In my own words: Hope Institute experience ‘life changing’

Laura Hernandez is Women’s Caucus chair of the FIU College Democrats. The 20-year-old junior is triple majoring in political science, international relations, and women and gender studies. She wrote this first-person piece for FIU News.

During the Fall 2013 semester I was lucky enough to be chosen among 30 other remarkable college students in the country for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were the Fall 2013 Hope Institute class. First established in 2005 as “Yes We Can!” by then-Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee’s Hope Institute provides young people from underrepresented backgrounds with the tools and training necessary to enter careers in political fundraising, nation- and statewide campaigns, and politically minded organizations.

Hope Institute

Our cohort received training and advice from top White House officials such as presidential advisors Valerie Jarett and David Simas and other notable White House and DNC officials. In addition, the 15 girls in the class — including me — were able to attend the Women’s Leadership Forum that was hosted by the DNC. At this event we were able to attend discussions with leading women in politics and business. First Lady Michelle Obama even hosted an intimate roundtable discussion with the girls from our group. Meeting the First Lady was very extraordinary. With her humor and down-to-earth presence she seemed like she could be anybody’s best friend! Luckily, the girls and I were able to meet DNC Chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who had great charisma and answered our questions about what it was like to be the “boss” of her fellow democrat counterparts. We also  met Wendy Davis, the next hopeful governor for Texas. Her story inspired each girl in the room; we were able to thank her endlessly in fighting for women’s reproductive rights in Texas.

The insights I gained during this weekend were invaluable. I learned to not be afraid to ask for help from people when you’re set on a goal. I learned it’s important to really voice my concerns so that a different perspective can always be taken into consideration in the end. I received advice for plans after college. I discovered that law school might not be right for me since I do not desire to work in a law firm (although thinking like a lawyer is extremely valuable in life). I learned there are a variety of fields in politics where I can make a difference, not just running for office — although each of us were highly encouraged to run for office. Other advice focused on how to handle different situations that may arise when you are in the political realm.

I desire to run for Congress one day, but first I would like to work with think tanks and non-profit organizations that focus on the empowerment of women as well as underprivileged children and minorities.

This was a true turning point in my life, being surrounded by so many inspiring individuals. Attaining critical advice for my future career gave me the confidence I need in order to pursue my present and future goals. Not only were we able to meet these prestigious individuals, but we were able to receive critical resume and job interview trainings as well – definitely something every college student should prep for!

When I got back to Miami later that weekend, I had hope in myself. While I was in that atmosphere I was expected to challenge myself and bring my best to the table, and that what’s I did. And that’s what I keep doing till this day. Thanks to the Hope Institute I was able to reignite my love for public service. The Hope Institute did just that and I am forever grateful for the opportunities and relationships I was able to build during my time there.

For those who wish to develop their public service skills, look no further than the upcoming Spring 2014 Hope Institute that will be taking place Feb. 26-28, 2014, in Washington, D.C. All expenses are paid…yes-even food! The deadline is Jan. 10, 2014, so do not hesitate to apply. If you are interested in knowing more about the program, or if you need help with the application, feel free to contact me at

Laura Hernandez

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