Archive for January, 2016

Felipe Hernandez: Marshall Scholarship Winner, Blog #3

A World-Wide Community

I never thought I would be here today. As the first to attend college in my family, the hurdles seemed endless. After graduating from UCI, the road was full of endless possibilities but also uncertainties.

During the Marshall Scholarship orientation process, I kept my experiences at UCI close to heart. I remembered how nervous I was when I first arrived to UCI but also how amazing it felt when I graduated. I knew that these next two years would be similar. In two years, I would become the first person in my family, including extended family, to obtain a master’s degree.

I’ll be honest, I was seriously considering deferring or forgoing the Marshall. I had just finished my year as a Senate Fellow in California and I was not too sure about how I would do in the UK. I did not think I would be able to do well. Honestly, I felt like I would not belong. These were some of the same feelings I felt when I first came to UCI. Over the years, I’ve learned that the reasons for these feelings and thoughts are complex but common among first-generation students like myself. However, I kept on looking for excuses to not accept the Marshall. I would be thousands of miles away from my family once again and they relied on me for help. While they still struggled with accessing basic services and navigating the US as immigrants, I would be away traveling and attending school. I couldn’t help but feel guilty.

I even contacted the Marshall Scholarship Commission and asked them about deferment possibilities. I reached out to everyone I knew but no one affirmed my self-doubt. Instead, my friends and mentors all endorsed the decision to accept the Marshall. They all reinforced the idea that these next two years would be an incredibly rare opportunity to learn, travel, and grow. It is because of this community of mentors, friends, and family that I decided to stay with the Marshall. Like at UCI, a community of support is what would help me get through these next two years.

At orientation, I was nervous. It did not take long for the conversations to quickly become academic with a slight tinge of competitiveness. Immediately, I felt like I did not know nearly as much as the other scholars and the feelings of insecurity crept in. However, I soon found out that the other Marshalls were just as nervous as I was but everyone coped with their nerves in a different way. I was silent; others talked endlessly. After we all realized that everyone was just as nervous and excited, everyone let their guard down and started talking like old friends. Though our narratives were different, we all had a similar vision: to take these next two years to figure out how to make a positive impact in the world within our respective fields. At the end of the orientation process our community spirit blossomed and we were in this together.

When we arrived in London to complete our orientation the feeling was surreal. It then finally hit me that I would be in the UK for next two years of my life. Aside from leaving sunny California for the cold and gloomy UK weather, I constantly kept asking myself if I had made the right decision. I was preoccupied with thoughts of my family. Again, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I had this incredible opportunity while they were still struggling to deal with various problems most immigrant families face. They were the reason why I went to UCI, to help them deal with these problems. My family was also a part of this Marshall journey and would also be making an emotional sacrifice. Though they did not understand the significance of the scholarship, they did understand that these next two years would be difficult for all of us. These are feelings that I am still dealing with today even as I write this blog.

When I arrived to Bristol the energy of the city was amazing. We were welcomed with great esteem and community. Once I started my course, life started coming together. My classmates were from all over the world, had inspiring stories to tell, and were incredibly thankful for being here. I was too. They were also nervous being away from home (some for the first time in their lives). Another community was formed. The best part of experience has been befriending these folks and learning from their experiences.

At the same time, the program is amazing! I am deeply engaging with issues of social justice, empowerment, and activism in education for students from marginalized backgrounds within the context of my previous work in Irvine, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Colombia. The opportunity to focus entirely on something that you love is rare and well worth the sacrifices. As I reached out to the Bristol student community, I came across amazing people. I’ve joined various societies including the expedition society which ventures out for weekend trips around the UK national parks. Being outdoors free from daily distractions and tasked with climbing/hiking mountains brings people together. We all share our stories as we hike and form a community of outdoor explorers who climb regardless of the rain and freezing cold weather (especially for a Californian).

I also happened to come into Bristol as the Mayoral elections for the city ramped up. I immediately reached out and I am now working on the Mayor’s reelection campaign. This has given me a unique perspective into the politics and government of the UK and Bristol. This is a great opportunity to make a meaningful impact, especially since the campaign team is only made up of four people (tiny in comparison to the US). I have also met incredible people in the community and I am learning a lot about the lives of Bristolians. I have drawn many parallels to my family’s and community’s experience in Los Angeles. As I’ve learned before from traveling, human beings are the same in the sense that one of their main priorities is providing the best for their families, themselves, and their community. Bristol’s diverse community has reinforced this. My conversations with Bristolians from wealthier areas to low-income neighborhoods have reaffirmed this perspective. For me, getting involved in politics in Bristol has been an unexpectedly life-changing experience.

Another exceptional and amazing opportunity has been traveling around (pretty cheaply) and meeting people from different regions of the world. As one travels, the world becomes your community and those in it become like family. Soon one cares for those communities as one’s own and for those in it as if they were family.

Community is what keeps me going. From my time in Colombia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to working in Sacramento as a CA Senate Fellow to pursing two master’s degrees in the UK, none of this would have been possible without a strong and diverse community supporting in Los Angeles, UC Irvine, and around the world. Though I greatly miss my family, tacos in LA, and the beautiful sunny weather, I constantly count my blessings to be here.

