SF State student earns dream internship on Capitol Hill

SF State student and Panetta Congressional Internship Program winner Margaux Curcuru in the San Francisco Public Library on Friday, April 29, 2013. Photo by Gabriella Gamboa / Xpress
SF State student and Panetta Congressional Internship Program winner Margaux Curcuru in the San Francisco Public Library on Friday, April 29, 2013. Photo by Gabriella Gamboa / Xpress
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Margaux Curcuru’s career pursuit as foreign policy. Curcuru’s education and internship were in fact focused in the judiciary and international law. The article has since been corrected to reflect those facts.

Margaux Curcuru looks starry-eyed as she roams the hallways of the HSS Building and appears to be a dreamer in the clouds as she scans postings on various bulletin boards.

But the 21-year-old philosophy major is simply being an opportunist.

Her avid curiosity has paid off serendipitously with her earning of the SF State nomination to participate in the prestigious, all-inclusive Panetta Internship Program in Washington D.C., after browsing random flyers and setting her eyes on one for this program.

With her Renaissance woman attitude, she reads every scrap of paper posted — from advertisements to professor mini biographies — to gain a deeper understanding of her surrounding environment and to seek events or programs that will lead to an advancement of her career in international law.

“I always like to discover opportunities that pique my interest  and I’m always on the lookout for valuable information,” Curcuru said. “I’m always positive and this scholarship that I just won was definitely the luck of the draw for me.”

Curcuru, a native of France, will be spending the next five months on Capitol Hill, working with a to-be-assigned member of Congress dealing with her primary interest: the judiciary.

“Issues of international law really interest me, I just find it fascinating because it is a groundbreaking field that has really been developed much more since the Nuremberg Trials,” Curcuru said. “I feel that I’m fit to enter this field because I have that international background by being bilingual and being fully immersed in two cultures and really understanding their complexities. I could be an intermediary between Europe and the United States.”

In Washington D.C., the Panetta interns will be serve a member of Congress who actively works on issues that each respective Panetta Intern is interested in pursuing. The institute pairs students with a member of Congress and for 11 weeks those interns will be working for 20 units of university credit.

“I’m excited to be working with a Congress member that deals with these matters (of international law) first hand,” she said.

The internship is open to undergraduate juniors and seniors at all CSU campuses, plus Santa Clara University and Dominican University of California. Only one student from each school is selected to participate in the internship.

The program was founded by Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense for President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013 and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009 to 2011. He oversaw the U.S. military operation that led to Osama Bin Laden’s death. He was also Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff.

Each fall semester, the Panetta Institute for Public Policy provides the selected students an intensive two-week training course at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at CSU Monterey about the inner workings of Congress before they are sent off to Washington D.C.

At SF State, the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, ICCE, is responsible for selecting the candidate. According to Gerald Eisman, director of the institute, it is an extremely competitive and the vetting process is strenuous.

“We are particularly proud of the students who apply and we get amazing applicants. It is always a struggle to pick who we are going to send,” Eisman said. “We have never had a difficulty of who to send but rather it was a matter of candidates being equally good and how are we going to select one over the other?”

The selection process is rigorous as it includes three main hurdles. First, a committee of six faculty members are selected by the ICCE and the committee then selects its top two candidates after reviewing each application and hosting a series of interviews.

Then the top two candidates are interviewed by President Wong and whoever he picks is then interviewed by the wife of Leon Panetta, Sylvia Panetta.

According to Bonnie Hale, senior program coordinator for the ICCE, just because a university president selects a student, the Panetta Institute doesn’t necessarily honor the president’s choice. If the Panetta Institute rejects a campus nominee, that internship is left unfilled.

“The internship isn’t a finishing school in Washington D.C., meaning that they already want students that have a certain amount of poise and maturity,” Hale said. “This is one of the most prestigious undergraduate opportunities in the country.”

An ideal candidate, according to Eisman, can be from any academic discipline, not necessarily one related to politics, but all of the Panetta interns share a common attribute: working to improve the community.

“There are three main qualities: a demonstrated commitment to community service, a passion for the political process to foster the collective good, and excellent communication skills in writing and speaking,” Eisman said. “Those are the main three.”

Curcuru ultimately plans to use her time in Congress to explore the complexities of implementing effective policy and helping humanity advance.

“One of my ideas that I wrote about in my letter of intent was that somehow, someday in the future, (I want to) combine the best policies of France and the best of policies of America and bring these notions to another foreign governments or research institutes,” Curcuru said. “I like the idea of taking ideas from other countries and applying them in a different context and ultimately creating social mobility for all of humanity.”