By Briahnna Brown
Anayeli Nuñez, a junior majoring in history and American Studies, took advantage of an opportunity to marry her love of history with her Spanish-speaking skills during an internship with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
In the fall 2017 semester, Ms. Nuñez did what she called a “double internship” in a way.
She worked with historians at the agency on their projects, such as commemorating the centennial of the end of World War I from an immigration perspective. She also translated information to Spanish to help the Spanish speakers who utilize the agency. For example, she crafted a list of answers in Spanish that could be used for email-based inquiries.
With her research internship, she also was able to work on her own projects with help from the agency’s historians. Ms. Nuñez wrote a research paper during her internship using the photographs USCIS had to compare the immigration history of Ellis Island with the U.S.-Mexico border as points of entry into the United States, which explored the physical appearances of those entry points and what those differences mean. She also started working on a research project exploring European immigration into Mexico, for which she recently received the Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellowship to continue her work.
Because she majors in history, she heard about the research internship with USCIS through the Department of History’s listserv, which she said sends out helpful and informative newsletters. Ms. Nuñez thought it was a good fit for her because she is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
“I kind of immediately loved the idea of it,” Ms. Nuñez said.
The internship with USCIS began in the fall semester. So in the spring before she applied, she took her resume to the Center for Career Services for review.
Ms. Nuñez explained that she didn’t have internship experience before applying to the USCIS internship, and the coaches at the center helped help her to highlight transferable skills from her part-time job at Starbucks, like working well with others as well as working independently.
“I wouldn’t have thought of that,” Ms. Nuñez said. “I would have thought, like, a coffee job is a coffee job.”
In the summer that same year, she was back home in El Paso, Tex., writing essays required for the internship application. She asked a couple of professors whom she kept in touch with to look over her essays before she submitted the application. That provided different sets of eyes to review her work. Ms. Nuñez said she was sure to ask “very, very nicely” and far in advance of her deadline to give the professors enough time to look over the essays.
When it came time for her telephone interview, she encountered a problem that she hadn’t thought about while on GW’s campus: she didn’t have reliable Wi-Fi or cell reception in her rural hometown.
“It was so bad,” Ms. Nuñez said. “I had to drive all the way into town for this one call, and I sat there at Starbucks hoping that it wasn’t a super crowded day so they’d be able to hear me. I was contemplating just going to the bathroom, but no, what if someone comes in and flushes!”
Ms. Nuñez managed to complete her phone interview by eventually going to the home of a friend.
After being accepted to the internship program, Ms. Nuñez knew she would need financial support to be able to fully take advantage of the opportunity because it was an unpaid internship.
A friend of hers who received a Knowledge in Action Career and Internship Fund (KACIF) grant a few semesters before told Ms. Nuñez about the grant and recommended that she apply. She did and received a KACIF grant.
“I would have had to decline or definitely done like half the hours [at the internship] that I had been doing, so that I could have kept working at Starbucks,” Ms. Nuñez said. “That would, of course, kind of cut in half the number of projects I was able to be a part of, which wouldn’t have been ideal in any situation.”
Her fall internship with USCIS helped her land an internship this spring with the National Archives and Records Administration after her supervisors became her mentors and wrote recommendation letters for her. Ms. Nuñez hopes to pursue a career in academia, and her new mentors, who have already completed their doctoral programs, shared their experiences earning doctorates and agreed to look over Ms. Nuñez’ applications and essays in the future.
At the National Archives, Ms. Nuñez work is similar to what she did at USCIS. She writes various blog posts that connect the archives with current events and commemorative celebrations such as President’s Day or National Women’s History Month. She’s also preparing a series of blog posts for the National Archives to use during Hispanic Heritage Month—Sept. 15 through Oct. 15—that she is writing in English and Spanish.
Her advice to students looking for internships is to look in fields that interest them rather than pursuing high-profile internships. Ms. Nuñez also acknowledged that for students exploring their options, an internship is a way to explore those possibilities.
"There's no shame in doing an internship and not liking it,” Ms. Nuñez said, “but really try and focus on what you like."