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In Their Words
Of course our staff loves CDF-Texas, but hearing what the interns have to say might mean a bit more when determining whether interning here is a fit for you. Many thanks to each intern who contributed to this compilation for sharing their experience and helping paint an accurate and unbiased picture of working in our Austin office.
To learn more about how you can become a CDF-Texas Intern, contact Senior Policy Associate Cheasty Anderson.
Manuel Valdez, recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, interned in the CDF-Texas Austin office in Fall 2018. They had this to say about their experience.
The Children’s Defense Fund-Texas was my first real internship. I was nervous about how I would perform and about starting work in policy, which I had also never done before. I quickly learned on my first day that there was nothing that I had to be nervous about. Everyone in the office was so welcoming and friendly. I could really sense that this was a united environment focused on advocating for children. I was given the full rundown of my responsibilities and tips on how to get the job done by my incredible boss at the time, Laura. It was really helpful to have that time to sit down and discuss in detail what was expected of me. I wrote letters to committees, worked on a press release, published some social media content, and collaborated on youth engagement action items.
My favorite project that I worked on was our public comment advocating for upholding the Flores Amendment to keep undocumented children in safer conditions. It was so satisfying to see a project from beginning to end and it was also great to have so much responsibility for the final product. I tabled and wrote emails and engaged in all sorts of other outreach methods to get the word out to people about this issue, why they should submit a public comment, and how they could do it.
Through my time at CDF, I have realized that there is no better career path for me than that of non-profit work. I had the best bosses a person could ask for, teamed up well with the other interns, and worked hard on important work. I had a wonderful experience interning at the Children’s Defense Fund – Texas and greatly value what my time there has given me.
Fall 2018 Intern, CDF-Texas Austin office
Julia O’Hanlon interned at CDF-Texas in Summer and Fall 2018. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2018 and is now doing a post-graduate internship at the Brookings Institute. She had this to say about her time on staff.
Iremember finding out that I was going to get the opportunity to be an intern with the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas. As someone who is passionate about service, policy, and aiding the lives of children, I was incredibly excited at the chance to work with this organization I had followed for so long. Working at CDF-TX absolutely lived up to expectations and beyond. Through the program I gained mentors, learned about the policy areas of health care and civic rights more deeply, and had the opportunity to directly advocate for the lives of the most vulnerable Texans.
Through my internship I was able to combine my love for communication with advocacy. I loved the fast-paced nature of the work, and the fact that I was able to switch from health care to immigration to education policy in the matter of hours. Not only was I able to learn important skills and tools that I continue to carry with me, I was able to explore the intersection of these policy areas and truly make a difference in Texas. From assisting young people in coordinating rallies to drafting up policy memos for staffers in the Texas Legislature on various issues, CDF-TX provided me to get my hands dirty as a real advocate.
Because of my time at CDF-TX I feel that I am a more equipped advocate and ally, and I have a much better idea of what my next steps are to continue advancing progress. I think during my time at CDF-TX I did not fully appreciate the space that the staff created for everyone that walks inside. They taught me that advocacy and policy are labors of love – emphasis on the love. Our drive comes from passion for the communities we serve and a desire for a better Texas for our children and our neighbor’s children.
Summer/Fall 2018 Intern, CDF-Texas Austin office
Aliyah Conley interned at CDF-Texas in Spring 2018 and came away with some unexpected benefits.
Isought out the Health Policy Internship position with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Texas because I wanted to improve my understanding of the challenges that Texas children and families face when navigating health care systems. I am passionate about medicine and firmly believe that providers can play a unique role in policy by advocating for their patients and overhauling health systems.
With CDF, I had the opportunity to research the intersection of health policy, immigration, social work, and education. I contributed to projects related to everything from Medicaid in schools to preventing child fatalities and addressing parental substance abuse. I improved my ability to sift through, and thread together, seemingly disparate pieces of information.
