San Marcos,
11:34 AM

Gaining a National Perspective: CSUSM Students Spend a Semester in D.C.

By Margaret Chantung

In the heart of our nation’s capital, Cal State San Marcos seniors Kristine Diaz and Carrie Martin are interning and attending class this semester as part of Cal Sate DC, a unique program that combines academic with experiential learning. The program, now in its tenth year, is operated by CSU Fullerton but students of all majors across the 23 Cal State University campuses are welcome to apply. This semester a record 46 students are enrolled.

“Cal State DC provides upper-division students with the opportunity to intern at a variety of non-profit organizations, governmental agencies and legislative offices while enrolled in two courses, one of which incorporates the culture, politics and history of the city,” said Leo Melena, CSUSM College of Humanities Arts Behavioral and Social Sciences (CHABSS) student services professional.

Diaz, a liberal studies major, is interning at the U.S. Department of the Interior in the Intergovernmental and External Affairs Department.

“I was brought on to the team to take care of the intergovernmental side of our office while another intern does the external affairs part,” she said. “Basically, I am responsible for making sure our office and the Secretary of Interior are in good relation with locally elected officials such as governors, senators and mayors. Some of my duties include updating contact info, writing profiles and preparing briefing memos for the Secretary to refer to before meeting officials. Fortunately, the department cares a lot about their interns and plans events for us to attend. One in particular I got to go to was the arrival ceremony for the French president where I had the chance to see Obama!”

Meanwhile, Martin, a sociology major, is an intern at BusinessUSA, an online platform launched by the Obama Administration to help small businesses find information about federal programs. Her on-the-job duties include site research, troubleshooting and assisting with design.

A Study Abroad Experience without Punching Your Passport

As home to dozens of cultural institutions, museums and monuments, Washington D.C. offers unparalleled opportunities for cultural enrichment when students aren’t working or in class.   

“We like to say this is like a study abroad experience without having to punch a passport,” said Melena, who also explained that students have the option of housing with other CSU interns. Tuition is the same as it would be at CSUSM and financial assistance is applicable for the spring semester and may be available for summer.

“We've been offered free tickets to things like a symphony at the Kennedy Center to watch the Washington National Orchestra and a musical at Ford's Theatre,” reflected Diaz. “I attended my first NBA basketball game to see the Washington Wizards for only two dollars which was a lot of fun! And Carrie and I have done tons of exploring and have made trips to Baltimore and New York. We are already planning trips to go to Virginia, Philadelphia, Boston and more.”

Martin described the surreal experience of watching President Obama’s State of the Union address with other DC interns and realizing it was happening just a few minutes away.

“This internship in Washington D.C. has definitely enriched my college experience,” she said. “I've been involved on campus already through Kamalayan Alliance and KPDL (Knowledge Perseverance Diversity and Legacy). But being able to participate in the Cal State DC program has been such a wonderful opportunity and it made me love CSUSM even more. I highly recommend this to other CSUSM students because you get to meet a variety of people and network, get to go to so many places, and the program really takes care of you. I graduate this spring and I honestly could not have chosen a better way to leave CSUSM.”

CSUSM students who are interested in applying for the summer program should contact Leo Melena at or visit the website for more information.