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Transformation Contest winners share transformative experiences
Participants in the Transformation D.C. Fly-In meet with State Department officials virtually.

Transformation Contest winners share transformative experiences

Seven students recently participated in the seventh year of the Transformation D.C. Fly-In, held virtually

June 2, 2021 at 12:00pm

The past year has transformed people all across the world and served as a reminder of connections throughout the global community.

Each spring, the Office of Global Learning Initiatives (OGLI) tasks students through the Transformation Contest to deeply reflect on international or intercultural experiences that have transformed them. Students can share their change through artistic or informational media for the chance to explore global careers in Washington, D.C.

Seven students recently participated in the seventh year of the Transformation D.C. Fly-In, held virtually. Over the course of three days, participants met with leaders from organizations such as the Peace Corps, the U.S. Department of State, STEMConnector, and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants with the support of Eric Feldman, associate director of FIU in DC and Taylor Saenz, Office of Global Learning Initiatives' communication assistant.

As the virtual fly-in ended, participants shared what they learned from the experience. Below are two of those accounts. 

Laura Vega, Global Learning Medallion student & 2021 DEI Global Learning Student Fellow

Vega is a political science major pursuing a certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Certificate in National Security, and Certificate in Human Rights and Political Transitions.

Like so many other great opportunities, I learned about the Transformation Contest from the Office of Global Learning email updates. The application prompt asked for a personal challenge that shaped my intercultural experience, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do: a video project on my immigration journey. The inspiration for this project came from my time as Dr. Marcie Washington's student, where I learned about the global challenges migration creates and how they impacted my own story.

This project gave me an outlet to reflect on my transformation and accepting the Fly-In award was an eye-opening experience itself.

On day one, I learned about STEMconnector, a corporation working to advance STEM education. Before this session, I knew the importance of getting more women into STEM education, but I did not realize the magnitude of gaps in this career field. Personally, I have focused on becoming an intelligence analyst, but this talk made me realize that a career transition to STEM as a data scientist is possible. While this might not be the path I choose in the end, it was essential for me to learn about pivoting to a new industry. In university, there is constant pressure to know the specific career you will follow once your education is completed. This experience taught me that changing and continuing to learn is possible even during the mid-career stage.

On the second day, I met Gonzalo Suarez, the deputy assistant in the Bureau of Nonproliferation at the State Department, whose research team created invaluable sources for my research on China's human rights violations against Muslim minority Uyghurs. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the production of the entity list, which showcases blacklisted Chinese companies with presumed connections to Uyghurs' forced labor. Besides discussing his relevant work, Suarez offered a refreshing outlook into pursuing a career in the State Department.

He emphasized practicality by encouraging us to search for different ways to get the job we want besides the more traditional route of seeking internships.

On day three, I met Belen Sassone, the press secretary for Congressman Darren Soto. By listening to her story, I am hopeful and more prepared to experience the policy-focused nature of Washington, D.C. while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Networking with determined students, federal government agencies and corporations left me with valuable connections that offer me invaluable support.

Scarlett Chirino, Global Learning Medallion student

Chirino is an international relations major, pursuing a Certificate in Human Rights and Political Transitions. 

The Transformation Contest DC Fly-In was an eye-opening experience for me. As a first-generation Latina, taking advantage of opportunities presented before me is something my parents instilled in me from a young age. The DC Fly-In presented me not only with those opportunities but with valuable connections that I will hold on to for the rest of my life.

As someone who had their heart firmly set on entering the foreign service, I learned there are many ways to create change through different careers. One particular moment was when the Peace Corps recruiters came to introduce Peace Corps and what exactly it is that they do. Joining the Peace Corps was something I strongly debated doing after obtaining my bachelor's at FIU. However, hearing Taylor (the Peace Corps recruiter for South Florida) speak about her time with the Peace Corps and her experiences abroad really served as the tipping point for me to consider. Taylor discussed how life was after returning from her service and how the Peace Corps played an active role in assimilating back into her life here in the States. 

After the presentation, I reached out to a fellow contest winner about her enrollment in Peace Corp Prep, something offered here at FIU. At this point, I sensed a feeling of community amongst not just the fellow contest winners but also those who were a part of the fly-in itinerary. I realized during the transformation contest that internships and opportunities are all made available to me only if I take the time to communicate with these individuals.

When I started at FIU, the Covid-19 pandemic had just begun, so I never stepped foot on campus before, so I never had the opportunity to make friends. This virtual fly-in provided an atmosphere with great people who all want to improve themselves and look out for one another and support each other.

All in all, the transformation contest for me was a transformative experience in the sense that I opened up more to different possibilities. Even now, my heart is still set on a career in the foreign service; however, as I look forward to applying to Rangel and Pickering, I will also be working on an application to the Peace Corps for when I graduate from FIU.