Jenna Kushigemachi’s Panetta Internship experience

By Zoe Lance

When Jenna Kushigemachi turns on the television to watch cable news, she knows exactly which politician is being interviewed and where — in fact, she could probably give you a short bio while also telling you about the last time she was in the building.

“I’ve walked through where they do interviews,” she said. “I sat in those offices every day for three months. I’ve passed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the hallway.”

Kushigemachi, a graduating CSUCI Art and digital media student, spent Aug. to Nov. 2016 at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy’s Congressional Internship program in Washington, D.C. The Institute, founded by Leon and Sylvia Panetta, prepares students to work in a congressional representative’s office. Most of the cohort comprise of students from the 23 CSU campuses.

The program starts with a two-week American government and policy course at the Institute, which is housed at CSU Monterey Bay. Kushigemachi attended lectures given by former Vice President Dan Quayle, lawyers, political consultants and retired members of congress.

“We got to learn from the experts,” she said. “I came back with much more knowledge than most people have. You don’t get that experience anywhere else.”

Kushigemachi landed in Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office, working under Pelosi’s senior policy adviser for budget and health. Her projects focused on social security and the Affordable Care Act.

“It was really spectacular — I got to work on actual policy,” she said. “I drafted and went to congressional briefings. I got up every day and worked in the Capitol Building.”

Kushigemachi pursued the internship opportunity as a way to challenge herself and stretch her capabilities. She went through a rigorous application process to be the only CSUCI student in the program, which included a personal nomination from President Emeritus Richard Rush.

“I really wanted to show that art is what I study in school, but not all that I can do,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and if you have the opportunity you can’t miss it.”

And if you ask her about pending legislation, she can tell you all about what’s happening in Congress — a new source of pride for her.

“People forget that we have duties as citizens, and that we’re obligated to participate and understand how things work,” she said. “It changed me as a citizen and I understand the impact of participating. It really increases your level of patriotism, passing your country’s leaders in the hallway on the Hill.” 

© Spring 2017 / Volume 21 / Number 01 / Bi-annual