Political science student graduates from Honors College, heads to Sacramento
L.A. Story is a regular feature showcasing how Cal State L.A. has contributed to the success of a recent graduate or soon-to-be graduate.
A week before commencement, most seniors might be anxious thinking about finals or finding work after graduation, but Aaron Chua is enjoying the late May sunshine at the University-Student Union Plaza and looking completely content. That’s because he knows exactly where he’ll be in four months: the State Capitol in Sacramento.
The Capital Fellows Program is sponsored by the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State and the Office of the Governor. It’s an opportunity for recent graduates to engage in public service and prepare for future careers while actively contributing to the development of public policy in California.
“Aaron’s selection as a Capital Fellow is thrilling but hardly a surprise,” says Mark Wild, a professor of history in the Honors College. “Throughout his career at Cal State L.A. he has excelled both in the classroom and in the various external opportunities he’s secured. He provides an excellent example of how students at our institutions can craft courses of study that create unique avenues for success after college.”
A bright student from Temple City High School, Chua always loved learning about history—the ancient cultures, the political figures and the rise and fall of governments—and since many of his favorite teachers graduated from Cal State L.A., he hoped to follow in their footsteps.
That is, until he took Greg Andranovich’s Honors Intro to Government class.
“His class covered the basics, like how the executive and legislative branches are laid out. But then he began to tell us about problems and dysfunction in the state government and things we could do
to improve it, and that evolved into discussions on the federal government and international government,” says Chua. “And I began to see a way in which I could participate in addressing some of those problems.”
From then on, his curiosity about politics turned into full-fledged passion. He enrolled in more political science courses and thrived in the smaller class sizes, one-on-one interaction with professors and personal advising that Cal State L.A. and the Honors College offers. This support system directed him to a major opportunity in his junior year: the Panetta Institute for Public Policy’s Congressional Internship Program.
The program sends students to Washington, D.C., for a test run in politics. They attended committee hearings, sat in seminar classes led by members of Congress, took a tour of the Pentagon and got a defense overview from Leon Panetta, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, himself.
“Secretary Panetta emphasized public service. He said you go to serve, not to further your own career or sate your own ambition,” says Chua. “There are those that work for the public good, but a lot of people are jaded with our political process. They see it as dysfunctional, not working, everyone in D.C. is bickering all the time. There is a lot of truth to that. Being there and working there, even for a brief time, you do see that the cameras don’t catch everything. There’s a lot of good stuff going on behind the scenes.”
During the latter half of the program, Chua worked for several months as an intern in the D.C. office of Rep. John Garamendi, whose California district includes Sacramento and Davis. The training went well beyond the scope of typical drudge work, like answering phones and schlepping coffee. Chua attended briefings, assembled talking points for the congressman, wrote a policy paper on U.S.-China relations and researched water politics in the San Joaquin Valley River Delta.
The experience cemented Chua’s resolve to continue on as a dual major in political science and history, with the hopes of one day working as a diplomat in the State Department.
“A lot of people see the dysfunction the media portrays and they say ‘what can one person do against vested interests, big money and a government that seemingly doesn’t want to listen to them?’ But this kind of attitude is precisely why they can’t get anything done; they don’t try,” says Chua. “You have to understand how it works before you can learn how to take action.”
After the Panetta internship, applying for the Capital Fellows Program was the natural next step. But impressing the panel of Republican, Democratic, and independents reviewing candidates wasn’t going to be easy. Once again, Chua turned to the Honors College to help perfect his personal story and resume. Honors College Director Michelle Hawley, set up mock interviews with Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A., to quiz Chua on issues affecting the state, like high-speed rail and hydraulic fracking.
So as soon as Chua returns home from Japan (a post-graduation trip with friends), he’ll pack up and head for Sacramento, where he’ll spend 10 months assigned to one of the offices in the executive branch.
The experience is sure to be an excellent cap to his undergraduate work at Cal State L.A. And what comes after that? Most likely law school, he says.