Career readiness fellowship helps students thrive in Sacramento internships

September 29, 2023

Katherine Rodriguez was preparing to embark on a transformative internship with the CalEPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, but a sudden change in her financial situation left her scrambling to cover her expenses.

“I worked at Chipotle throughout community college,” said Rodriguez, a UC Berkeley transfer student majoring in global studies. “So that was going to be my plan: to work nights and weekends.”

For many college students, internships open doors and jumpstart careers, yet these key training opportunities are frequently unpaid or underpaid. Fortunately for Rodriguez, UC Berkeley’s Division of Social Sciences has launched a new Career Readiness Initiative to remove financial barriers for students like her to accept internships.

“Students who can’t afford to work in unpaid positions miss out on valuable, career-advancing opportunities,” said Raka Ray, dean of the Division of Social Sciences.

Katherine Rodriguez smiles in front of a coastal landscape with water and palm trees.

Katherine Rodriguez

Rodriguez was part of Cal-in-Sacramento, which is based at UC Berkeley’s Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service and one of the University of California’s largest public service internship programs. For the past five decades, hundreds of Berkeley students have gained direct experience in the most influential state capital in the country. Participants take a course together on California policy and politics and receive training in research, resume writing, and interview preparation. During their eight-week summer internships, students receive free shared housing, a light-rail pass, and a modest stipend for living expenses.

Cal-in-Sacramento doesn’t typically permit part-time jobs so students can focus on maximizing their internships’ educational and professional benefits. So when Rodriguez emailed Matsui Center Director Christine Trost, who leads the program, to request an exception for part-time employment, Trost began searching for better options.

“Even though our program provides a baseline of support, we know this is not enough to make it accessible for all students,” said Trost. “The Career Readiness Initiative helps to close this gap.”

Trost was able to use funds from the Social Science Division’s Career Readiness Initiative to expand the Kenneth Burt Fellowship, which supports Cal-in-Sacramento participants whose research projects focus on Latinx education, labor, and political issues. Rodriguez’s research on food insecurity within the Latinx student community on campus made her a perfect fit.

“I didn't realize how draining a 9-to-5 would be,” said Rodriguez. “In learning how to balance taking care of myself on top of a full-time internship, summer class, and a research project, I don't think I would have been able to take on a part-time job as well.”

This was a great exposure to public policy, and I would definitely pursue a life in public service after graduation.
Katherine Rodriguez

Rodriguez gained transferable skills analyzing toxic chemical bills introduced in the state legislature. Without a background in political science, Rodriguez had to learn the language of government work. Fortunately, her department was committed to teaching their interns and holding workshops for the new analysts.

“I wanted to see if I liked public policy,” said Rodriguez. “I have a background with nonprofits, and I've been volunteering with the American Red Cross for about six years now, but it's mostly groundwork. This was a great exposure to public policy, and I would definitely pursue a life in public service after graduation.”

Rodriguez particularly enjoyed the opportunity to bring an equity lens and fight for people who analysts typically wouldn't directly address in their reports.

“A lot of the time, the people negatively affected by bills are in marginalized communities and don't have the privilege of attending public hearings or committees,” said Rodriguez.

Being a transfer student from a community college, Rodriguez is amazed at how many possibilities are available to Berkeley students.

“Everyone seems so sure that they can go far in graduate school and their careers, and that's just beginning for me,” said Rodriguez. “Being a part of this program helped me see myself on that same level.”

27 Cal-in-Sacramento fellows pose for a group photo in front of a large government building.

Cal-in-Sacramento fellows in front of the California State Capitol

Rodriguez was able to work with role models who have had similar life experiences, a powerful vision of what her own future could hold.

“I was interning in an extremely diverse department,” said Rodriguez. “It was mostly women of color, and my director was also Latina. It was incredibly inspiring to see my culture in a position of authority.”

Cases like Rodriguez’s motivated Dean Ray to expand the Social Sciences Division’s career development activities into one holistic program that features alumni mentorship, career panels, job application training, networking connections, and direct funding to students in unpaid or underpaid internships. Since many students in the social sciences are interested in entering the public sector, the Career Readiness Initiative will partner closely with programs like Cal-in-Sacramento.

Ultimately, the university wants to equip every student with the skills and knowledge they need to make a positive impact on society. Bolstering access to high-quality internships will go a long way toward that goal.

“Students come into Berkeley with various levels of preparation,” said Ray. “We want to ensure a more level playing field when they graduate.”

To learn more about supporting the Career Readiness Initiative, Matsui Center, or the Cal-in-Sacramento program, please contact Erik Lehto, Associate Director of Development, at (510) 609-5335 or