Although CDF introduced me to invaluable policy experience, it was the relationships I developed in the office that made it difficult to leave. The CDF team and my fellow intern supported, empowered, and inspired me. Even now, a year later, I look to them as mentors and friends.
Policy is messy and visceral. Even so, my CDF family’s resilience and determination were contagious—they reminded me that I could improve my community through public service, meaningful relationships, and a whole lot of grit.
Spring 2018 Intern, CDF-Texas Austin office
Anna Gu, a Master of Public Affairs candidate at the LBJ School in the University of Texas at Austin, interned in the CDF-Texas Austin office in Spring 2019. She had this to say about her experience.
Idistinctly remember being called over to the Children’s Defense Fund – Texas booth at my graduate school’s career fair. I met Cheasty, and we immediately launched into a conversation about her work to oppose the abuses of migrant child detention centers. Although I was hesitant to take on the time commitment of an internship alongside a packed course schedule, she insisted that interning during the legislative session would be an incredible experience.
I am so grateful that I heeded her advice. Although it was not my main project, getting to contribute to CDF’s advocacy work during the 86thLegislative Session has taught me what the day-to-day-to-week-to-week work of coalition building looks like, from putting together testimonies to actively visiting with allied representatives and senators. I got a much better understanding of how state stakeholders talk about health and education as policy priorities.
My main focus was the Medicaid in Schools project, a research initiative to understand how schools draw down funding from Medicaid to support health services and community outreach improving health care coverage. I learned about the Central Texas context: the types of health services that districts offer, the ways different districts take on administrative hurdles like data-sharing regulations, and ways that some districts could get more federal dollars for programs they are already running. I helped compile statewide data detailing funding amounts by district and worked to gather more information through a survey to administrators across the state.
My years working in education helped me see the importance of integrating health services in schools, but this project helped me understand the nitty gritty of how educators accomplish this work. Working alongside the tireless advocates at CDF made me feel even more certain about wanting to concentrate my future work specifically in Texas and specifically around improving the systems that help support the most vulnerable young people.
Spring 2019 Intern, CDF-Texas Austin office
Vinit Shah interned at CDF-Texas in Spring 2019. He is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in public health at the University of Texas at Austin
Before joining CDF-Texas, I’ve always only had a vague sense of what I wanted to do career-wise. I’ve always been passionate about medicine and healthcare; since the 3rd grade, I’ve dreamed of becoming a physician. I also have a strong interest in politics and policy, especially since the 2016 election, and chose to major in Public Health at the University of Texas at Austin because it intersects these passions. However, I’ve never really known how to bring both of my passions in my career of choice, given that medicine, to me, frequently fails to discuss the social determinants of health, especially on a policy level. Little did I know that CDF-Texas would be the perfect fit in terms of intersecting all of my passions and interests, opening me up to the world of health policy and introducing me to new career opportunities.
Learning about health policy in your classes is one thing, but being able to directly interact with them is another. At CDF-Texas, I’ve had the opportunity to directly shape health policies and advocate for them at the state and federal level, whether it be creating social media posts supporting the expansion of Medicaid in Texas, visiting state legislators’ offices telling them to advocate for CDF’s core legislative priorities, or drafting a public comment that was submitted to the federal government opposing changes in eligibility for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In this way, I was also able to apply my passion for writing to solve health policy challenges and advocate for key priorities.
All of this sounds incredibly complicated (and it was), but none of this would have been possible without the help of an incredibly bright team of fellow interns and staff, who supported me throughout the way. I had initially come into CDF doubting if I was actually cut out for this type of work, as this was my first ever internship, and I had come in without significant legislative and communications experience. What kept me motivated was the incredibly supportive and collaborative environment at CDF; everyone was always willing to help me, teach me, and include me in major projects and meetings, no matter what their level of experience was. The staff at CDF also served as mentors to me, since many of them had similar passions as mine and provided invaluable advice as a confused undergraduate.
