,” she says. “Being an Educational Opportunity Program student and a first-generation college student, it hasn’t really hit me that this opportunity has come for me. It’s surreal.”