College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Panetta Interns Gain First-Hand Experience at the U.S. Capitol

Panetta Interns

Working in the Capitol had always been a dream for political science majors, Nafisa Ahmed and Mary Ashley Cherney, and recently that dream became a reality. The two were hand selected by Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya M. Coley as the 2015 Panetta Institute Congressional Interns, which led them on a journey from CPP to Washington D.C.

Intern nominations are generally established by the presidents from the twenty-three CSU campuses, along with the Dominican University of California, Saint Mary’s College of California and Santa Clara University, which are then approved by the Panetta Institute and a representative from the CSU Chancellor’s office. Typically, only one intern is chosen to represent their university. However, this years applicants at Cal Poly Pomona were so impressive, Coley was able to successfully lobby for a second internship position.

The Panetta Institute, which hosts students from mid-August through mid-November, developed the program to give students real-world experience. The program begins with an intensive two-week training session, which allows interns to attend lectures led by experts from diverse disciplines and participate in a broad range of class discussions. Once training is complete, each intern is assigned to work in the Capitol Hill office of a member of the California congressional delegation.

Panetta Interns

Nafisa Ahmed was assigned U.S. Representative Mike Thompson of California’s 5th congressional district, while Mary Ashley Cherney worked with U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz of California’s 36th congressional district.

For Ahmed, some of her day-to-day duties included: distributing and compiling news clippings, giving tours of the Capitol to constituents, assisting in administrative and research tasks, and attend briefings. She even had the opportunity to watch the election of the Speaker of the House, which was an experience she will never forget.

"Working for the House of Representatives was the best experience I ever had,” Ahmed says. “It was a surreal experience living and working in one of the most powerful cities in the world.”

While working for Congressman Raul Ruiz, Cherney came face-to-face with many important political officials, such as congressional members, former cabinet members and vice presidents, and even House Parliamentarian, Tom Wickham. As a low-income first-generation college student, Cherney took advantage of her internship to discuss policies surrounding education in low-income communities with Congressman Mark Takano. Additionally, during an office transition, she was able to be the interim scheduler for her Congressman.

Both Ahmed and Cherney credit the faculty and staff in the political science department for preparing them to be successful in the Panetta Internship. “The learn-by-doing philosophy of Cal Poly Pomona was a crucial element to being successful in D.C.,” Cherney says. “Coming from a polytechnic campus, I knew the only way I would be a great intern is if I learned-by-doing.” This once in a lifetime opportunity has helped them grow not only professionally, but personally as well. It has extended their professional networks, given them leadership skills, and the confidence to try something new. 

Written by Stephanie Salazar