Skip to Content (Press Enter)

Panetta Scholar Sets Sights on Law School, Career in Criminal Justice Reform

Share This:

An Iranian immigrant stood before the American flag with his right hand raised, reciting the Oath of Allegiance. In a Los Angeles naturalization ceremony, young Sophia Darvish watched in awe as her father officially became a United States citizen.

Growing up in a household of Iranian immigrants, Darvish said she understands the importance and necessity of democracy and civic engagement in the United States.

“I have always been a government and political science nerd, competing on my high school’s mock trial team, attending climate strikes, listening to way too many political podcasts and celebrating the day when I was finally able to vote,” said Darvish, a criminal justice major at Cal State Fullerton. 

The Panetta Congressional Internship Program, a nationally recognized and funded internship program that takes place in the fall semester, piqued Darvish’s interest. Only one student from each California State University campus is selected to participate.

The program gives 25 students from the CSU system, Dominican University of California, Saint Mary’s College of California and Santa Clara University the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to fulfill an 11-week internship in the U.S. House of Representatives. National, state and local elected representatives teach policy issues related to Middle East politics, income inequality, health care and inflation. Funded by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, the program pays for students’ housing, travel and tuition.

“I applied for the Panetta Congressional Internship program because I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of policy making and discover whether I wanted to pursue a career that contributes to the legislative process,” said Darvish. Her dream became reality when she received the acceptance letter.

Finding Success in Capitol Hill

During her time in the program, Darvish worked as a legislative intern for U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal. He represents California’s 24th District, which covers portions of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. 

She was responsible for organizing incoming constituent messages and answering phone calls to log legislative opinions. She prepared and maintained up-to-date legislative reports and memos, drafted letters to respond to constituent concerns, attended briefings and gave tours of the U.S. Capitol building. Darvish also drafted and wrote co-sponsored recommendations for the congressman on bills concerning civil rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights and criminal justice reform. 

Before the Panetta Congressional Internship program, Darvish participated in a fellowship with the Progressive Turnout Project and contributed to Asif Mahmood’s congressional campaign. 

In her former internship with U.S. Rep. and CSUF alumnus Lou Correa ’80 (B.A. economics), she was the first line of contact for constituents calling the district office, logging legislative opinions, assisting with casework updates and directing calls to appropriate resources. 

“These opportunities strengthened my communication skills and professionalism, providing me with a solid foundation for success in the fast-paced environment of Capitol Hill,” said Darvish. “Despite being new to Washington, D.C., my prior work experiences gave me the confidence to navigate an unfamiliar city, allowing me to excel in my responsibilities during the program.”

In Darvish’s final policy analysis paper for the Panetta Institute, she delved into the topic of mass incarceration and her mission to decrease the incarceration rate in the United States. She explained her primary interest is in equitable policies and legislative reform that impact the criminal justice system.

Embracing Opportunities at CSUF

As a student in the President’s Scholars program, Darvish was granted a four-year, full-tuition scholarship. The President’s Scholars program is a comprehensive and rigorous program that offers outstanding opportunities in academics, leadership, service and mentorship for high-achieving students.

“This support has allowed me to focus on academics, live at home and save for law school,” said Darvish. “While I am only in my second year on campus, I am eager to become more involved with the Southwest Asian North African community and Associated Students Inc. in the upcoming semesters.”

After Darvish completes her bachelor’s degree, she plans to attend law school and pursue a career in public service or practice public interest law.

“My family and I have a lot of pride for this country we call home,” said Darvish. “I want to dedicate myself to assisting and improving the institutional systems that our government relies on for the welfare of society.”

Written by: Vanessa Siguenza