FirstGEN 2023 Fellows Reflect on Their Experiences this Summer

FirstGEN 2023 Fellows Reflect on Their Experiences this Summer

THE TORCH: CONTENTS By Alejandra Caballero Pinedo, Andy Flores, and Kathleen Hoang

August 15, 2023

The FirstGEN Fellows Program connects first generation college students with legal organizations, including the National Immigration Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Throughout ten weeks in a paid summer internship, we gained firsthand experience in social justice careers, while developing our own personal professional capacity through weekly seminars, discussions, and mentorship. Continue reading to find out more about this year’s fellows and their summer!

Alejandra Caballero Pinedo, rising senior at Trinity University:

As a FirstGEN fellow working with the National Immigration Law Center, I have greatly benefited from being immersed in a space where I constantly learn about the interactive dynamic of litigation, policy, and advocacy. At NILC, I supported the policy and advocacy department by adding to the organization’s institutional knowledge through research, crafting a factsheet for bipartisan congressional review on a bill relating to telehealth language access, taking notes on congressional hearings, and assisting in the review of the DACA campaign strategy. Through it all, one of the greatest gifts I have gained from this program is the renewed faith I have found within myself to accomplish the unexpected.

The support from my supervisors and the staff members at NILC has been transformative. I have learned to whole-heartedly believe in the trust that has been placed in me. Additionally, my contributions have been welcomed and celebrated which has led me to feel uplifted as a first-generation college student, fellow, and colleague. Conversations in DACA team meetings and FirstGEN fellows weekly meetings have been instrumental to my intellectual growth and in developing myself in a professional sphere. Not only was this summer internship empowering and uplifting, but my knowledge base on career paths significantly expanded. I was able to discover different potential career paths in the social justice, policy, advocacy, and legal fields.

Nearing the end of this fellowship, I am beyond proud of my intellectual, personal, and professional growth. Additionally, I embrace the crucial role that NILC and the FirstGEN Fellows program have played in planting these seeds of growth within me.

Andy Flores, recent graduate from University of Mississippi:

As a FirstGEN fellow with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law this summer, I developed a rich and intimate understanding of how racial justice advocacy works behind-the-scenes. In my first few weeks, my team entrusted me with facilitating local rallies, shaping our national advocacy strategy, and generating key materials for our Educational Opportunities Project. I was also consistently invited to share my perspective on weighty issues, such as the team’s affirmative action litigation before the Supreme Court. As the weeks progressed, Wednesday meetings with the FirstGEN Fellowship cohort were a grounding opportunity to share in community alongside interns who understood the first-gen experience. It was replenishing. Both personally and professionally, I felt empowered to show up as my full self and make substantive contributions.

This summer also demystified the legal field for me and clarified what my career could look like as a future first-gen lawyer. Too often, it can be difficult to connect with attorneys, understand their day-to-day role, and benefit from their wisdom. As a FirstGEN Fellow, I was consistently surrounded by brilliant and welcoming professionals who were dedicated to public service. I had one-on-one meetings with someone new every week, and every time, I learned something new about myself. I now feel more prepared than ever to apply to law school and pursue a career as a civil rights litigator.

Kathleen Hoang, rising junior at Columbia University:

As a FirstGEN fellow with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, I have not only delved into projects related to radicalized state histories and data disaggregation, but I’ve also had the privilege of meeting amazingly talented staff members who shared their rich educational and career trajectories with me. Through conversations and mentorship, I gained invaluable insights into the professional social justice world and learned how to navigate challenges with resilience and grace. Their encouragement and willingness to invest time in my growth meant the world to me.

I walk away from AAJC inspired, knowing that as long as I have the intention to leave the world a little bit better, my path will unfold before me. The terrifying, infinite possibilities of my career stand before me and yet I feel more ready and excited than ever before to take what I learned at AAJC into my work with human rights.

We are so grateful for this fellowship, all the invaluable skills we gained professionally, and the self-confidence we built through generous mentorship from staff. We encourage everyone to apply to next year’s program and join the FirstGEN Fellowship.