Empowering Latino Communities as a CHCI Public Policy Fellow

Jan 30, 2017
Dustin Chavez pictured with his cohort of CHCI Public Policy Fellows
CHCI Public Policy Fellows, including Dustin Chavez (top row, far right)

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellowship is an exciting opportunity for talented, young Latinos pursuing a career in public policy. Open to recent college graduates, this nine-month professional fellowship offers significant exposure to the legislative process, leadership development and professional networking. Fellows spend the first four days of each week learning the many facets of public policy on Capitol Hill, and on Fridays, convene for a full day of leadership development. Programming is designed to help fellows better understand policy issues facing the Latino community and how to propose effective solutions.

Current CHCI Public Policy Fellow Dustin Chavez shared with us his experience so far on Capitol Hill, as well as tips for prospective fellows.

1. What inspired you to apply for the CHCI Public Policy Fellowship?

I applied to the CHCI Public Policy Fellowship on a whim during my senior year of college. I had a few admissions from graduate schools and job offers, but I figured I might as well throw my name in the bucket. The fellowship provides a once in a life opportunity and I thought I might as well do it while I am able to.

I have been involved in the public policy arena on a state and local level, but I was never able to explore it on a federal level. The paid fellowship provided me with the possibility of being able to explore a new area of interest for me that might not otherwise be possible. Coming to our nation’s capital, I knew that I wanted to see the “sausage making process” for myself and actually witness how the laws we live by were formulated. The fellowship also showcased further professional development and access to a network of alumni and mentors. With all of this in mind, I saw the fellowship as my way to get a glimpse of a world I had never dreamt of witnessing.

2. What is a typical week like for a CHCI Public Policy Fellow?

The fellowship is different for each fellow. We each have two placements during the fellowship; one on the Hill and one off the Hill. Our placements are assigned in policy areas that we have interest in exploring. My first placement was at The National Immigration Law Center and my second, current placement is with the Majority on The Senate Committee on Finance – Oversight & Investigation Team. Through both of my placements, I have been able to apply my educational background and gain new skills. The job is mainly research and advocacy-based. As a fellow, you may summarize legislation, do legislative research, compile and analyze data, write speeches, and just about anything else involved in the policy creation process.

The staff that we work with treat us as equals, provide us with meaningful work, and solicit our opinions on various topics. We, as fellows, are put into rooms that most of us could not fathom being in. It is quite empowering to see a group of young Latinos/Latinas influencing the way our great nation is shaped. Every Friday, our cohort gets together for a full day of programming ranging from visits to Facebook & Amazon all the way to life coaching. This, to me, has been what makes the program so worthwhile. The development programming CHCI provides ensures we are more well-rounded by the end of the fellowship. Some of the highlights from this year were meeting President Obama, witnessing confirmation hearings of the current administration, exploring future career opportunities, and meeting members of Congress – the list could go on!

3. What tips would you give others applying to the CHCI Public Policy Fellowship?

My greatest advice to anyone who is applying is to be yourself and don’t be afraid to tell your story. The questions they ask in the application will gauge who you are and how you view yourself. After the written application is a phone or Skype interview – probably one of the more stressful interviews I have had as my Skype decided not to work last minute! But, the team at CHCI were more than accommodating and made me feel at ease about it. This is your time to really show off your storytelling capabilities and give the interview team a good sense of who you really are. CHCI is looking for the people who will become the next generation of Latino leaders. They want people who care about the communities that they represent. They want people who take pride in who they are and where they come from. They want you to be who you are and not put on a front. If you keep this in mind, you will do fine. It will be stressful waiting, but if selected, it will be well worth it in the end!

Dustin Chavez was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is an avid advocate for his home state and its people. Dustin attended New Mexico State University (NMSU), a Land Grant and Hispanic-serving institution, where he earned a Bachelor of Accountancy and a Bachelor of Business Administration – Finance. While at NMSU, Dustin saw the issues that plague a low-income state and discovered a passion for advocacy. He served as student body president and senator at NMSU, as well as on the school’s Student Advocacy Board. Dustin currently serves his community on local and statewide program oversight boards. As a current CHCI Public Policy Fellow, Dustin hopes to hone his skill set so that he can help to better provide a voice to marginalized groups in the community. In the future, Dustin plans to attend law school.