A Summer Fellowship For Puerto Rico’s Future

Jan 20, 2014
Débora L. Aponte Martínez, 2013 PARACa Fellow
Débora L. Aponte Martínez, 2013 PARACa Fellow

Puerto Rican Minds in Action’s “Empowerment and Retention of Agents of Change” summer fellowship (known as PARACa in Spanish) offers college students and young professionals the chance to develop their skills and leadership abilities in Puerto Rico through a professional internship, educational field trips, and workshops with prominent leaders. Puerto Rican Minds in Action is a non-profit organization devoted to putting a plug in the island’s brain drain by creating a new generation of leaders devoted to advancing its civic, social and economic development throughout their careers. Since 2010, academics, public administrators, private sector leaders and community organizers have shared their experiences and mentored fellowship participants. Internships are completed at high-impact organizations, from government offices to social enterprises.

Candidates must be current or incoming college students, graduate students or young professionals under the age of 30, U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and fluent in Spanish. To learn more about this opportunity, we caught up with PARACa fellow Débora Aponte Martínez who discussed her fellowship experience and provided her fellowship application tips.

1. What inspired you to apply for the PARACa summer fellowship?

I’ve always been an activist. Being civically engaged for me is not a choice, it’s a duty. I reaffirmed my commitment to public service and social issues when I enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in order to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.  The first thing that I did on my freshman year was run for a position as representative in the General Student Council voicing the concerns and opinions of over 2,000 students from the Faculty of Social Sciences.

As student representative I faced arduous decision-making processes during tough times, such as a student strike over an increase in tuition fees.  I had to look for consensus among the students of my faculty and I exerted my leadership by organizing students at my faculty and implementing different projects and events such as general assemblies, forums, panels and workshops. Although participating at my university’s student government was a very enriching experience, I wanted more.  I wanted to put my academic and advocacy skills to the test in a professional environment.

Internship experiences for undergraduate students are very limited in Puerto Rico. When I came upon Puerto Rican Minds in Action I was immediately motivated by all of the program’s components: a full professional experience in your field of studies, relevant workshops on different topics ranging from economy and the environment to gender equality and entrepreneurship, and the opportunity to create change by taking part in a civic engagement group project that addresses critical issues our country faces. I’d never before had the opportunity to use my academic capabilities in a real job inside my field of studies so I did not hesitate once when applying to the Puerto Rican Minds in Action summer fellowship program.

My internship experience was in Sapientis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of public education as a means to reducing poverty, stimulating economic growth and enhancing the standard of living in Puerto Rico.  My internship experience helped me realize the crucial and greatly needed work carried out by nonprofit organizations in our island.

I’ve always been very passionate about these issues but Puerto Rican Minds in Action gave me the opportunity to channel my passion, advocacy, research and policy skills in the professional field. This experience has been groundbreaking for me in all aspects of my life and has given me a competitive edge for other internships within the nonprofit and public sectors, such as the one I recently completed at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators in Washington, D.C.

Puerto Rican Minds in Action successfully creates agents for change and helps participants further develop necessary skills to succeed in their academic and professional endeavors.

2. What is a typical week like for a PARACa fellow?

As PARACa fellows, we work full time Monday-Thursday in our internship placements and on Fridays we attend different workshops that address important topics related to our professional development and civic engagement.  These topics include economic issues, gender, environment, agricultural/sustainable development and entrepreneurship.  Through these workshops, PARACa fellows also receive training in public speaking, interviewing and résumé building, necessary skills for success in the professional atmosphere. Apart from the workshops, we also attend discussion panels with invited speakers intended to raise our social awareness on different issues that concern our country.

On Saturdays, PARACa fellows participate in field trips and visit different community based organizations and other interesting groups that contribute their efforts to the betterment of our society in areas ranging from poverty alleviation to environmental clean-up efforts.  Our field trips are very fun and strive to accomplish one of the organization’s main goals: motivating participants to fully engage in their civic duties and social responsibilities.

PARACa Fellows at a public education workshop with Sapientis’ Executive Director Mariely Rivera Hernández
PARACa Fellows at a public education workshop with Sapientis’ Executive Director Mariely Rivera Hernández

3. What tips would you give others applying to the fellowship?

Anyone who is applying to a PARACa summer fellowship should be highly committed to civic engagement. They need to feel a responsibility with their country and also have the desire to create positive change in different areas. A PARACa summer fellowship empowers you and gives you many of the tools and skills needed to create change, but the participant must be driven and willing to give their all.   They are looking for leaders and potential agents for change.  They want young people who are very motivated and are willing to give their extra time to social causes and to work hard in order to change things for the better.

I believe my application stood out because I demonstrated a commitment to social issues such as education and gender equality, areas in our country that greatly need change through social programs directed to improve them.  Also, take into account what you, as a participant, can bring to the program.   In my case, I have a background in theater and gender studies, two important areas that can be effectively used towards social change.   Stand out by being authentic and really honest about your experiences and what issues you’re interested in.

The fellowship application deadline is January 30th. To complete the online application (in Spanish) visit http://mentespriquenas.wix.com/mentespriquenas#!conv-paraca-2014/c56h

Débora L. Aponte Martínez is a senior at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus, completing a double major in Political Science and Gender Studies. She has completed two study abroad programs in Spain and Washington, D.C. and two public policy internship experiences within the nonprofit sector through Puerto Rican Minds in Action and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. She plans to pursue a joint degree (Masters in Public Policy/J.D.) upon graduating this upcoming May. Her interests include environmental, social, education, gender and LGBT policy issues.

© Victoria Johnson 2014, all rights reserved.