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Panetta Scholar Ready to Lead After Semester on The Hill

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Titan Carlos Juarez saw the strong, persistent, public servant he wants to be — in the faces of coworkers, in the actions of legislators, and, in the mirror — all while studying on Capitol Hill.

“That’s the kind of person I aspire to be, strong,” says Juarez, a CSUF junior studying public relations. “Whether someone is a Democrat or Republican, labels don’t matter, as humans we all struggle the same feelings, processing setbacks and losses.”

Persistence is key, says Juarez, who recently returned from the fall semester in Washington, D.C., working with the Panetta Institute Congressional Internship Program and in the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno.

At a personal low, after volunteering on the campaign of presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Juarez said he heard inspiration in her concession speech — a call to do more.

“She said ‘you are worthy of every opportunity’ and she was encouraging the future generation of youth to get involved. That spoke to me,” he said.

He decided, on a whim, to apply for CSUF’s Panetta Scholars Program and burst into tears when he got the call confirming he had been selected by the University’s president. A first-generation and gay college student, he hoped submitting his graded African American studies essay on how HIV and Aids impacts African American and Latino men would show his passion and potential. In the interviews, he shared his goals to join the Navy, like his brother, and to help others by serving as a medic or a nurse, like his mother.

Juarez joined 25 other students from each CSU campus, and Dominican University of California, Saint Mary’s College of California and Santa Clara University in the prestigious program as representatives of the CSU Chancellor’s Office.

To prepare, the interns attend a two-week session at The Panetta Institute for Public Policy on the campus of Cal State Monterey Bay, where they heard lectures by former Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and experts in United States foreign and defense policies, consensus-building, national security and cybersecurity, as well as fiscal and monetary policy. Each intern then works in the Capitol Hill office of a California member of Congress and attends weekly seminars on policy issues and the role of government.

In D.C., he found the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and networking groups where young professionals shared inspiring stories and opportunities. He found peers and mentors. He was “in the room” as California’s Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris discussed health care with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). And, again, he knew he was in the right place when Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) shared his struggles to win in California’s 10th district. “Be that strong. Be that voice in your community,” Juarez told himself.  

“I learned how to think critically and on the spot. I also learned how to carry myself professionally,” Juarez said. “I’d never worn a suit before and I didn’t know how to tie a tie. Small details and experiences like that really opened my eyes.”

In Rep. Costa’s office, Juarez reviewed news sources and gathered news stories daily for Costa and attended key briefings on issues including immigration, health care, taxes and infrastructure, and prepared summaries for the Congressman’s staff. He also gave tours to constituents and helped book White House tours for visitors.

The Panetta Institute Congressional Internship Program celebrates its 20th year in 2018. Students interested in applying for the program should contact Yessica De La Torre. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7. An information session will be held 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, in Langsdorf Hall, Room 805.