By: Ashmar Mandou
Cicero resident Luis Zarco, 25, believes in taking chances. “I think it’s important for everyone to step out of their comfort zone,” said Zarco. “You never know what experiences are waiting for you once you do.”
Step out of his comfort zone he did. After going against his mother’s wishes to stay in Chicago, Zarco took it upon himself to pursue a higher education by enrolling at Michigan State University, a decision that didn’t sit well with the Zarco clan. “My mother couldn’t understand why I had to study so far away, even though Michigan is just a couple of hours away,” said Zarco. “I just knew it was the best decision for me to jump into something that was out of the norm for me. And I have had the best years here at Michigan State.”
After being heavily involved with extracurricular activities and developing alliances with other cultural clubs, Zarco heard about the prestigious Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) internship program from one of CHCI’s representatives. On a whim, Zarco filled out an application without any expectation of the outcome. “I just submitted the application and that was it. I didn’t think about it until I received the call that I was one of the students selected to participate,” said Zarco. “I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited to have the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C., to meet and work alongside influential leaders.”
CHCI’s internship program provides dozens of college undergraduates the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C., for a life-changing 12-week experience each spring and fall. Interns are assigned to congressional offices on Capital Hill for a period of 12-weeks to learn first-hand about the country’s legislative process and salient issues pending before the House of Representatives and Senate.
“To be able to work on very important issues and get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes for issues to be approved was truly an unforgettable experience,” said Zarco, who worked closely with Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. “I learned so much from him and the whole experience. I encourage other students to apply and take advantage of this great opportunity.”
Zarco, and the rest of the interns, were responsible for conducting legislative research, monitoring day-to-day hearings, and assisting with general policy matters. CHCI’s program provides all participants with housing, roundtrip transportation to and from Washington D.C., and a $3,750 stipend.
“This class represents 11 different academic institutions, seven Hispanic ethnicities, nine academic majors, and 50 percent of the interns are the first generation to go to college,” said Esther Aguilera, CHCI president & CEO, in a statement. “CHCI is committed to keeping the promise to our nation’s future leaders and providing unmatched public policy experience and leadership training to prepare Hispanic youth to lead America’s workforce into the 21st century.” The CHCI internship program is made possible with the support of Walmart and Southwest Airlines.
After his experience with CHCI, Zarco hopes to pursue a career as a lobbyist working to support local organizations. “If that doesn’t work, I would like to pursue something in the automobile industry because I love cars,” laughed Zarco, who is majoring in communications and public relations. As for his tip to any student looking to step outside of their comfort zone, Zarco had this to say. “I think it’s important for anyone to just jump right in. Jump in to whatever makes you nervous or uncomfortable because that’s the only way you will improve yourself.”