A Testament to the Notre Dame Washington Program

Author: Irasema Hernandez Trujillo 24

2022 03 30 Knb 0052 1 Min 1

A year ago today, I started my semester abroad in Washington D.C., an experience that solidified just how special Notre Dame is. As I reflect on my time in D.C., it is important to share where my passion for public service first came from. My journey to D.C. began my freshman year in high school when I joined Indiana Youth and Government, a mock state government program where I had the opportunity to learn about—and experience—government policies and methodologies firsthand. Through writing bills, advocating for policies, participating in the mock Indiana Supreme Court, and then being on the Governor’s Cabinet as chief of staff, I had my first understanding of what it meant to work in the public sector. I was empowered to use my voice and values to make my community a better place–something that I still carry today. My passion for being a public servant first grew here, so when I was accepted into Notre Dame, the first thing I did was research programs where I could further grow my passion for public service in a real-world setting beyond the classroom experience. This was realized during my freshman year of college when a close mentor suggested I apply for a study abroad program where I could live in D.C. while discerning my career aspirations in public service. At first, I was a bit skeptical and anxious to apply because it was not typical for sophomores to study abroad, especially in the nation’s capital. Given my background as a first-generation college student that comes from an immigrant household, I was especially nervous that I would not fit in and imposter syndrome would consume me. However, I can speak with confidence and honesty in sharing that the decision to apply has shaped me into the person I am today–a strong female advocate with a passion and heart for public service related to human rights issues.

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Notre Dame’s Washington Program is a great opportunity to get "outside" of the ND bubble for a semester, live in a big city, pursue a meaningful (nearly full-time!) internship of your choosing, and take classes focused on politics and policy at the heart of our nation's capital. The program is open to any majors–not just Arts and Letters, any immigration status, including international and undocumented students, and is for sophomores and juniors. Students have interned for members of Congress, nonprofit organizations, government departments, lobbying, and government affairs, think tanks, and more. Long story short–if you have a cause you're passionate about or something you want to understand better, you'll find a D.C. internship that fits your needs. I participated in the program in the Spring of 2022, and it was my favorite ND semester yet. Alongside my part-time internship and 15 credit-hour class load, I networked with many ND alums, explored the museums and historic city monuments, and learned more about D.C. organizations and career opportunities through our program's weekly public policy site visits. 


My passion and experience in policy and activism brought me to work alongside an empowering female leader for the Latinx and other underserved communities, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has been an avid and talented public servant for her community on and off the Hill. The Congresswoman and her team entrusted me with a wide range of tasks. I interacted with constituents and recorded their sentiment on policy issues in the D.C. and district office, conducted research on federal aid and relief programs, environmental protections, transportation, immigration, and civil rights to assist legislative staff, and attended Congressional briefings to prepare summary memos for senior policy staff. With an interest in multimedia, I produced a variety of content for the community in a more accessible, comprehensive, and equitable manner. With a passion for immigrant justice, I produced a policy proposal for a more just and humane immigration system through budget reforms. By working alongside the Congresswoman, her staff, and her constituents, I had a firsthand experience of the power that passion and dedication have in creating a more just society. 

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Washington gave me a lot; a home, a great workspace, adventures, opportunities to grow, and amazing new friends. I had the honor of witnessing history when I attended Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination hearing and confirmation. As a woman of color, this moment was a manifestation of the power we hold and the impact we can have in this country. It was a pleasure to utilize my talents and sense of justice to be a resource for underrepresented communities and support them in any possible way to thrive in society.

As the application decisions for the new Washington Program cohort of 2023-2024 are released soon, the Washington Program Spring 2023 cohort begins their monumental semester, and high school seniors begin to make their college decisions, I have some parting words of wisdom for those pursuing a career in D.C. If you are even remotely interested in public policy, the Washington Program is for you. It is a unique study abroad experience that equips you to be a strong public speaker, political advocate, and informed constituent. You are the narrator of your own journey, so while in D.C., seize every opportunity: get meals with all your co-workers, send the email to that iconic alum you aspire to be, go to happy hour with other interns, and most of all, immerse yourself in the wonders of the city. Always remember why you chose D.C. and carry your values and authentic personality to all conversations. Regardless of your skin color, socioeconomic status, or immigration status, you belong there. Use your voice and vision of a more just world to fight for the causes you believe in while always empowering those around you to do the same–especially those who come after you. The University of Notre Dame is a special place for many reasons–the Washington Program makes it extra special to me. You have a support network like no other that secures you financially, academically, socially, and so much more. 

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