John Sellers, a senior political science major at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), is spending the fall semester in Washington, D.C. as the campus’ 2012 representative in the Congressional Internship Program, which is sponsored by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.
Sellers was one of 25 California students (one each from the 23 CSU campuses and two others from Santa Clara and Dominica universities) selected for the program. Each intern is spending 11 weeks in the nation’s capital working full-time in the office of a California member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Congressional Internship Program has been 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 were selected based on their scholastic achievements as well as their interest in politics.
Program applicants undergo a rigorous review and interview process. Each campus nominee meets with the university’s president and undergoes a background investigation prior to nomination to the Panetta Institute. Selection of the campus nominee is based on academic standing, student leadership experience, commitment to community and public service, communication skills and overall demeanor as well as his/her interest in politics.
Final selection of Congressional Internship Program participants is made by the Panetta Institute interview team and a representative from the CSU Chancellor’s Office.
“I first noticed a flyer about the internship program at school two years ago. I discussed it with my academic adviser and she thought it would be a good fit for me,” Sellers recalled. “When the time came, I applied, attended the interviews, first with several school officials, then with President Alexander, and then in Monterey Bay with the institute. When I received notice that I had been accepted, it was a bit surreal—I had been waiting so long, and it was actually happening. I was ecstatic.”
Sellers completed a two-week training session at the Panetta Institute, which is located on the campus of CSU Monterey Bay. The intensive orientation helps prepare participants by giving them the necessary tools and skills they need to succeed during their time in Washington.
The training session included elected officials, seasoned government staff, policy experts and Panetta Institute professors explaining how the legislative process works and providing synthesized information on the key issues facing the nation. Near the end of the orientation, each intern was assigned to work for two-and-a-half-months with a member of the California congressional delegation.
“The biggest thing I’m excited for is getting out of the classroom and seeing our federal government in action (or inaction),” Sellers said before his departure to Washington, D.C. “I’ve already learned so much just during the two-week orientation from some of the most interesting people in both our state and federal governments. I’ve appreciated their true bipartisanship and open-mindedness. It’s refreshing.”
Sellers was assigned to work with Congressman Brian Bilbray, a Republican from San Diego who represents California’s 50th Congressional District. He says Bilbray’s primary legislative efforts are focused on improving the economy vis-a-vis the military, alternative energy sources and immigration. Sellers anticipated that his participation in his office would include answering phone calls and letters from constituents, giving tours, performing general office tasks and attending legislative hearings.
While in Washington, Sellers has been attending 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 include former and current cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, U.S. senators and U.S. representatives.
The Congressional Internship Program was founded by the Panetta Institute to give students hands-on experience on how the nation’s democracy operates. “This program is an important part of the Panetta Institute’s mission to increase civic engagement,” said Institute Director Sylvia M. Panetta. “These young people get to see first-hand the challenges and opportunities of working in government and serving our democracy.
“There’s just no substitute for this kind of first-hand experience to promote public service,” Panetta continued, “and we’ve had tremendous cooperation from our members of Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – in working with our students.”
The Panetta Institute pays for the entire program in part to ensure that students of all economic backgrounds have the opportunity to participate. Costs covered during the program include academic fees and tuition, CSUMB campus services during orientation, food and housing, a living stipend during their stay in Washington, course materials and air and ground transportation.
Additionally, each student receives 20 academic credits upon successful completion of the internship program, which includes submission of an experiential journal and a 20-page research paper.
When Sellers returns from Washington, there will be no rest. Life will continue to be busy.
“I will finish the internship in November and will marry the love of my life in December,” Sellers explained. “After that, I will start my last semester at CSULB and finish working on my thesis for the Political Science Honors Program. I will graduate with a B.A. in political science and a minor in Spanish in spring 2013.”
Sellers added that law school is on the horizon, but he plans to wait at least a year before applying. He is considering Stanford University or somewhere on the east coast.
“You never know, though. I may just come back to Washington if I catch D.C. fever,” Sellers admitted. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”