Photo of Lyzette Cornejo, fourth-year Chicana/o Studies major (third from the left) along with fellow Panetta interns.
By Destiny Caster
The journey from a student to a professional is not always easy, especially if you do not know where to begin. Internships are a great way to learn more about a field you are interested in and gain valuable soft skills that can be versatile in any field. The CI View spoke to fourth-year Chicana/o Studies major Lyzette Cornejo about her experience in Washington, D.C. under the Panetta Fellowship.
According to the Panetta Institute website, the fellowship is a semester-long, paid, public service experience that gives students a chance to serve for 11 weeks as interns in the United States House of Representatives in the offices of both Republican and Democratic members in Washington, D.C. In 2022, 25 students were selected by university presidents of the California State University campuses along with three other California universities.
Why are internships so important? Internships allow students to explore different career paths and learn from people that have been in the intern position before. Depending on the internship, students can build personal and professional connections that can grow into a possible career in the future.
Born and raised in Santa Paula, Cornejo is a first-generation student from a family of four. Her parents and older brother have been her biggest supporters as she explores every opportunity she can. When Cornejo first heard about the Panetta Fellowship, she was abroad in Spain.
Her mentor reached out to her about the internship opportunity in Washington, D.C. Cornejo was unsure if she wanted to do it since she did not have a political background and was not in the political science program. “I really appreciate that the Panetta Institute opens it to people who aren’t in poli sci because that just builds awareness for people who don’t have the background,” Cornejo stated.
“The application series was intense,” she described. Cornejo went through a series of interviews, including being interviewed by a panel of political science professors, President Richard Yao, and a few other people through the internship program. After completing the interviews, Cornejo and other selected students went to CSU Monterey Bay to do their two weeks of training.
“I think they did a really good job prepping us to be very good interns because we are probably the top-notch interns,” said Cornejo. “I was really scared because, like I said, I didn’t have any political experience, but they worked with me and they practice, they briefed me on things that I didn’t know anything about.”
Once the interns were placed in their offices in Washington, D.C., they got to choose an area of interest they would like to work in. Cornejo explained that they had to find very specific areas, such as vulnerable communities in healthcare, immigration, women’s rights or environmental work. Cornejo described her daily experience as an intern.
Cornejo interned under Representative Scott Peters (D-CA 50th District) and his team. During her time, she was involved in overseeing a bill being drafted. “It was really nice to see that, even though I was still an intern, because of my background, they wanted to see my input.”
She also attended briefings to get updates on educational, environmental and healthcare-related topics. She would take notes on the briefings with legislators and send those notes to the representative she worked under. “I really struggled to understand their language. So, I always had to do a lot of background research or a quick Google search,” explained Cornejo.
Reflecting on her time in Washington D.C., Cornejo said, “I understand how federal government works now, or the foundation at least.” She added, “Now I want to explore local government, so I’m working at AmeriCorps for the city of Santa Paula and … I found a passion in legislation and now I’m bringing it back to my community.”
“If anyone has any questions about it, they can contact me, I will prep them. Two former Panetta interns prepped me, so it’s like family and I want to make sure everyone knows this. We’re all open to prepping or training or just having a quick conversation with whoever’s interested,” explained Cornejo. The CI View will provide updates as application information becomes available. Check our platforms for updates.