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California Impact

Views from the Hill: A Student Recaps Her Panetta Internship

Desiree Nunes wears a black blazer while standing on the steps of the United States Capitol
Written By Keegan Koberl

In the fall, Cal Poly’s 2021 representative to the Panetta Institute Congressional Internship Program, Desiree Nunes, worked in the office for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Nunes, a fourth-year political science major from Fremont, California, has responded to constituent and general inquiries to the speaker’s office and attended briefings on subjects including Hurricane Ida, artificial intelligence, immigration, and global power crises. These briefings often involve written reports that are shared with the congresswoman’s legislative team.

“Working for the speaker’s office is very fast-paced, our office gets thousands of messages a day not only from constituents of California’s 12th district, but from across the county … and they are not always very friendly,” said Nunes.

In the last few weeks of her internship, Nunes worked on legislation that was is part of the president’s Build Back Better plan and saw the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act pass in both chambers of Congress.

“I thought I knew a lot about politics, but I’ve realized there’s so much left to learn when you see how government operates up close." — Desiree Nunes

Nunes has found that her experiences at Cal Poly have prepared her well for her internship as she looks forward to graduating from Cal Poly in 2022.

“My classes at Cal Poly have certainly helped me understand the ins and outs of what happens in the legislative branch,” said Nunes. “Things move so quickly here and there’s not always time for someone to explain to the interns what is going on, so having the knowledge from classes like United States Congress with Dr. Chris Den Hartog and Politics of Race, Gender, and Sexuality with Dr. Jean Williams has been incredibly valuable.”

“So far, my experience has solidified my desire to attend law school after I graduate from Cal Poly and made me think about possible avenues post-law school,” she continued. “Working in Congress, everything you do goes towards a great purpose and you’re helping the country move forward – that is something I could certainly see pursuing in my career.”

Three people stand holding a certificate in front of an American flag, a California State flag, and a blue sign reading 'Panetta Institute: the institute for public policy'
Nunes celebrated her internship with former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (left) and his wife, Sylvia (right). The Panettas founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy in 1997.

In addition to work in Capitol Hill, Nunes has been able to experience Washington D.C., get to know her fellow interns, and even attend the Congressional Baseball Game.

“I thought I knew a lot about politics, but I’ve realized there’s so much left to learn when you see how government operates up close,” said Nunes. “I highly recommend anyone interested in politics to apply for this opportunity – it is a life changing experience.”

As she prepares for her final quarter at Cal Poly, Nunes is looking forward to being back on campus for classes and bringing her experience from the internship back to the classroom. She expects her experience to come in handy for her classes on Constitutional issues and voting rights and representation.

“Being on the hill will give me an incredible perspective on what I’m learning in the classroom, both at Cal Poly and in law school – it really was the ultimate Learn by Doing experience.”

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