Denied from congressional internships, Joseph Fernando felt he was hitting a brick wall that would halt his dream of making a difference on the Hill. But when he transferred to George Mason University from Virginia Tech, the opportunities he encountered and the skills he honed equipped him to be accepted to all three internships he applied for next—including two Senate internships and one at End Citizens United.
“Typically, people would start in the House and then move up to the Senate because the Senate is much more competitive,” said Fernando, a junior majoring in public administration who’s now interning at U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s office in Washington, D.C. “They rejected me in the House and I moved over to the Senate—I just leapt up,” he said, remembering his near disbelief when he received his acceptance call.
Clerical, legislative and constituent services form a typical day at his high-intensity internship—which this semester has seen a flood of protestors over Supreme Court nominees and thousands of calls advocating for different sides of political issues. In seeing how these protests are handled, organizing constituent mail and answering phone calls, Fernando has learned valuable skills for any area of politics.
“You have to learn to not have an opinion,” said Fernando. “You have to be very civil no matter what they believe and still respect them, because at the end of the day, it’s servant leadership—serving others without selfish needs.”
Asked what made the difference in a shift from rejections to acceptance offers, Fernando said he changed how he advocated for himself, realizing employers care more about what you can offer than a list of qualifications.
“It was a huge turning point for me when I transferred [to Mason]” said Fernando. “I got appointed as a student senator and started to grow more relationships with my professors. I started growing and getting more experience.”
James Pfiffner is one influential professor who Fernando said gave him insider knowledge on politics, motivated him to think about his own professional pursuits and supported him in applying for Student Government, where Fernando is currently a student senator and the chairman of the Government and Community Relations Committee.
“Joe was one of the best undergraduate students I’ve had in my many years of teaching,” said Pfiffner. “He is clearly dedicated to his studies and determined to do excellent work.”
That determination is fueled by Fernando’s desire to serve others—something he credits his mom for inspiring in him after she helped him overcome a learning disability.
“I predict that he will have an impressive career ahead of him, and an internship in Senator Kaine’s office is a good start for him,” said Pfiffner.