Oct 28, 2016
Never in a million years did Dominic Cicerone imagine he’d meet Leon Panetta. But there he was, talking to the former CIA director and secretary of defense.
“I kept thinking to myself that I’m just an average guy,” says Cicerone, a Political Science major at Humboldt State, who is this year’s HSU pick for Congressional Internship Program at the Panetta Institute. “There’s nothing special about me, and yet I was sitting across the table having a conversation with him.”
Cicerone’s meeting marked the beginning of the program. Founded in 1997 by Panetta and his wife, Sylvia, the Panetta Institute is a nonpartisan center for public policy based in Monterey, Calif., where Panetta was born.
Every year, all 23 CSU campuses (in addition to Dominican University of California, Saint Mary’s College of California, and Santa Clara University) each select one student for the two-month program.
“I was in shock that I was picked. It has been amazing experience to be able to represent Humboldt State,” says Cicerone. He is the 15th HSU student to be selected for the program since 2002-03.
The program is a two-month boot camp that introduces politics and the legislative process. It begins with intensive training at the institute and, for two weeks, students take classes and seminars led by various experts who delve into foreign and defense policies, cybersecurity issues, and the political process. Students are also told what they can expect as an intern on Capitol Hill, and are then assigned to work for a California House representative.
Cicerone now lives in D.C. where he works in Rep. Darrell Issa’s office (R-Vista). In addition to administrative duties and giving constituents tours of the Capitol building, Cicerone attends briefings as well as Congressional hearings to listen, learn, take notes, and meet people who are lobbying for their cause.
“I remember a briefing where four others and I were sitting at a table discussing a mental health study with members from UC San Diego and other prestigious medical institutions. It was a big deal to talk with these people about their programs and draft a memo of everything we discussed to present it to my boss,“ he says.
Each day Cicerone has a chance to help people with real problems. He recalls a phone conversation with a woman who called Issa’s office.
“An elderly woman was having a tough time receiving medication due to her insurance provider. I listened to her story and immediately contacted one of Issa’s legislative assistants who handles health care. With the help of our staff in the D.C. office as well as our district office in Vista we were able to help the woman receive the medication she desperately needed.”
After the program, Cicerone hopes to join HSU’s Associated Students and inspire students to get more involved on campus, as well as make HSU the best it possibly can be. He also sees in his future environmental advocacy at the community level—a passion inspired by Humboldt State.
“HSU has instilled in me a love and passion of the outdoors and the environment. So much so that I have made environmental policy a key piece of my educational plan,” he says. “Protecting the natural beauty of the world around us is very important to me.“