As previously mentioned in My Gap Quarter During a Pandemic, I was fortunate to have been selected as a participant in the Fall 2020 Congressional Internship Program available for undergraduate students. Check out my cohort here! CHCI also has fellowship opportunities for college graduates and a program for high school students. I write this article as a way to help more people know about this life-changing opportunity and share my experience after completing the CIP program. My program was entirely virtual but it is normally in-person with a dorming experience. Please read the Eligibility & Program Details on CHCI’s website for more information.
I had a unique application experience. Firstly, I missed the deadline. The website said it was due at midnight and I failed to recognize the time difference between the East and West coast. I knew I only had to make a few tweaks before submitting but, by the time I got home after 9 p.m. that day, it was too late. Thankfully, my letter of recommendation was submitted. They reached out to let me know my application was incomplete, then let me submit my short essays!
Looking back, I notice a few typos in my responses. I also did not have as many accomplishments as my cohort did. However, what I lacked in experiences I made up for in clear values and a common thread that motivated my extracurriculars. When asked to write about Latino leaders, I chose to write about people who I personally knew. I highlighted the Higher Education Counselor from my alma mater high school. While she may not make change at the institutional or societal level, she touches the lives of every student she consults before they graduate high school. She affects the individual by setting the culture. This same person wrote my letter of recommendation. In my second response, I continued to write about education. I made sure to connect my separate essays so CHCI knew what matters to me.
Be comprehensible in presenting yourself – your background, your values, etc. – be intentional with what you choose to share. Aside from submitting your application early, don’t forget about what makes you special.
I do not recommend bragging. You need a degree of humility to ask an organization to take you under their wing and help you. Express what areas you’d like help on. It will also help them determine what types of speakers they should bring for programming. Being able to provide feedback is essential for any program.
Have your “brand” be a reoccurring theme. For example, if you’re an organizer, or would like to be one, make sure to connect all your unrelated experiences with your community-building skills. Show them that you are dedicated to a cause. I would recommend choosing a brand that demonstrates your commitment towards approaching social justice as CHCI is geared towards policy work, specifically geared for Hispanics and Latinx.
In an effort to respect my placement’s privacy, I will not reveal which Congressmember’s office that I had the pleasure of interning with. Each congressional office operates differently with different responsibilities available for interns.
The internship component is getting you ready for a career on the Hill and you will learn your office structure. You enter the fast-paced, yet never fast enough, world of federal politics while being in the earthly setting of an office. This is an office job: with room for networking and exclusive experiences, depending on the season.
Go in knowing what you want to work on and your areas of improvement. Do you want to improve your writing skills? Connect with the Legislative Correspondent. Do you want to learn more about issues affecting people? Attend briefings and connect with the District Office because they deal with casework. Don’t be afraid to ask for work. Inquire about hearings and which events are available for you to attend.
Schedule “coffee chats” or “brown bag lunches” with the office staff! Ask questions about their career trajectory, advice about being in your 20s, and light-hearted questions like their interests or favorite D.C. spots. Talk about yourself! Vocalize your passions, making it easier for them to potentially connect you to someone with similar policy goals or expertise. Forget networking to get somewhere else. It could make you nervous or feel disingenuous. Get to know them so the team is comfortable reaching out and so your experience is ripe and pleasant.
Graduate-level Public Policy Class:
CHCI programming includes a George Washington University course on public policy. As standard for a Master’s in Public Administration, you must know your civic engagement basics. This must have been my third time taking an American government class. We worked on our public speaking skills, an understanding of reaching policy decisions, all building up to a final presentation on an issue affecting our community.
Like you should be doing in your classes, speak early on and make yourself known. I’m the type of person who will speak only when no one else volunteers. I didn’t verbally participate until Week 3, when the strong personalities have already made themselves known. For all classroom settings, I recommend speaking at the beginning of each class, so you are in control of your participation and therefore will be less likely to be cold-called.
Other than that, go in with an open mind! The GWU classes were my favorite part of the program for making me realize how important my voice can be – it helped my self-esteem and made me feel closer to my peers.
Overall, I hope you consider applying. Please feel free to share this article and let your Latinx friends know of this amazing opportunity! We must all do our part in increasing access to resources, which will only increase for the CHCI participants that become alumni.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions. Thank you for reading, and take care.