The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fellowship program offers a select group of recent college graduates and graduate students the opportunity to experience life and work in our nation's capital for nine months. Fellows often find placement in congressional offices, federal agencies, or in non-profit organizations. The fellowship program also consists of weekly Friday sessions where we get the opportunity to meet with prominent leaders within the Washington, D.C., community, participate in community service projects, and engage in leadership development seminars.
We have been very fortunate to visit the Department of State on four occasions to meet with prominent leaders within this agency. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) has been crucial in facilitating our inspiring and nurturing interactions with State Department officials.
Our first trip to the Department of State was to meet with Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, who spoke to us very sincerely about her path to becoming a U. S. Ambassador. She mentioned that her first day at a job her supervisor asked, “What are you going to do after this?” She reminded us that life just happens and jobs line themselves up, and challenged us to become prepared with every role and every responsibility to learn, improve, and be ready for the next step. Ambassador Lomellin allowed us to envision our future professionally and visualize the possibility of a career and leadership role within the Department of State.
We returned to the Department to speak with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, who led an engaging conversation about Western Hemisphere policy and careers in foreign affairs. Assistant Secretary Valenzuela is a great example of someone who has combined a career in academia and policy-making, and his deep knowledge of the region was impressive.
Our next visit to the Department was to speak with Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero. We discussed her experience rising to her current position and the areas of responsibility of the bureaus she oversees. This conversation was particularly significant to me on a personal level because it highlighted the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which is my current placement.
The fellowship program is almost over, and it has culminated with one of the most exciting Department of State visits of all. Just a day after President Obama announced Osama bin Laden's death, the fellows and I were fortunate enough to have an encounter with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- one of the most admired women in the country. Monday morning began with introductions by Ambassador Lomellin, Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca, and WHA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli. Each stressed the importance of our engagement in foreign affairs as Latinos. Secretary Clinton congratulated us on completing our fellowships and spoke briefly about government service, leaving the fellows inspired and in complete admiration.
Overall, having the opportunity to meet these men and women who play such important diplomatic roles representing our government is more inspiring than words can describe. My experiences have been almost surreal, and have been a constant reminder of the power and responsibilities we all have within our own communities to show leadership and strength.
Our visits to the Department of State have not only allowed me to meet individuals I respect and admire, but have also allowed me to look at my fellowship class and see the tremendous amount of leadership, strength, courage, and power we have as Latino leaders who can cause a positive change within our communities.