Through this internship, I gained new insights in the world of health policy, while also learning more about the importance of communications in supporting policy and advocacy work. While going into medicine continues to be my main goal, I hope to use my passion for medicine to effectively advocate for changes to health policy at the state level, something that I never thought I would be able to do without the skills I learned at CDF-Texas.
Spring 2019 Intern, CDF-Texas Austin office
Cindy Ji interned at CDF-Texas in the summer of 2019. She is currently working on a degree in public affairs at the LBJ School in the University of Texas at Austin.
One year ago, I was a case manager at an eviction prevention program in the South Bronx. My clients rarely faced one problem at a time, instead often finding themselves confronting a web of interconnected crises. They spent their days between waiting rooms at welfare centers and social services programs, waiting in lines at doctor’s offices, and caring for their children. But their problems weren’t unique—they were structural. Which meant they also had structural solutions: solutions rooted in policy. I was determined to find those solutions and advocate for them.
That’s why I started my public affairs degree last fall at the LBJ School, and why I was thrilled to join CDF Texas. I served as the policy intern during the 2019 legislative session, which was both a whirlwind and an honor. I followed hearings, supported coalitions, and helped CDF push great health coverage bills forward from start to finish.
This session, I worked primarily on the Children’s Health Coverage Bill: a simple, intuitive measure that would eliminate red tape, paperwork, and coverage gaps for families with children on Medicaid by removing ineffective and costly monthly income checks. The bill didn’t pass, but it remains a model for the kinds of small structural changes that can have an enormous positive impact on the lives of Texan families.
It’s well known that low-income residents pay more of their income towards their basic needs. But that cost isn’t only financial—it also costs time. That was the beauty of the Children’s Health Coverage Bill: it helped address our state’s severe child uninsured rate while also ensuring that the poorest families in our state don’t need to spend more time maintaining their children’s health coverage than any other Texan. They could spend fewer days in waiting rooms, and more days at work, at school, or with their families.
I’m so grateful to have worked alongside the staff at CDF, who were as deft at contextualizing policy and data as they were at representing the complex lives of the Texans they serve. They made their office into a professional home, with the support, guidance, and determination that is so necessary for this work. They’re a big part of the reason I’m pursuing a career in policy advocacy.
Summer 2019 Intern, CDF-Texas Austin office
Maggie Stern interned at CDF-Texas in Spring 2019, but has since become the Youth Civic Education & Engagement Coordinator. She will serve in this role until school resumes in August 2019.
Ihad just started filling out my internship paperwork on my first day at CDF-Texas when Laura walked in, introduced herself, and asked if I wanted to go to the Capitol for the first day of the 2019 Texas legislative session. On the drive over, we compiled a list of legislators whose offices she wanted to visit, and Laura also took the time to give me background on CDF’s priorities for session and expectations for me as an intern. The line for visitors to get into the Capitol stretched down the steps, and when we finally got inside the building it was packed. Legislators in cowboy hats, lobbyists in suits, children in their best clothes … it could have been overwhelming. But looking around at the whirlwind commotion, I knew I had landed in the right place.
Having lived in Austin for less than a year, I knew very little about Texas politics prior to this internship. But with the support of a staff who are kind, funny, and dedicated to their work, I have learned so much about how to be an effective advocate and a better coworker. I worked primarily on a report about the state of youth civic engagement and education in Texas, learning how voting and education systems consistently fail to give children the knowledge and ability to be good citizens. I also worked in coalition with other tireless advocates to push for legislation to improve some of these systems. Unfortunately, promising bills that would make civic education more project based and community oriented did not pass this session. But the conversation and the energy around this issue will continue, and I know CDF will be a central part of that work.
I am looking forward to continuing with CDF-Texas through the summer, and to bringing the lessons I’ve learned here into my future endeavors. I am so grateful to have had this experience to solidify my interests in youth advocacy and civic education in Texas.
Summer 2019 Intern/Youth Civic Education & Engagement Coordinator, CDF-Texas Austin office