Whether a student is studying linguistics or philosophy, international development studies or history, psychology or environmental science, there’s a space for them in UCLA’s Quarter in Washington program.

The program, which was revamped last year, offers a wider-than-ever variety of internships that should appeal to students with interests across disciplines.

“My goal is to build bridges with a broad range of disciplines including labor studies, English and the physical and life sciences so that all will see the value of taking time for study and interning in Washington, D.C., and more students will take advantage of the opportunity,” said Juliet Williams, faculty director of the program and a professor of gender studies.

Nearly 100 UCLA students spent part of the 2021–22 academic year in the nation’s capital as part of the program, whose revamp was also in line with UCLA’s broader commitment to community-engaged research and learning.

“UCLA is a large research institution located in a global city, and well-positioned to be at the vanguard of higher education opportunities to have situated learning,” Williams said. “We can think more pedagogically as to what are the kinds of academic scaffolding we can create so that the internship is not a separate dimension but something that is integrated into students’ curricular plan.” 

UCLA’s Center for Community Engagement has increasingly played a part promoting and supporting community-engaged research, teaching and learning in partnership with communities and organizations throughout Los Angeles and Southern California, across the nation and around the world.

Students in the program work four days per week at an internship, and take academic courses one day per week at the University of California’s D.C. Center along with students from other UC campuses. In their internship course, students are paired with graduate students who assign readings and writing assignments meant to enhance the internship experience.

“The academic work and the associated critical thinking and exploration enhances the day-to-day work of the internship experience, giving students opportunities to connect their experience to their learning and pre-professional development,” says Shalom Staub, director of UCLA’s Center for Community Engagement.

UCLA students had internships at nonprofits and advocacy groups like Public Citizen Global Trade Watch, the American Bar Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the National Disability Rights Network. They also interned at government agencies including the Peace Corps’ Office of General Counsel, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Others gained experience with research projects like the Political Violence Lab; at law firms and government consulting firms; and even at the White House’s Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Perspectives from three of the most recent participants:

Cassidy Bomberger, an international development studies major interned with State Department’s the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She said the experience helped her realize she would appreciate a more active role in the field as opposed to an office job. She loved mixing with students from other UC campuses, and from other academic majors.

“It was great to meet film majors with minors in economics, or someone who majored in finance with a minor in philosophy,” she said. “There were so many combinations that stood out. It was interesting to see the diversity of thought. Many were agents of social change, with a lot of opinions. There was a lot of talk about women’s rights, abortion rights, the Supreme Court, Black Lives Matter. I appreciated how active and how vocal the students were.”

Bruce Fan, a political science major who interned in the office of U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, whose district includes UCLA, said his UC seminar on the Biden presidency helped him understand how the executive branch works and how the president gains congressional support and pursues an agenda. For his internship course, he wrote a paper on restrictions on federal employees giving campaign contributions to members of Congress.

“We often do internships without self-reflection,” Fan said. “The course does a good job of relating academics to real world examples, forcing us to reflect upon what is happening in the internship process. We can apply our real-life experiences to the academic world — the theories of economics, political science, psychology, sociology and others.”

Chuyu Wei, a double major in cognitive science and political science, interned with Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit that works to empower female leaders around the world. She says her D.C. seminar in international development enhanced her internship experience, and she appreciated that Vital Voices has offices around the world, which she sees as a contrast to what she would have experienced had she interned in Los Angeles or California.

Based on her own experience, Wei had advice for fellow Bruins with majors in science fields: “Come, live on the East Coast,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities and faculty are trying to help us find jobs. They accept all majors. It is great to be exposed to people from diverse backgrounds and work with a federal agency or NGO from around the world.”

The students also said the experience outside of California was a great way to expand their networks, which will help them in their career paths after UCLA.

“I made lifelong lasting friendships and connections that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Many of those people are D.C.-minded people,” Bomberger said. “We’re all connected on LinkedIn and I think it will be easy to find people in similar field in the future.”