Eliza Ramirez became a DC Scholar in 2012, interning in the Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining.
“I wanted a new adventure, coupled with professional experience, and I’d never been to D.C. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she laughed.
“Getting used to the heat and humidity took some doing,” she said. “But I had a wonderful experience at the Department of Interior. I became close to the other students in the program, and enjoyed my time in D.C. so much, I returned after graduating.”
Ramirez currently works as deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. (In the 10 years, she’s worked on Capitol Hill, she’s worked for five different members of Congress.)
Today, she and many of the approximately 50 Cal State DC Scholars alumni who work in Washington, D.C., now serve as mentors and role models to new scholars coming through the program.
Communications student Ashley Amaya didn’t plan to spend a summer working in Washington, D.C. But this summer, after working as a student assistant for DC Scholars and seeing the impact the program had on the student participants, she decided to participate herself.
She landed an internship at Adfero, a communications agency in downtown D.C., that focuses on advertising and strategic communications in the areas of health and public affairs. Amaya focuses on the public affairs sector, assisting with media relations, advertising and creating social media copy.
“There are so many things to do and places to explore here,” she said. “It’s nice not to have to rush and try to see everything all at once. Also, meeting so many new people within my cohort has been great!
“Even though my major and industry aren’t directly associated with politics, the district and most of our work naturally involves politics to some extent. Just being here, I’ve learned more about many different issues. We are all continuously checking our news feeds for the latest information and waiting to see what will happen.”
Amaya and the students recently had the opportunity to meet with DC Scholars alumni at the home of Ramirez and her husband, Javier Gamboa (a 2008 DC Scholar). The scholars also attended an additional reception hosted by Titan alumna Vicki Vasques in Alexandria, Virginia.
“It was a great opportunity for us to meet in-person with the students,” Ramirez said. “Alums were matched to students so they could help them adjust to the D.C. culture and offer professional and personal advice.
“For students coming from California, D.C. is quite different,” she said. “Some of their common concerns are coming to an unfamiliar place where they often don’t know anyone. Professionally, some of them have never held an internship. This can be an exciting but daunting challenge for them.”
“The alumni reception was a great opportunity to meet previous scholars and connect with people who have been in your shoes,” said Amaya. “After the reception, I was able to follow up and meet with one of the alums who has experience in the communications industry.”
Ramirez and the mentors encourage students to meet and engage with people from many different circles and explore areas they may not have considered.
“Working in D.C. puts you in the center of the hustle and bustle of the U.S. government, and top national non-profits, lobbying firms and think tanks,” Ramirez said. “You’ll meet people from all over the world with different backgrounds. There are always events here at the embassies, on the Hill, at nonprofits. I encourage students to try to attend as many events as possible to learn as much as they can and get a better sense of the city’s history and the culture. Students have been given an amazing opportunity to learn and grow. We tell them to try to absorb as much as possible.
“Living and working in the Capitol is awe-inspiring,” she said. “It humbles me every time I go to work.”
Practical Advice for Students in D.C.
Below is some guidance from former DC Scholar Eliza Ramirez.
- Always be practicing your ‘elevator pitch’ — a brief introduction about you and your work. If you are at an event, tell people (with confidence) that you are an intern from Cal State Fullerton working at whatever organization or office you’re at. Be proud — you have value.
- Always network. The reality is that you can move up the ranks fairly quickly in D.C. whether working on Capitol Hill, in advocacy or even at the White House. When you return from your internship, stay in touch with the people you met.
- Women should wear flats on their commute (put heels in your bag). There is a lot of walking in D.C.
- Office attire is more formal than in California. Dress appropriately for your office (ask your office contacts beforehand about the dress code policy).
- “Getting coffee” means more than coffee. It implies getting together to discuss career development questions you may have or touch base on a work project.
For more information on Cal State DC Scholars, visit calstatedcscholars.fullerton.edu.