Three CMCers selected as Capital Fellows for 2016-17

2016 graduates Jessica Jin, Annika Deurlington, and Sofi Cullen have been picked for the highly selective program that focuses on California state government.

Three CMC students (Sofi Cullen ’16, Jessica Jin ’16, and Annika Deurlington ’16) have been selected to participate in the Capital Fellows Programs administered by the Center for California Studies in Sacramento.

The Center administers four nationally recognized fellowship programs, collectively known as the Capital Fellows Programs. Three programs select 18 fellows each, and the other 10 from an annual pool of applicants that typically numbers about 500 for each program.

The fact that three CMC students have been named Fellows this year is impressive considering the acceptance rate for the programs is 4 percent to 5 percent.

During their service, which begins in October, Capital Fellows have an opportunity to engage in public service and prepare for future careers, while actively contributing to the development and implementation of public policy in California. The ranks of former fellows include members of the United States Congress, a justice of the California Supreme Court, members of the State Legislature, a deputy director of the Peace Corps, state and local government officials, corporate executives, and community leaders.

Cullen and Deurlington have been named to the Executive Fellowship Program, and Jin will participate in the Assembly Fellowship Program.

“I was relieved and excited when I found out I was accepted,” Cullen says. “I was even more excited when I found out that Jessica and Annika got offers, too! It’s really incredible to have so much CMC representation for a fellowship that doesn’t accept a whole lot of people.”

Deurlington was informed of her fellowship via a text from her mother after having just completed a backpacking trip along California’s Lost Coast Trail.

“I knew from the beginning when I was studying science subjects that I would try to find a way to get into policy or at least something that was addressing current issues,” she says. “I was trying to find a lens with which to approach my studies, and water issues are a really interesting one, so that’s been what I’ve focused on: The hydrogeology and the politics behind water law, particularly in light of the ongoing drought we have in California.”

While enrolled at CMC, Jin says she worked as a research assistant at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, and vying for a Capital Fellowship seemed a logical next step. “The Rose Institute’s focus on local government — especially with regard to public policy and politics within California — fueled my interest in public service,” she says. “As for the Capital Fellows program, I heard about it from Professor [Kenneth] Miller, who is the associate director at the Rose, teaches a class on California politics, and is a former Senate Fellow.”

For her part, Cullen has always been interested in public service and passionate about social justice. “I think there’s incredible opportunity in government at all levels, but especially at the state and local levels, to make an impact on your community,” she says. “I knew that the fellowship would be a great place for me to do that.”

The application process was long, varied with each particular program and started in February with candidates notified about interviews in mid-April. The Executive Program required a personal statement and a policy statement. In-person interviews were held in Sacramento and Los Angeles in late April, and final notifications went out after graduation in May.

Jin will be a part of the 2016-17 Jesse Unruh Assembly Fellowship cohort and will be assigned to either a committee or a state assembly member. “I was thrilled to be selected as a Jesse Unruh — or as he was known as, ‘Big Daddy’ — Assembly Fellow,” she says. “I am really looking forward to my time in the Legislature.”

For Cullen, her placement in the Executive Program is a great fit. “I’m interested in the intersection of mental health and criminal justice,” she says, “so I’m hoping to be placed in an office that will give me exposure to either or both of those policy areas. I’d be happy working for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or the Department of Health Care Services.”

Most fellowship candidates don’t go it entirely alone, and Jin cites the mentorship of Ken Miller, associate professor of government at CMC.

“For anyone interested in state and local government, I would highly recommend Professor Miller’s California Politics course,” Jin says. “Even if you’re not specifically interested in pursuing a career in public service in California, I think California offers a great case study for understanding the nuanced and complicated policy issues facing local governments. So much of the political focus tends to gravitate toward Washington, D.C. — and this election cycle has only exacerbated that fixation. However, if you’re interested in affecting substantive change, there is much to be achieved at the state and local level.”

In Cullen’s case, Paul Hurley, the Edward J. Sexton Professor of Philosophy at CMC, was a major source of support through the application process. “He’s one of the best people to have on your side as an applicant for really anything, so to have him as a recommender was a blessing,” Cullen says. “Professor Miller also took the time to do interview prep with all of the CMCers who were interviewing for the fellowship, and that was really helpful.”

Deurlington credits her parents (her father is a physical therapist and her mother works as a civil engineer) with fostering her interest in science, which in turn, has led to the Capital Fellowship.

“Mom would always point out things about infrastructure that were interesting but not really visible,” Deurlington says. “And that’s what appeals to me about working with state government; there is so much invisible, behind-the-scenes work that goes on to make our daily lives possible, for instance, turning the tap on and knowing with certainty that clean water will come out. What are the mechanisms that need to exist to make all that happen?”