Political Science Junior Explores Immigration Policy and Leadership through CHCI Program

Elizabeth Rivera spent the last few months learning how to have difficult conversations, a skill that is greatly needed in times such as these. Being one of 20 undergraduates in the country, this Nebraska Wesleyan political science major was selected for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) in Washington, D.C. this spring.

Rivera (pictured center with hat) and cohort members exploring the Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms

Rivera, a junior from Alliance, Neb., came across the program after meeting with National Campus Coordinator for Define American, Valeria Rodriguez, who encouraged her to apply to CHCI in Rivera’s process of finding a CHIP internship. Hitting key interest points like public policy, Latinx leadership, and working for Congress, Rivera saw this as an opportunity she could not pass up.

The CHCI program aimed to strengthen her leadership skills, learn about policy making and political processes, meet key Latino leaders as well as complete an internship in a congressional office. Each week began with leadership programming at CHCI headquarters. On Monday mornings, a professorial lecturer in public policy at George Washington University, Nancy Augustine, would teach a graduate-level course where students created their own policy brief to present at the end of the internship. Then, in the afternoons, various accomplished leaders dedicated to improving the Latinx community would discuss their work and create discussions surrounding various topics.

Rivera’s cohort was represented by students from California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, and Puerto Rico. Offering diverse perspectives, 42% were foreign born and 58% born in the U.S. with Latinx heritages from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, and Spain.

Spring 2020 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Cohort Photo

“I was immediately impacted in my understanding of who I am as a leader, what it takes to become a leader, and the issues that must be addressed in politics through listening to the experiences of my cohort members and their passions. This group pushed me to be uncomfortable and opened my lenses to issues that had never crossed my mind,” Rivera explained.

Rivera served her internship in Rep. Steven Horsford’s office where her tasks varied each day.

 

The rest of the week, Tuesday through Friday, was dedicated to her internship on Capitol Hill where she interned in the office of Rep. Steven Horsfo ard (D-NV-4). Her daily tasks would vary depending on whether the House was in/out of session.

She said, “I was given the flexibility to ensure that I got as much as I could from my internship. I would attend hearings and briefings on issues such as the census, environmental issues, education, foreign affairs, homeland security, etc. I would later write summary memos and submit them to the appropriate staff member who handles the issue discussed so that they stay informed on the changing discussions.”

Spending a fair amount of times in hearings, one of Rivera’s goals while in D.C. was to personally meet Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. One day, Rivera was sent to a hearing, and immediately upon entering the room, made eye contact with Ocasio-Cortez. Star struck and on the brink of fainting, that is as close as Rivera got to her.

In the office when Congress was out of session, Rivera would answer phone calls from constituents, correspond to constituent inquiries by drafting letters, conduct legislative research, organize event inquiries, and submit bill cosign recommendations to the Congressman. She was also given the opportunity to give tours of the Capitol to guests.

Interning in a congressional office also has its perks apart from meeting celebrity politicians. Rivera was able to attend a secret concert hosted by Jay Leno celebrating Garth Brooks receiving the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize. Artists such as Keith Urban, Chris Stapleton, Lee Brice, Keb’ Mo’, and Trisha Yearwood performed songs written by Garth in his honor.

“The awards ceremony and concert were broadcasted on PBS so you might catch a glimpse of me!” Rivera excitingly remembered.

Garth Brooks receiving the Gershwin Prize, surrounded by various members of Congress and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Secret concerts aside, Rivera also was surprised the by many events with free food that were held almost every day. And with free food comes endless networking opportunities with politicians and leaders.

“My cohort members and I would attend as many as we could and we would run into CHCI alumni, presidents of companies, and members of Congress.”

Rivera left Washington, D.C. on March 20th due to program’s safety precautions of the COVID-19 pandemic, about 4 weeks prior to the original departure. However, the program finished strong remotely. Participants were still required to virtually attend leadership programming every Monday but were no longer working for a congressional office.

Regardless of her time being cut short in D.C., Rivera takes away strong motivations to improve the NWU campus as well as the city of Lincoln. Exposed to different professions and opportunities throughout the CHCI program, she hopes to pursue a career in immigration or as a foreign service officer.

“I feel empowered to make necessary changes not only in my life, but on campus and in the Lincoln community. There are conversations that need to be made that I now feel comfortable having to ensure that we are all educated and informed on the reality of public issues.”