Christopher Galeano: Capital Fellows Program Winner, Blog #1: Motivations and Expectations

My motivations and application process

At the root of my motivation to apply for the Capital Fellows Program as a Senate Fellow was my research and community organizing experiences while at UCI. As I came to see it, researchers made policy recommendations for lawmakers and community organizers pushed policymakers to pass legislation. It was clear that an in-depth understanding of policy was pertinent to further advocate for policies that helped communities I had worked with throughout these experiences – including low income, migrant and working class people.

What further enticed me to apply was that the California State Legislature is one of the most progressive legislative bodies in the U.S. In many ways it is the most responsive to its communities’ needs in comparison to other state legislatures.

Upon deciding to apply for the Capital Fellows Program I knew that I could not do it alone. I reached out to prior and current program participants to ask them about their experiences and advice. I spoke with Senate Fellows who were alumni from UCI, Assembly Fellows whom I met in other fellowship programs, and even “cold” emailed Judicial Fellows who participated in the program more than five years ago.

In addition to asking prior and current fellows for feedback on my application, I asked the UCI Scholarship Opportunities Program (SOP), professors, mentors and peers to review my essays before submitting my application. When I found out I had made it past the second round of selection, I asked SOP and others if they would conduct mock interviews for me to help me prepare and give critical feedback for the real in-person interviews. As a result of this preparation, I was offered a spot as a 2015-2016 Senate Fellow – I was elated.

In this position I would either work as a Legislative Aide in a State Senator’s office or as a Consultant in a Senate Committee for the 2016 legislative session. After much consideration I accepted the offer. In terms of impact and reach, I saw that each Senator represents the most people per district compared to other state legislatures and can establish more meaningful connections with communities given their four-year terms. Accepting this position would also give me privilege to practical and institutional knowledge of how and why policy goes from just an idea to an actual law.

Reflecting on the first months, my privilege and community

A year passed since my initial application submission. Now, and after the intense, six-week long orientation, I find myself placed in a State Senator’s office as a Legislative Aide. While I am relatively new to the Capitol, I have thought much on my experience so far as a Senate Fellow. I have struggled and reflected on my community, the privilege of this experience, and the next nine months here in the Capitol.

 The first couple of months in Sacramento were challenging for me as someone from a low income, working class family. Indeed, it was financially challenging getting money together for a deposit, rent and food in order to move up here – thankfully with the support of my family I made it happen.

Furthermore, I carry with me, wherever I go and in whatever I do, my family and community experiences. Arriving as a Latino used to seeing people of color around them, I was not sure what to expect working in the Capitol – would there be people who looked like my community in around and the building? Fortunately, just as Sacramento has a reputation for racial/ethnic diversity, there too is visible diversity in the Capitol building.

Fortunately, through the program’s racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, I have met people from all over California. Since the start of the program I have met people of color within the program, Capitol staffers, and state legislators. In many instances these individuals, especially the Capitol staffers, have been willing to share their experiences with me and offer mentorship. Surprisingly, I do not feel alone like I thought I was at the beginning of the program.

Outlook in the Capitol

I am cognizant of the privilege that comes with participating in the program as a Senate Fellow. More specifically, the program is consistently voted a top ten internship program in the nation, with almost 500 applicants and only 18 winners each year. Furthermore, I am one of only two Senate Fellows selected from Southern California this year. Since the start of the program I consistently reflect on this. I constantly think back to those in my community who are not afforded access to these kinds of programs because of numerous social, economic and educational barriers – and it humbles and keeps me grounded as I walk and work in the Capitol halls.

This month the state legislature will begin the second session of the 2015-2016 legislative year. Despite only being the beginning for me as a Senate Fellow/staffer in Sacramento, I feel I have grown from this experience. I have developed an appreciation for critical issues to California, such as health, criminal justice, and agriculture; learned about the political and legislative process with some practical experience already under my belt; and am placed with a highly respected legislator and staff. Reflecting on this experience so far, I am confident that I made the right choice in applying to and accepting this position as a Senate Fellow. I know that at the end of this experience I will not only have developed professionally, but will have personally grown tremendously.

Quick words of advice to potential applicants: Apply to all four fellowships within the program – logically, you increase your chances of getting into the program. Stay in CONSTANT contact with the individuals you ask to write your letters of recommendation – ask them two months prior to the deadline if they can write the letter, check in again one month prior to the deadline, and again two weeks before the deadline. Make it easier for them to write your letters by emailing them your (1) personal statement (as best a draft you can get to them and email them any updated version in a timely manner); (2) resume; (3) transcript; and (4) setting up a meeting/call to discuss qualifications/why you want to apply to the program. Remind them that they will need to write different letters of recommendation for each fellowship. Lastly, if you are accepted into the program, SAVE money ahead of time for the first three months of the program; they will be financially challenging, especially if you are considered a low-income student.

 

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