By Natividad Herrera, Capitol Pathways Policy Intern
As a social work major at St. Catherine University in my third year, I knew I wanted to obtain more experience in serving my community before graduating. In my coursework, I have learned about the various positions social work students can pursue after graduation and the levels of social work: micro, mezzo and macro. Each level ranges in interaction levels with community members and the work done. Early in my education, I realized my passions lay within macro social work, where advocacy, systems change and policy work affect the other levels of social work and support the communities we serve.
I heard about the Capitol Pathways internship opportunity through the Multicultural Office at my university. The staff knew about my interest in policy, and my supervisor in the office had written my recommendation letter. My excitement could not be contained. I felt that this internship program aligned with my values and goals of making policy work accessible to college Students of Color and ultimately, our government more reflective of its constituents. I checked my email each morning, waiting to see if I would make it to the interview round. Thankfully I did move forward, and from there, I interviewed with three organizations to see who I would be placed with and a chance I would not receive a placement.
My first and favorite interview was with Greater Twin Cities United Way. I was nervous beyond belief, but members of the advocacy team made me feel very comfortable even in just the interview, and we talked about my qualities and the projects they would be tackling. When we started talking about their work targeting the benefits cliffs affecting Minnesota families, I knew I wanted a placement with this organization. I started seeing the connections between my background in direct service and classroom knowledge and how it could be applied to work on a legislative level.
When I ultimately was paired with United Way, I was ecstatic. I knew that this was an organization I could learn from while also bringing some of my strengths and experiences. Growing up in a family of low wealth, where we were often discriminated against and marginalized. I faced similar struggles to those of the families we hear from now in our work with our partner organizations.
My personal experiences fueled my passion for addressing the benefits cliffs with United Way this session. I knew I had a lot to learn from a political standpoint about this issue. So I feel very grateful that my supervisors allowed me time to familiarize myself with the topic. They also tasked me with completing a research project, where I learned about our work from various perspectives, including parents, government organizations, our nonprofit partners and legislators. This project allowed me to think critically about the different ways to display the current challenges Minnesota communities face regarding the benefits cliff and the ways we can address the issue.
This semester, being a policy intern was a very new experience for me and my first macro-level opportunity. However, I am pleased to say it will not be my last. I look forward to continuing policy work after college and even have a few opportunities in community organizing and advocacy lined up for this summer.
My experience at United Way has prepared me and made me more passionate about addressing barriers in my local community. I am so grateful for the time I have spent here and the people I have met. Even while my internship was entirely remote, my team worked very hard to give me a fulfilling experience and connected me with other employees in the organization and out. I am so pleased to be ending my internship with a wealth of knowledge I know I could not have obtained anywhere else.