Skip to Content
Out of my comfort zone: Visit to the nation’s capital has got a student thinking bigger
FIU students pose with current graduate student and legislative fellow Renaldine Lafleche (center, right) and speech writer Alvaro Perpuly (second from right) in the office of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. Joel Zambrano, who writes about the group's recent visit to Washington, D.C., is at far left.

Out of my comfort zone: Visit to the nation’s capital has got a student thinking bigger

March 19, 2024 at 10:57am

Senior Joel Zambrano recently participated in an FIU in DC fly-in, an experiential seminar run by the university’s center on Capitol Hill and focused on public policy with the goal of introducing students to internship and career opportunities.

The English major will graduate next month and has been looking for jobs as a writer. Now, he says, his experience in Washington, D.C., has got him thinking about positions he never before considered.

He writes here about the impactful whirlwind tour that he and seven fellow Panthers recently undertook.

Over spring break, I took advantage of one of FIU’s most exciting seminars: the FIU in DC fly-In. Over the course of four days, I was able to translate what I learned in the classroom into the real world by meeting people and seeing new places.

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Sunshine State from the age of 11, I have always been around people similar to myself. I am a first-generation student who works full time outside of school, and I always bet that my future would revolve around Florida.

My goal is to graduate with an English degree in April and work in journalism, but until recently I was not completely sure of how I would achieve that. The fly-in experience set me on a straighter path.

In the nation’s capital, I was able to connect and talk with people from different backgrounds and careers that allowed me to see the array of fulfilling and meaningful careers that I could set my eyes on. As an aspiring writer, I found it useful to meet Akayla Gardner, a Bloomberg reporter who guided us through ways to make it into journalism. With her stories about her duties as a White House Correspondent – including one about flying in Air Force One with Vice-President Kamala Harris to Africa, where she reported on the geopolitical tensions there between China, Russia and the U.S. – I was struck by both how demanding and yet exciting a job in journalism can be. Her most powerful words came in the form of answer to my question about how to stay objective when writing about politics, especially in the current era of misinformation and biased media outlets.

“Learn, learn, learn,” she said. “Learn everything you can about the topic you want to talk about so you can be prepared in the face of misinformation, which includes watching all media outlets to get all sides of an issue,” she said. This was the same advice I received from an FIU sociology professor once, who told me that “Education’s purpose is to replace the empty mind with an open one.” For months, I had struggled to make sense of the quote and see an example of it being applied in the outside world. Now Ms. Gardner tied it all together.

The following day, we met with the founder and CEO of the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District Kenyattah Robinson, who gave us a neighborhood tour and explained the work of his organization, which includes prioritizing affordable housing. As we walked, I was able to have a meaningful conversation with Mr. Robinson about the importance of having the right resources to improve a community and the role that that plays in the economic success of its residents. I appreciated interviewing him about something so important.

Another exciting aspect of the trip was getting to hear from other FIU students currently participating in internships or fellowships thanks to the connections the FIU in DC office helped them make. For instance, we visited Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s office, where we met Renaldine Lafleche, an FIU graduate student working as a legislative fellow. She moved to the United States from Haiti at age 10, so her personal story resonated with me.

A stop at the Dirksen Senate Building, where many U.S.senators have their offices, gave us a chance to sit in on a joint hearing on the presence of microplastics in water. Later, the FIU in DC staff guided us around the National Mall to see several monuments and other sites, among them the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

Out of my element and free to explore, I began considering career opportunities beyond South Florida. Thanks to this experience, I know that I want to focus on community and environmental journalism, specifically to amplify the voices of those rarely heard, to share information that can improve the state of our communities.