Spending the fall semester in Washington, D.C. as a congressional intern certainly made an impression on Cal State Long Beach student Ryan Sweeney. So much so that it may have altered the course of his future professional life.
Sweeney was one of 26 California students (one each from the 23 CSU campuses and three others from Dominican University, Saint Mary’s College and Santa Clara University) participating in the 17th annual Congressional Internship Program.
Sponsored by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, the internship program is recognized as one of the best in the country because of the training opportunities provided to participants as well as the full scholarship covering all program costs. Participants are nominated by their respective campus presidents and are selected based on their scholastic achievements and their interest in politics.
Sweeney, a junior political science and economics major (with a legal studies minor), was CSULB’s 2015 representative in the Congressional Internship Program, and there is no question that Sweeney agrees with the program’s well-earned reputation.
“I can tell you that after my time on the Hill, I would have no problem teaching a course on Congress at any academic level. There truly is no substitute for hands-on experience,” the 21-year-old student said. “From the guest speakers brought in by the Institute, to the veterans in my office, to the many briefings and hearings I attended, the depth of my knowledge about domestic and foreign policy issues has never increased so dramatically in such a short period of time.”
Sweeney spent his internship working in the office of Congressman Jerry McNerney, a Democrat representing California’s 9th Congressional District, which encompasses Stockton, Antioch, Lodi and surrounding areas. Rep. McNerney is described as a moderate Democrat whose primary policy areas are energy, commerce and veteran's affairs.
“I believe I was matched with him on the basis of overall ideology,” Sweeney explained, “but I found his issue areas fascinating and got to learn a lot about some issues I had never studied in depth before.”
During his first few weeks, Sweeney was the only intern in the office, which meant he was the primary receptionist and ran the front lobby. His duties included answering both internal and external phone calls, receiving mail, welcoming guests and constituents, and other administrative tasks as assigned.
When another intern was brought on to run the front office, Sweeney worked primarily with the legislative staff, conducting research and drafting policy proposals for the Congressman to review. He also attended many briefings on a wide variety of issues to report findings back to the staff.
“During my final few weeks, I worked closely with one of the legislative assistants to research and draft a bill that went on to be introduced in the House,” Sweeney pointed out. “It meant a lot to me that (the legislative assistant) trusted me to not only conduct most of the research for the bill, but also to have a say in the final provisions and see it through to introduction. Not many interns get the chance to actually work on legislation in such a direct way. So, this experience really set my time there apart from most of my peers.”
While in Washington, Sweeney also attended regular weekly seminars with key administration personnel on different aspects of government policy, ranging from economics to the environment and foreign affairs to defense resources. Speakers participating in these seminars included former and current cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, U.S. senators and U.S. representatives.“As a political science and economics double major and legal studies minor, of course it had crossed my mind to one day work in the nation’s capital. However, I can now say with certainty that I am in love with the city of Washington D.C. and that I hope to move back shortly after graduation to pursue a career in politics,” Sweeney. After meeting the people who make that city function behind the scenes and being involved in the process firsthand, doors have opened in my career path that I would have never thought possible.”
In 2007, Lester Murillo’s mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he witnessed his once adventurous and loving mom turn into a mentally unstable recluse who believed her family was out to kill her.
While helping his mother get treatment, he became frustrated with some of the inefficient public policies regarding mental health. He saw how many of the rules and regulations to qualify for government assistance made accessing any form of aid difficult. In fact, it took seven years for him and his family to navigate the barriers blocking government assistance for his mother’s mental healthcare.
The experience is the impetus behind Murillo’s desire to become a lawyer who will advocate for the rights of the mentally ill. It was also the reason for his applying for a spot in the 16th annual Congressional Internship Program sponsored by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.
Murillo, a senior criminal justice major at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), will spend this fall semester in Washington, D.C. as the campus’ 2014 representative in the institute’s Congressional Internship Program.
“ I wanted to apply for the internship because the efforts of the Panetta Institute to educate students on public policy, government infrastructure and leadership align with my future goals. From the experience I hope to learn more about the rationale and process of policy making by the government. I also hope to grow both as an individual and as a leader. ”
A Long Beach resident and 2010 graduate of Long Beach Poly High School, Murillo will be one of 26 California students (one each from the 23 CSU campuses and three others from Dominican University, Saint Mary’s College and Santa Clara University) participating in the program.
The interns’ experience begins Aug. 10 with an intense two weeks of preparation at the Panetta Institute, located on the CSU Monterey Bay campus. Following the two-week training session, interns fly out immediately to Washington, where they are assigned to and work full-time for 11 weeks in the office of a California member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“There is no one particular assignment that I hope for while interning in Washington,” said Murillo, who pointed out that this would be his first-ever trip to Washington, D.C. and to the east coast. “I feel like anything that I am assigned to during the internship will have some significance. (Then), I hope to use whatever I take from the experience and apply it to my future endeavors.”