Cal Poly English Major Takes Part in Prestigious Internship in the U.S. Congress
English major Miguel Contreras spent the past summer working in Washington, D.C. As one of 34 finalists who were selected to take part in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), Contreras was able to gain valuable work experience with the office of Representative Loretta Sanchez, the congresswoman who represents his home district in Orange County. “I got to see the ins and outs of how laws are made,” said Contreras. “I was answering phone calls for constituents and answering concerns about bills that were going to the floor.”
In addition to the internship, the CHCI program also gave Contreras the chance to participate in workshops and meet Latino leaders in business and politics. “The first week we were in class,” Contreras said. “They taught us how to conduct ourselves with members of congress and the public. We learned etiquette, and we learned how to write memos.” One of the highlights of this part of the program was getting to know the other students who had also been selected. “There were Latino students from Ohio and Kansas, even from Alaska,” Contreras said. He enjoyed meeting his fellow students, hearing their stories, and sharing his own. “We got the opportunity to tell each other who we were and where we were from. It was empowering.”
Since Toyota was the sponsor for Contreras’s scholarship, he and nine other students were invited to travel to the company’s corporate headquarters. “We got to meet their CEO and other corporate leaders,” Contreras said. “It was great to see that the leaders in Toyota were also Latinos and they were doing something for the Latino community.”
Participating in the internship gave Contreras a sense of accomplishment and belonging, something which he says is invaluable for a first-generation college student like himself. He described what it was like to be recognized as a member of the CHCI group when he was in one of the congressional office buildings. “We all had pins we wore, so people knew who we were. You’d be waiting for the elevator with members of congress standing beside you, and you knew that when they saw your pin, they knew how you got there, that you had been selected as an intern because of your hard work, not because of who you knew.”
Contreras advises other Latino students like himself to seek out opportunities like the CHCI program, and not to be afraid of applying, even if at first they don’t seem like the perfect fit. “I would tell them to put their heart and soul into the things they write down in their application,” Contreras said. “Look at their community and the issues that are affecting them. Get involved in the issues that are going on in their community. That’s what the CHCI wanted. They wanted to know how I was getting involved on a local level, how I was challenging things that were going on.”
Contreras graduated from Cal Poly at the end of the fall 2016 quarter, and while he isn’t entirely sure of his future plans - he is considering career options in business, teaching and politics - he’s sure that whatever he does, he’s going to think big. “I’m dreaming big,” Contreras said. “Up to this point, I didn’t think I could make it this far. I never thought I’d have these ideas going through my head.” This summer’s Washington, D.C., internship helped Contreras rethink the possibilities.