The 2014 Panetta Internship Class
The 2014 Panetta Internship Class

Every year, the Panetta Congressional Internship Program gives one student from each CSU campus the opportunity to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., where they study and work full-time in the office of a California member of the House of Representatives.

The internship program, now in its 16th year, is sponsored by the CSU Monterey Bay-based Panetta Institute for Public Policy. It provides a full scholarship and stipend, which gives all CSU students an incredible opportunity to get a foot in the door as leaders of public policy.

The program was started by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his wife, Sylvia and it serves the entire CSU system and several other schools. Although open to students from all majors, program participants must be nominated by campus presidents and are selected based on their academic achievements and interest in politics.

After the selection process, the program begins with two weeks of rigorous preparation at the Panetta Institute on the CSUMB campus. The training offers tips from elected officials, seasoned government staff and policy experts, giving students the chance to understand what they can expect once they arrive on Capitol Hill.

“It was an intense two weeks. We didn’t have a day off,” said Fresno State political science student Britney Toste, who is currently interning in the office of California Congressman Jeff Denham. “The training definitely prepared us for the experience ahead.”

Once the students get to Washington, they are assigned to work in the Capitol Hill office of a member of the California congressional delegation, where they get immediate and valuable first-hand experience.

“I was already attending committees, evaluating legislation and providing recommendations my first week,” said CSU Dominguez Hills intern Sean Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who is assigned to California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, aspires for a career in state or federal public policy and is interested in advocating for more funding for science.

In addition to their work in congressional offices, the students also attend regular seminars on policy issues and different aspects of government. The combined training and practical experience is preparing these interns to make a real difference in California’s state and federal policy.

“I didn’t have the financial means to do anything like this and the internship gave me the opportunity,” said Toste. “I hope more people like me take advantage of it. The learning experience is far from anything you get in a classroom.”