"Opportunity, Growth, Support"

Allison Kustic ’21, a Political Science major in the School of Liberal Arts and Education, was nominated by Dominican and selected by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy as a 2020 Congressional Intern. In normal years, she would be attending the two-week orientation at the Institute in Monterey and then spending three months interning in a House of Representatives office in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, the D.C. portion of the internship was cancelled due to COVID-19. However, Allison is currently hearing from public servants, academics, and policy experts in a number of fields during the two-week remote orientation program. Following this abbreviated program, Allison will write a 20-page policy paper on a topic of her choosing.

Below, Allison talks with DU’s Communications and Media Relations office in a Question-and-Answer interview about her Dominican Experience, from joining the debate team her first year to interning with United States Senator Kamala Harris’ Sacramento office and working with the Marin County Board of Supervisors on social media messaging for the 2020 Census to studying abroad in London and serving as president of the Dominican Political Science Association. And, how along the way, she has been supported and inspired by her faculty mentors.

“Dominican has given me more opportunities than I ever imagined it would,” Allison says.

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Politics has been central to your experience at Dominican. What are some of your more memorable moments both as an intern and as a student?

“I joined the debate team my first year because it was the first opportunity I was presented to get involved on campus. I have learned so much about public speaking, thinking on my feet, being a teammate, and crafting creative arguments. I’ve met some incredible people and been on fun adventures in the process. I also had the opportunity to study abroad in London, England, which is full of memories I will hold onto for a lifetime. I learned about many new cultures, had to adjust to a new way of life and learning, and explored the world. I also will always cherish the small moments at Dominican: sitting with friends in the Gazebo, fellowship after Sunday night masses, sharing my love for DU as a student ambassador, and too many game nights in Edgehill Mansion with friends to count.

“I bombed an interview for an internship in the Governor’s office after my first year, but I learned from the experience and landed an internship in the Sacramento district office of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris the summer after my second year. In the spring of my junior year, I interned with the Marin County Board of Supervisors where my main focus was organizing grassroots social media messaging for the 2020 Census with more than 150 community partners. I enjoyed both internships and learned different things in each. I learned what sorts of issues Californian's care about as well as the intricacies of the legislative process and federal casework in Harris’ office. At the County, I loved how hands-on my work was and I felt like I was really making an impact in my local community. At the beginning of my internship when we were still going into the office, my supervisor and I met with a community member and traffic planner about a dangerous blind curve. By the end of my time at the County, safety measures had been put in place to protect pedestrians.”

When did you first develop an interest in politics – and why?

“I grew up in Sacramento and therefore have been surrounded by state government all my life and I’ve always strived to stay abreast of the news. I think I knew I wanted to study Political Science my senior year of high school while participating in a mock state legislature and court program called Youth and Government through the YMCA. Nearly 4,000 high school students from across the state participate in the program every year and I had the opportunity to write a bill, lobby, perform legislative analyst work, and speak on the floor of the California State Senate. Through that program I learned about the deliberateness of the legislative process and I was hooked.

“I find politics engaging, but what really interests me is public service. I see politics as the arena in which we sort out who is most qualified to represent others and serve their communities through government.  So, while many people find politics exhausting and frustrating, I see it as an opportunity to create lasting change for the problems we face.”

Tell us about your faculty mentors? How have they supported you?

“When people ask if I like going to such a small school I say yes, because the community is tight knit. My professors know me by my first name, even if I’ve only had one class with them. Professors at Dominican care about me as an individual. I had some health issues my first year and had to be absent from class for a while. When I emailed my professors to let them know, not one focused on the academic aspect and instead wished me a speedy recovery and told me we would sort things out when I was well. Three professors stand out in particular as incredible mentors: Amy Young, Christian Dean, and Alison Howard.

“I had only one general education course with Professor Young, but her class was one of my favorites.  She expanded her Bay Area Rocks class to encompass not only local geography, but taught us how to be global citizens who connect science to business, government action, volunteer work, etc. She pushed us to think about how academic disciplines intersect and took us on field trips to learn firsthand. Christian pushed me to read more than I have for any other class in a Constitutional Law course, asked me to ponder moral reasoning in an Ethics class, and look at the other side of every issue I encounter through Debate. He saw my passion for expanding my horizons and further mentored me as a TA and encouraged me to apply for the Panetta internship.

“I often refer to Alison as my “Dominican Mom,” that’s how much of a family Dominican is. Alison reaches out to each and every one of her students with more opportunities to intern, attend lectures, tune into webinars, and read articles to augment their formal learning at Dominican. She knows me personally, not just as a student in her classroom. She directs me towards opportunities during summer in my hometown, makes sure I have housing figured out each year, and asks about my family. Alison encouraged me to become involved in Dominican Political Science Association my first year and I was elected as President for two years and that club has become one of my closest circles at DU.”

Our first-year students begin their studies this coming week, what do you recall about your first year at Dominican and what would be your advice to them?

“I have loved every year at Dominican and my first year was no exception. My number one tip for new students is to never stop saying `hi.’ I met new friends throughout my first year and am still meeting new people! You are not limited to the people in your orientation group or the first two people you talk to. Some of my best friends at Dominican are not in my year and a bonus to making friends in classes above you is they are oftentimes incredible mentors as well as friends.

“Find at least one way to get involved on campus. I recommend debate to everyone, regardless of your major.  You do not need any previous experience and you will learn so much! But truly, find something that will give you community and keep you on campus more weekends than you go home. At the same time, don’t overdo it and know when to say no thanks. It is good to have some free time to spontaneously walk to Double Rainbow or hike the Gold Hill Grade fire trail behind campus.

What do you have planned for life after Dominican?

“That’s a big question! I am graduating a semester earlier than expected because of the changes with Panetta so I don’t have everything sorted out yet. I will apply for the Capital Fellows program and would like to work with the California State Legislature. Law school has been at the back of my mind for a while, but my experiences at the Panetta Institute are making me consider it more seriously. Further down the road, I would like to pursue a job focused on environmental policy and plan to one day run for office.”

Dominican in three words?

“Opportunity, growth, support.” 

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