WASHINGTON, DC – In May, fifteen Cal undergraduate students traveled from California to Washington, DC to participate in Democracy Camp, a program run by the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at IGS.
Now in its second year, Democracy Camp in DC (an extension of the Matsui Center’s popular Democracy Camp alternative spring break program) is a weeklong experiential learning program designed to expose students to careers at the federal level. Through a series of guest speakers, site visits, and panel sessions, students learn about a broad range of federal government and auxiliary fields, including the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches, career positions and political appointments, think tanks, advocacy organizations, law professions, and more.
Democracy Camp is designed to help students envision and chart their unique path to public service through first hand exposure. “From a young age, I wanted to pursue a career that makes real change in my community,” said Amber Griffin-Royal, a rising senior majoring in African American Studies. “However, that path sometimes isn’t clear. This trip allowed me the chance to see how public policy could be an avenue for me to pursue my dreams of being a change-maker!”
“Meeting young passionate professionals and established professionals made me take into account a wide range of perspectives about DC,” said Danny Franco, a rising senior studying Political Science with a minor in Public Policy. “This experience reaffirmed to me that I will pursue a career in public service and make a change.”
Democracy Camp provides unique access to spaces of power in our nation’s capital, made possible through the generous support of the programs’ partners in DC. During Democracy, participants lodge at the UC Washington Center, home of the UCDC program and situated in the heart of Washington. Students visit cultural and historical sites, including the National Mall and Smithsonian museums, explore historical neighborhoods, and access the nerve center of our nation’s democratic institutions, including the White House, the US Capitol, the Supreme Court, and more. This year’s cohort were also invited to curated panels at the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Department of Education, and the Human Rights Campaign.
“As a first-generation, low-income Latina, entering political spaces that I only read about and saw on TV was empowering,” said Franco. Democracy Camp Co-Student Director Tatiana Butte (Geography, minor in Public Policy, ’24) shared that exploring DC gave her “a sense of direction that I can work here and do belong in this city.”
In addition to guest speaker sessions, students gain tools and resources to support their career goals. This year, UCDC staff offered a professional development workshop on securing an internship/job in Washington, DC. Students also participated in an interactive networking training run by the Matsui Center.
Students had an opportunity to put their networking skills into action at a Cal Alumni Reception hosted by Paul Rosenthal, Class of 1972 and Chair of Kelley Drye & Warren LLC. The reception brought together a supportive and welcoming group of Cal alumni from different backgrounds and fields, all of whom are engaged in public service work in the DC area.
“At first I was very nervous because it was my first formal networking event, but with my cohort I felt very comfortable going into it. The view was spectacular, the food was delicious, and most of all the alumni were great to talk to. I met with people who gave me wonderful advice on various pathways that I could take postgrad. All the alumni were extremely willing to keep in touch (and connect on LinkedIn) and to continue talking to me afterwards. I was able to learn about the different paths that people were able to take before coming to their current careers and learn about people's different educational backgrounds…. I'm very grateful to have been part of this networking event and to have put myself out there.” – Fiza Mehmood
Democracy Camp is specifically designed for first-generation, transfer, and non-traditional students, and is structured to center students’ perspectives and voices. The program strives to create a sense of belonging within the cohort, on the UC Berkeley campus, and in Washington through representation, transformation, and community building. For Alexia Guerra (Political Science and Ethnic Studies, minor in History, ’25), this program empowered her and others in the cohort “to see ourselves in spaces that were not made for us. I am grateful for all the opportunities…to continue inspiring students of color to attain information about worlds and opportunities that are not accessible.”
“It was a pleasure to be able to have a space that was all about empowerment and growth,” reflected Mehmood. “I formed great friendships with so many people in the cohort and it was crazy to think that our time together in DC was ending. There's honestly no other group of people I would have wanted to experience DC for the first time with.”