Carson Niello

For Dominican senior Carson Niello, politics is becoming a way of life. In high school in Sacramento, he volunteered to campaign for mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson and ultimately served an internship on the new mayor’s staff. Now Niello, after transferring from the University of Arizona to Dominican for his sophomore year, has progressed to a higher level of government – and aspiration. Last summer he served an internship for United States Senator Barbara Boxer’s office in Washington, D.C.

The trip and the opportunity was a dream come true for Niello, a Political Science major.

I have a great deal of respect for Senator Boxer and her level of passion and conviction concerning women's rights and environmental protection,” he says. “0verall, it was an amazing experience and I walked away with a heightened level of respect for government.

Niello, who interned in the office of U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier last semester, has discovered his passion as well. He is growing as a student and is translating what he has learned in the classrooms at Dominican into the behind-the-scenes world of politics, which most people rarely get a chance to see.

 “I think the internship in Boxer's office was very valuable for Carson,” says Alison Howard, Chair of Dominican’s Department of Political Science and International Studies. “With practical/hands-on experience students connect with what they are learning/doing in class to the fact that the material really is applicable and useful in the real world. That is why I think internships are so important.”

Howard was one of the reasons Niello transferred to Dominican in the first place. He wanted to enroll in a small university in the Bay Area and figured he would thrive on close working relationships with his professors.

“I was just completely sold on Dominican when I came here,” he says. “The campus was amazing and I met Alison and loved the people in the Political Science Department and how everything was structured.”

At Dominican, Niello continued working as an intern in Mayor Johnson’s office in Sacramento in the summer. He was inspired by Johnson’s “picture perfect story” – a Sacramento native who retired from a brilliant playing career in the National Basketball Association to come home and give back to his community.

In 2012, Niello decided to apply for an internship on Boxer’s staff. He was accepted in her Oakland office, yet it was recommended he also apply to work in her Washington, D. C. office. Two weeks later, Niello was contacted and the process started. He flew to D.C. in late May of last year, arranged for housing on the Georgetown University campus then commuted to Capitol Hill for his first day on the job. One of six new interns, he was handed a binder and given protocol.  The next thing Niello knew he was standing next to Boxer for a photo op in the Hart Senate Building.

The rest of Niello’s internship was focused on a variety of responsibilities. He worked in the press office for a week. He also did administrative duties, primarily answering and responding to phone calls and meeting constituents from California, often leading them on tours of the Capitol.

It was a whole new world for Niello.

“I definitely was able to apply what I learned at Dominican to my experience in D.C. but you also have to learn by yourself,” he says. “As an undergrad, you are able to connect the dots with a lot of theories and concepts that you learn in school. But some things you have to learn on the fly. It was a quick transition, in about two weeks I went from learning about life on the hill to becoming well versed on a range of issues as well as acting as a spokesperson for the Senator.

 “You have to be able to represent her and in terms know what you’re talking about. It’s a very significant environment to work in.”

With all the responsibilities and challenges he met, Niello returned to Dominican in late August 2013 with a new-found appreciation and respect for how government works.

“I was impressed with the level of enthusiasm that people had, particularly staffers, for the capability and potential of government,” he says. “I learned that people aren’t just working in D.C. because they like politics. Everyone is incredibly driven and highly ambitious there.”

Niello would love to go back someday.

“I am really proud of Carson and all that he has accomplished. Being in D.C. gave him the confidence to pursue his interests and showed him how many great opportunities there are in the field of politics,” Howard says. “Most importantly, it showed that he has the skills and background to fit in and do a great job.”

Niello aims to apply those skills and his internships to his future, whether it involves local or national politics and policies. The D.C./Boxer experience was impacting.

“It really allowed me to narrow my focus on what I wanted to do from career standpoint, which is work in government or public service in some capacity,” he says. “At this point in my life, I know I want to do this.”