Jennifer Calbonero, left, and Fanny Hagbom meet with President Mo Qayoumi before heading to their Washington, D.C. congressional internships. (Photo: Barry Zepel)
When international student Fanny Hagbom, a senior majoring in political science, came to study at Cal State East Bay in 2006 after leaving her hometown in Sweden two years prior, she had no idea that her studies would lead her to working in the nation’s capital.
Hagbom, along with Jennifer Calbonero, a senior political science major at CSUEB with an option in pre-law, will experience the political process first-hand as interns in Washington, D.C.
Hagbom, who served as 2008-09 director for legislative affairs for CSUEB Associated Students Inc., started a 10-week internship through the Washington Center on June 8. Calbonero, president of Cal State East Bay’s Political Science Club, will participate in the 2009 Panetta Congressional Internship Program during the fall term.
Internships give students an opportunity to gain practical experience and an insider’s view of the political process, said Norman Bowen, a professor in the Department of Political Science and director of International Studies.
Both students had to submit a statement of purpose explaining the benefits they expected to gain from participating in their respective internships, along with a transcript, resume and an academic paper demonstrating their writing skills.
Bowen and associate professor Kim Geron selected Hagbom and Calbonero from among five applicants.
The Panetta Institute for Public Policy offers CSU juniors and seniors an opportunity to gain insight into how policy is set by the U.S. Congress. Interns, who are appointed by their university’s president, work in the office of a U.S. representative from the state delegation.
The Washington Center internship is funded through the CSUEB Instructionally Related Activities Political Internship Fund, which is administered by the Department of Political Science. The award covers the recipient’s fees and lodging and may be used toward any Washington, D.C. internship.
Hagbom will intern with TechAmerica, a trade group for the high tech industry that represents about 1,500 companies including Google, Microsoft and IBM. Within two weeks of starting her internship, Hagbom already experienced committee hearings, an annual board meeting and congressional lobby days.
“(Politics) doesn’t just exist in the textbooks anymore; it’s a reality,” Hagbom said.
Students receive course credit for their internship, and credit for academic courses taken through the Washington Center. Hagbom is taking a course called “Power, Politics and Prose” where students learn outside the typical classroom setting by meeting at a different Washington, D.C. site for each class session. Locations include the Lincoln Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
“Working in a field that can change from week to week, day to day is what attracts me (to politics),” Hagbom said.
The Panetta Institute program begins with a two-week course at California State University, Monterey Bay, with elected officials and other government staff explaining the legislative process. Then, each intern is assigned to work in a Capitol Hill office while living in the Washington, D.C. area from late September through mid December. The Panetta Institute covers program costs including CSU Monterey Bay campus services during orientation, air travel and housing. Interns earn up to 20 semester credits. Each intern also receives a stipend to help cover other expenses.
Calbonero said she is looking forward to trying something new as she approaches her last quarter as an undergraduate student.
“This internship gives me the opportunity to learn even more outside of the typical classroom setting,” Calbonero said. “Experiencing things first-hand is much more exciting than just reading or hearing about it.”
Most interns make contacts and are offered full-time jobs in Washington, D.C. before they complete their programs, while others return to Washington, D.C. after they finish their degrees, Bowen said.
Hagbom’s said her dream job would be in political consulting, which ranges from assisting political campaigns to consulting to the legislature on important issues.
Calbonero said she is keeping her career options open.
“I am interested in going to law school and maybe becoming an attorney someday,” she said. “However, I am not ruling out graduate school or any other opportunities that may come my way.”
The achievements of the interns demonstrate the quality of Cal State East Bay academic programs and of the CSUEB student body, Bowen said.
“They are expected to be ambassadors for the university, and they are,” Bowen said. “The responses we receive from the congressional and other offices where they work are almost always positive.”