Summer Institutes on Latino Public Policy

Washington DC in the summertime

The Summer Institutes

Washington D.C


For several years, the Summer Institute for Latino Public Policy is a fully sponsored leadership training program for junior and senior undergraduate students interested in working on issues facing Latinos in the United States. Every summer, the Inter University Program for Latino Research hosted 30 young scholars in Washington DC for an intense week-long orientation to public policy and the legislative process. The week's activities included seminars, workshops, site visits to national organizations, and a meeting with a Congressional representative. 

The objectives of the Summer Institutes were to provide students from each of the IUPLR member centers an appreciation and understanding of public policy issues confronting Latinos in the US, to develop their leadership skills, expand their critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills, and experience first-hand the policy-making process through personal contact with decision makers.

Three CCI participants in front of the Capitol BuildingEach year the Chávez Institute held a competetive, campus-wide application process to select two to three participants to represent San Francisco State. All expenses — round-trip airfare, local transportation, lodging at George Washington University, meals and classroom materials — were paid by the César E. Chávez Institute and our private donors. 

Students selected to attend the Summer Institute enrolled in the Spring semester in LTNS 699, an independent study course on Latino public policy, co-taught by Dr. Belinda Reyes (Director, César E. Chávez Institute) and Dr. Teresa Carrillo (Latina/o Studies). Successful completion of the course was required of attendees.  

The last Summer Institute was held in 2013. IUPLR is now under new leadership and dynamically reorganizing its programs to re-vision the best methods to cultivate new generations of activist/scholars in the area of Latino policy. While this format may not be repeated in future, we fully expect to see equally exciting opportunities for our students to gain similar experience through new IUPLR programming to be announced in the near future.

A look back at one group's experience in Washington DC

student group in front of Capitol building

It sounded challenging and a good career move, a useful item to mention when applying to graduate schools later on, but it sounded somewhat dry or intimidating, too: The Summer Institute for Latino Public Policy, a seminar in the nation's capitol. It would require a semester of independent and group study and then making a formal presentation in front of other top-notch students brought together by the Inter-University Program on Latino Research (IUPLR).

The three young college juniors sent by CCI to represent our University in 2012 were somewhat nervous about what it would be like. Ramón Hernández, Mario Lázaro and Christine Revelo-Lee were thrilled with the fully funded opportunity to participate, however, and were resolved to do well.

It would turn out differently and greater than any of them expected. "Life-changing", one of them would comment a few days ago.

Upon arrival in D.C. and at their host campus of George Washington University, the three of them immediately started to feel more at ease. As the back-to-back activities of the week's agenda began, they quickly started connecting with the staff and other students: The entire group seemed to click as they recognized each other as being from compatible backgrounds, with similar interests, and most of all with a shared passion for working for their Latino communities back home. It was like new familia: tremendous solidarity, safety and emotional resonance. The process of interpersonal compenetración and bonding flowed strongly.

Whether listening to presenters or guest speakers, or over lunch or in their dorm rooms late at night, the conversations were charged with meaning, and everyone shared their thoughts and ideas openly. Christine even held a personal presentation in her own dorm room one evening, on a topic that was closer to her heart than the one that she decided to do for the larger group - and the experience of speaking to her bright young colleagues about her real passion was major turning point for her; an affirmation from other that continue to share her views, and to follow her heart in her future professional work.

This experience of having head connect to heart was a recurring theme as the three of them recounted their experiences. Mario arrived with the firm perspective of an engineering student interested in robotics. His week with fellow Latino university students showered him with exciting ideas about countless other career options that he could see himself exploring, his chest filling with more excitement than any brain could process. He came back to California weeks later feeling that somehow, he had turned a major corner in his young life, and that things would never be the same.

IUPLR participants at the CapitolRamón arrived a week early and roamed the city, taking in the sights with the keen eye of a future urban planner, thinking always about how to best develop neighborhoods for better quality of life for Latinos and others. He was one of a handful of participants who was able to explore the city's little-known Latino district, one heavily flavored with sights, sounds and smells reminiscent of El Salvador. He hopes future cohorts will be given extra time to explore how life is for Latinos in the capital, and visit activists and service providers working in the trenches.

All three of them found it so easy to meet fascinating people, Latinos who love to empower the next generation of young professionals and world-changers. The program's structure itself connected them with many Latino professionals who not only served as inspiring role models and sources of sound practical advice, but as possible links to future career opportunities. To their amazement, Washington DC is a relatively small city, where everyone travels in overlapping orbits, and the degrees of separation between people is maybe three instead of ten.

Christine was thrilled that the doorman at her dorm knew the security guard at the Supreme Court, and that he could get her into the courtroom the morning that the Justices were going to make their public announcement on a key case she had been closely following. Small miracles seem to happen easily, in that town.

All three of them came back with a sense of infinite possibilities in terms of how best to work with community and make a difference, and of the importance of the satisfaction that come from combining higher education with passion and commitment to service.

Ramón returned to his senior year at State and is one of two former Summer Institute students working at CCI on a research project looking at financial options for people of color in the Bay Area, and successfully applied to graduate school. Christine left immediately for a year of studies abroad in Europe, and looks forward to graduate school.

Mario returned home so charged with creative energy he felt he had to continue the rhythm, and he signed up to spend a few weeks on the U.S./Mexico border, stocking life-saving water stations for undocumented workers crossing the desert. He began to wonder how to engineer water services along the dangerous migrant paths. The summer's end found him very changed, with many new options and ideas.

Each of these students overcame personal fears, took the risk of stepping out into an intensive learning environment, made intellectual and emotional connections a wide range of people they would never have met, and came back with clearer minds, impassioned hearts, firmer study plans, and steadier confidence in themselves and their future lives.