The old adage advises against talking politics, but that goes against Catalina Sanint's spirit. The 2006 San Ramon Valley High School graduate loves political discussions and has taken that passion all the way to Capitol Hill.
Catalina, a 22-year-old UC Santa Cruz student, recently completed the semester-long UCDC intern program in Washington, D.C., serving as an intern for U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D., 11th).
The program brings students to Capitol Hill to gain work experience in their field of study while also attending for-credit classes.
McNerney said, "It is always a pleasure to have young people from our community come to Washington, D.C., for an internship," said McNerney. "Catalina's contribution to the office this semester has been highly valued and appreciated."
Politics, to Catalina, is a fascinating
"I love that politics is a daily part of our lives and can be related to everything around us, and I am captivated by the way in which there is always at least one issue in politics that people are passionate about," she explained, adding, "I love engaging in political debates and hearing how differently each individual looks at a specific problem."
As an intern, Catalina gained firsthand experience in the legislative process.
"It is a great way to see the work that everybody has had to do to get to where they are at right now, showing me what I have to do to eventually get to what I want to do," she said.
As a political major with an emphasis on International Relations, Catalina has set her career sights on either writing or being involved with U.S.-Latin American relations legislation.
Catalina credits her parents, Guillermo Vanegas and Malena Salcedo, for sparking her interest in politics.
"My mother and my father are both fascinated by and very knowledgeable on the subject of politics," she said. "Naturally, I became interested in politics, but had always wanted a career in medicine. I initially majored in health sciences; however, as I realized it was not for me, I switched into the politics major at UCSC, and it was the best decision I have ever made."
Her decision to pursue the selective internship was based on word of mouth - and admiration.
"I wanted an internship on Capitol Hill because I was told by other students who had participated in the program that these internships are fast-paced and exciting internships, and it allows you to see firsthand what goes on in Congress," Catalina recalled. "My family is also a big fan of Congressman McNerney; so, when it came down to deciding which internship to take, it seemed like an easy choice."
As part of the congressman's D.C. office, Catalina often served her fellow Californians.
"Always ready with a friendly smile and a welcome greeting, she was particularly helpful providing U.S. Capitol tours to visitors and school groups from the 11th District," said McNerney.
In addition to leading Capitol building tours, Catalina fielded constituent telephone calls and mail and periodically researched specific issues or legislation.
The duties opened new point-of-view windows for Catalina.
"I really enjoyed talking to constituents on the phone, taking down their comments and concerns, and listening to what each person thinks is a priority," she said. "It really gave me perspective on the wide variety of opinions that people have in this district."
As an intern, Catalina attended briefings and took meeting notes, giving her the unique opportunity to see the legislative machination at work.
"I was able to attend committee hearings, events that were held by our office and other offices. All of these events turned out to be great opportunities to meet new people, hear about things that I never would learned about on my own, and witness how Congress and a congressional office really works."
With less than a year in the Barack Obama administration, the experience was all the more memorable for her.
"I am so lucky to have been present during the beginning stages of this new administration. I have seen the rising involvement of the youth in the area of politics and can now see that there is actually a generation which will change things for the future," she said.
As a Californian, Catalina found D.C. life to be ultra fast and energetic.
"The city gets going at an earlier time, and they end their workdays later than we do in California. Everything moves faster and it is a little hard to get used to moving at that pace, but as fast as they move during the day, the city is just as lively during the night; there is not one dull moment in D.C.," she said.
While she did not get a chance to meet President Obama, a personal goal on her D.C. wish list, Catalina checked off another list item: to see a nighttime view of the Capitol building. She called it "by far the most beautiful building in the entire city."
After she graduates in the spring of 2010, Catalina's next step will be exploring the management and strategies of political campaigns before eventually pursing a graduate degree.
Though the internship has ended and Catalina is returning to the UC Santa Cruz campus, life isn't the same for the political enthusiast.
"This was one of the best experiences that I have ever had. It helped me grow intellectually, emotionally, and helped create a foundation for my future plans. I was blessed to be working with an incredible group of people who were consistently encouraging me to participate in everything the internship had to offer so that I would learn and come out a better person than I was coming in."
For more information about the UCDC internship as well as the application process, visit the internship page on McNerney's Web site.