Denis "Pepe" Estrada Hamm and Jason Renner, both sophomores at Washington and Lee University, spent Sept. 13-15 at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The students received funding for the trip from the Virginia Foundation for Independent College's Excelencia Initiative, coordinated through W&L's Career Development Office.
Renner, who is majoring in politics and minoring in computer science, said, "I'm interested in eventually working in public policy and analysis, and, as a student of Latino ethnicity, I thought this was a great way to get involved a bit more. I wanted to get off campus and open myself to new opportunities."
Every year, the conference assembles Latino leaders, federal and local elected officials, corporate and nonprofit leaders, and supporters to participate in timely discussions of major policy issues affecting the Latino community and the nation. As noted in the schedule of events, panel discussions included such key issues as education, STEM, the economy, work force, labor, health and immigration.
"At this conference, everyone seemed to be united in their efforts to advance the community, even if some of us disagree how to do so," said Estrada, a computer science and economics major. "I wanted to learn from and meet leaders in the Latino community, and I was most interested in the efforts being taken to address the immigrant crisis in the United States — specifically, how entities were trying to help these people become citizens."
Renner thinks they were probably the youngest present. "The general vibe that I got was that we were the only college students there. Attendees were mostly from the public and private sectors, but all brought a unique perspective of how to engage more of the Latino community in their various sectors." He noted that there is a "phenomenal growth of Latino communities, and they have a lot of purchasing power. It will be interesting to see how our numbers can influence public policy."
While this is an election year, and immigration is a hot topic, Renner said that item is actually ranked fifth on a list of issues that concern the Latino population. "While immigration is important, the expectation that it's high on our list is a stereotype. We don't vote from a single platform. What individuals are concerned about is equal opportunity, education, housing and so on."
Being present at such a large event gave the two students an excellent networking opportunity. "This conference allowed me to develop connections with the leaders of my community," Estrada said, "and to learn information about everything from corporate structure to immigration law directly from the people involved in those things." While he made a number of connections, he's most excited about a representative from Microsoft who asked for his business card and résumé.
Renner, who also lined up several telephone interviews for possible summer internships, said, "I walked away with a rejuvenated sense of my political prowess as a Latino and gained a better sense of how I can utilize the American political landscape to my advantage."
by Louise Uffelman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Pepe Estrada '19 (left) and Jason Renner '19 attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.