My message to my fellow anteaters, particularly if you’re a first-generation student, is: accomplishing your goals will be difficult emotionally and physically, sometimes seemingly impossible, but always keep at heart your community for that will be your driving force. Also, whether you think you have your life figured out or have no clue what comes next, embrace every possible experience that comes your way in a positive light.


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Marshall Scholars Family Thanksgiving dinner.

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Felipe’s adventure in Morocco.




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.


Felipe Hernandez: Marshall Scholarship Winner, Blog #2

Editor’s Note: After winning the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Colombia, Felipe returned to the US, filming a documentary with Road Trip Nation over the summer and then became a California Senate Fellow in Sacramento. In fall 2015, he traveled to the United Kingdom to begin graduate school as a Marshall Scholar.

The California Capital Fellows Experience

I am a Senate Fellow for Senator Richard Pan who represents the greater Sacramento area. I staff Dr. Pan on the Senate Education Committee because he is a voting member of the committee. I also staff issues in Banking & Financial Institutions and Transportation & Housing. In addition, I manage six bills for Senator Pan. This means that I am responsible for ensuring that these six bills successfully make it through the legislative process. I am responsible for helping craft the language in the bill, engaging stakeholders throughout the process, managing all support and opposition on the bill, and working to gather support from other legislators on the bill. This is a unique experience because we, Fellows, are in the belly of the beast in Sacramento. This has been formative for my career in public service and has also clarified my perspective on how government can facilitate or stagnate progress for Californians. At the same time, it has demonstrated the value in engaging a broad network of stakeholders for the sake of ensuring a comprehensive policy solution to a complex social problem. I have also learned what leadership can look like in the face of adversity and strong opposition. This experience has also reinforced my passion for public service and broadened my understanding of how all sectors of our society can work in concert to solve various policy challenges. As a fellow, I am able to observe and be a part of the unique public policy process in California under the mentorship of senior staffers who step out of their way to help you. The mentorship is the most enriching aspects of the fellowship because the culture in “the building” is to help fellows grow, learn from their mistakes, and help propel us to be effective public servants in government or in our communities.

This knowledge and experience will play a vital role in my studies at the University of Bristol and Oxford because I will contribute a unique understanding of California public policy to the classroom. California is the 7th largest economy in the world and home to more people than some countries. My understanding of social policy at this macro-level will compliment my learning of social policy in the international context.

While in Sacramento, I also serve on the Student Development Council for United Latinos, which focuses on increasing opportunities in key areas such as STEM, policy, business, education, and health for K-16 students from underrepresented regions in Sacramento. I also teach, and helped develop, the “Know Your History Institute”, a history course on the plight of African and Latino people in America, for Improve Your Tomorrow, a Sacramento based non-profit that provides mentorship, tutoring, and support for high school boys of color who are at risk of dropping out. I also serve as the Internship Coordinator for the Improve Your Tomorrow Capitol Internship Program which places ten junior and senior boys of color in legislative offices to serve as interns and provides the interns with educational seminars, brown bags, and career exploration trips meant to develop foundational communication, analytical, and professional skills. Finally, I am also founder and Vice President of the California Renters Caucus with the California Young Democrats, an organization that focuses on increasing the availability of median and affordable housing through policy and community initiatives.

Filming Road Trip Nation: First Generation

During the first couple months of my Fulbright, I started to plan for the upcoming year because I knew that the year in Colombia would go by very fast. So I started to research opportunities in California and opportunities abroad. I ended up finding two great opportunities that I knew I wanted to participate in. One of these opportunities was with Road Trip Nation, a California-based production company that provides the opportunity for young people to travel across the US in an RV interviewing leaders under a common theme. In particular the “First-Generation Road Trip” caught my attention because it reflected who I was, a first-generation college graduate out in the real world trying to figure it out. I and three other first generation students from other states were selected to travel across the USA to film a documentary of interviews with inspirational first-generation American leaders, like US Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz, and singer-songwriter and actor John Legend. In total we drove a total of 3,851 miles from Los Angeles to New York City and interviewed a total of 19 leaders. This was an amazing opportunity to ask leaders, who were also the first in their families to attend college, questions that we always wanted to ask. We also had to drive a 35 foot RV from Los Angeles to New York with only a day of training, and we had to live in the RV for five weeks with five other people (including the director and videographer). This was one of the most challenging things I ever had to do because I had to live with five other people in a cramped RV but also because the trip required a lot of soul searching and required us to ask a lot of difficult questions of ourselves. Throughout the road trip, I grew close to the other road trippers, and we became like family. Also we received important and powerful advice from other leaders across the country like Alejandra Ceja, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Alejandra said that we must “Dare to dream,” that we must dare to be bold to pursue our true passions and live in service of others. Throughout the trip we received valuable mentorship that helped clarify our vision and provided us with the motivation to take the next step in our lives, which for me was pursuing the Marshall Scholarship.

The special aired on PBS in spring 2015 and can be viewed for free here:

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Felipe Hernandez answers student questions at the screening of the Road Trip Nation documentary Why Not Us? on April 14, 2015