Danielle Penn, a first-generation Cal State San Bernardino student and political science major, reflected on her semester-long public service experience as a public policy intern in Washington, D.C., which she said has helped her future.

“Many students, like myself, found that the experience and skills we gain through the program are invaluable for shaping up our future career paths,” Penn said. “Overall, this was an amazing experience.”

Danielle Penn at the White House.
Danielle Penn at the White House.

Penn was one of 25 student interns for the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that seeks to advance civic participation and public policy studies. The program is considered one of the finest congressional intern programs in the nation. Students serve 11 weeks as interns in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the offices of both Republican and Democratic members.

Through the institute’s internship program, college students can work professionally and acquire practical public policy and government knowledge, and experience firsthand government in action.

Penn became interested in becoming a Panetta intern in her goal to become a lawyer and working in public policy.

“As a political science student, and someone who wants to follow in the footsteps of policymakers one day, I deemed this an invaluable experience,” Penn said. “For me, understanding how legislation works and the changes that effect people are critical. That is why I decided to apply to be a Panetta intern.”

Prior to going to Washington, D.C., Penn, along with the other program interns, headed to the Panetta Institute at Cal State Monterey Bay where they participated in seminars and talks on public policy issues for the first two weeks of the program.

“We met with legislators, attended briefings and hearings, and participated in networking activities with other interns and experts,” Penn said. “After the rigorous two weeks of getting us ready for our internship placements, we were flown to Washington, D.C., to work for the members that were selected for us.”

Penn was assigned to intern for U.S Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Indio, an emergency room physician who represents the 25th Congressional District in the Coachella Valley.  She considers herself fortunate to intern for Ruiz, who she said is renowned “for his dedication to public service and to better the lives of the people in his community and those across the nation.”

While working for Ruiz, Penn was tasked with attending congressional committee meetings, reaching out and following up with constituent services, congressional communications between offices, legislative research, writing speeches, attending the Hispanic Caucus meetings and tracking legislation.

Penn said she had many memorable highlights about being a Panetta intern and working for Ruiz, but the connections she made as an intern will be forever remembered.

“I have made friends and colleagues for life and met some fantastic people in the Congress and the Senate who want to help people,” Penn said. “Observing individuals and their work ethics including integrity is invaluable and has lessons to be learned. It was an inspiring experience for me who wishes to do the same in life.”

The internship was especially beneficial to Penn as a political science major, who after graduation plans on attending law school to pursue a career in the judicial system and aspires to work for a district attorney’s office. Her long-term goal is to have a career in politics or public service. “I’ll be able to use the legal training to impact public policy,” she said.

Penn feels she is on the right path in her future.

“I came back to school to make a difference and help others. As someone who has faced hardship, I have learned that to help others, we must first educate ourselves,” Penn said. “I can only expect to make a difference with proper education, which is why I returned to school.”

She credits Cal State San Bernardino with helping her self-confidence and reinforcing her belief that students like her can make a difference.

“Thanks to CSUSB for believing in me and giving me a chance. Now I can go out in the world and inspire others to believe in themselves,” Penn said. “When we become a better version of ourselves, we can show others they can too. Go Yotes!”