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California Impact

Work Local, Think Global: Student Serves Home District on Capitol Hill

History student Ethan Gutterman, who was a Panetta Intern on Capitol Hill smiles for a photo in front of the U.S. Capitol Building
Written By Keegan Koberl

In the fall, history major Ethan Gutterman headed to Washington to work in the office of Congressmember Brad Sherman as Cal Poly’s 2022 representative to the Panetta Institute Congressional Internship Program. 

Cal Poly student Ethan Gutterman, left, poses for a photo with Congressmember Brad Sherman, right, whom he worked for on Capitol Hill.
Ethan Gutterman, left, with Congressmember Brad Sherman, right. Courtesy of Ethan Gutterman

Gutterman, who was selected for the program earlier in the year, made history as the first Cal Poly Scholar to be chosen for the prestigious opportunity.

One of the toughest parts of the program happened before Gutterman set foot on Capitol Hill. Gutterman and his fellow interns spent two weeks at the Panetta Institute in Monterey to prepare for the internship , where they heard from speakers including California State Sen. John Laird, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and Leon Panetta himself, the former Secretary of Defense.

“We had 14 days of information-dense, policy-focused classes – it was a lot of information to take in, but it was really amazing and rewarding," Gutterman said. “It was an intense experience and probably the hardest part of the internship.”

In addition to leading tours of the Capitol Building and taking phone calls from constituents, Gutterman was able to work on briefings and research related to Sherman’s position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Sherman’s priorities aligned well with Gutterman’s interests in foreign affairs and regulation of cryptocurrency, he said.

He sat in on a meeting with congressional staff members and a group of Korean Catholic Bishops, who discussed the role of religion in finding a solution to the ongoing conflict between North and South Korea. Gutterman also assisted in the research on the ongoing civil war in Ethiopia and prepared the congressmember and his staff before briefings and hearings on the matter.

“I appreciated how much the congressmember and his staff focused on the needs and feelings of his constituents during these events that the whole world was watching – when talking about these issues, the first question was always, 'How do people in the district feel about this?'"

Gutterman was the only intern in the program to be matched with their own representative. Sherman represents the 32nd Congressional District, which includes Gutterman’s San Fernando Valley hometown. 

Ethan Gutterman smiles for a photo at sunset in Washington, D.C., with the Washington Monument in the background.
Ethan Gutterman smiles for a photo with the Washington Monument in the background. Courtesy of Ethan Gutterman

“The San Fernando Valley has a large immigrant population from all over the world and I would hear a lot from constituents who were feeling the effects of these conflicts and events – either personally or through family members who lived in their home country,” Gutterman said. “There are many Iranian immigrants in the district, and I engaged with that community a lot in hearing their feelings and questions on the impact of the protests happening across Iran.”

In addition to his fellow interns that he worked, studied and lived with, Gutterman was excited by the opportunity to work with interns from universities around the world, including Georgetown and New York University (NYU) Abu Dhabi.

“It was overwhelming at first to be with so many fellow students who were all so well versed in policy and government, but it was great to get to know them, become friends, learn about their interests and see many of them get permanent jobs on Capitol Hill,” said Gutterman

Gutterman says his experiences through the Panetta Internship helped confirm that he wants to ultimately work in housing and transit policy. As part of the internship, he wrote a research paper on federal housing policy and studied Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants and the history of homelessness policy at the federal level.

Now back at Cal Poly, Gutterman is excited to use his experiences working in Congress and living in D.C. in his classes and activities. As a Cal Poly Scholar, member of the Cal Poly Debate Team, and student in the Cal Poly Honors Program, Gutterman says he sees many opportunities to make connections to his Learn by Doing experience in Washington.

“Through debate, my discussion-based courses in the Honors Program and courses I’m taking this quarter on discrimination in health and technology and global political issues, I hope these new lived experiences can help enhance the rest of my time at Cal Poly.”