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D.C. Social Justice Fellowship
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Fernanda Ruiz Mendoza

Major: International Relations, Spanish
Minor: Latin American Studies
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I found out about this experience through a small ad on the Multicultural Resource Center emailing list. As soon as I read the words "Washington D.C." and "social justice," my attention was immediately caught. The announcement had a link to the program's website and said that they would be having walk-in office hours if you wanted to find out more about the program before applying.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

This fellowship is from Penn State’s College of Education and is centered around social justice and discovery-based learning. The fellowship started out with a spring semester class that would prepare us for our experience in Maymester as teachers at a public high school in Washington, D.C. I had no previous experience with teaching and had never even considered a career as a teacher, so I went into this experience very open to learning and growing along the way. During the spring semester, I planned my lessons on a social justice topic of my interest. I also had to create a civic action plan that I would formally present to stakeholders in D.C. It took a lot of work, but I would not trade it for the world.

How did this experience impact you academically?

The fellowship was very challenging and intensive, especially the two weeks in Washington, D.C. I dedicated a lot of time to my lesson plans and my civic action plan, so it was incredible to finish and enact these ideas. We also had to meet with professionals in D.C. and receive feedback on our civic action plan. This really helped prepare me for life after college and networking with different professionals. I have a newfound respect for teachers because it was not until this experience that I realized how much time and work it takes to develop a lesson plan. To make things even more challenging, we were creating discovery-based lesson plans that centered on the students’ life experiences, not on what is being lectured. This was a teaching method I had no prior experience with, so it took time to change my perspective on educating in a non-directive manner. I would say that this fellowship was the most academically challenging experience I have had, but it was absolutely worth it, and I am extremely happy to have done it.

My fellowship helped me to realize how much I love working with young people and the amount of impact I can have on their lives.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

Throughout this experience I learned so much about myself and who I want to become in the future. Before the fellowship, my career goals were to work for the federal government as a Foreign Service Officer or to go into politics, but now my goals have shifted. My fellowship helped me to realize how much I love working with young people and the amount of impact I can have on their lives. I am not sure I have what it takes to be an educator, but I do know that I want to help people in a more personal and direct way. I would love to work for a non-governmental organization such as the UN or UNICEF in the future, but after I graduate from college I would really like to work for a small non-profit and help the community around me. The teaching and volunteer hours I had to do for this fellowship really helped me to realize that I want to go into more social work than I had previously thought.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would absolutely recommend this fellowship to other Liberal Arts students, but I would be sure to let them know that this is an intensive experience that will get them completely out of their comfort zone. I am not in the College of Education and many of the other fellows were not either, so it was challenging for us at times. However, I was able to widen my horizons and way of thinking by challenging myself and doing something not related to my major.

For more information on internships for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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