Experience at Nation’s Capital Changes RSU Student’s Life

Conducting research into the unique health issues facing Hispanics in the U.S., attending Congressional hearings on immigration and learning how advocacy groups can impact public policy in the nation’s capital is how Catrina Taber spent her summer. Instead of relaxing in the sun or working a part-time job, Taber, a biology (pre-med) major at Rogers State University, completed “an experience that changed my life” through the Washington Center Internship Program.

This summer, Taber completed a 10-week internship at the National Hispanic Medical Association in Washington, D.C., a non-profit organization devoted to improving the health of Hispanics in the U.S.

“RSU is one of only three universities in the state to provide its students with the opportunity to complete an internship in Washington, D.C., through this prestigious program,” said Dr. Carolyn Taylor, an RSU political science professor and coordinator of the program.

The Washington Center is a non-profit organization that provides internships and academic seminars to university students each semester in the nation’s capital. During the program, students complete an internship, are assigned academic coursework to support their major area of interest and participate in professional workshops, small group discussions, a Congressional Breakfast Series and Presidential Lecture Series.

“By participating in the program, students are able to conduct public policy research that supports their academic goals and gain insight into how that policy can be enacted in the halls of government,” said Taylor. “But the program is not restricted to political science majors – students in almost any field can be placed with an organization suitable to their academic and professional goals.”

Taber, who is from Sand Springs, spent her much of her summer conducting research into the health issues facing Hispanics, including higher-than-average obesity rates and a surprising disparity in rates of cancer among the population.

“I discovered that overall poor health among many Hispanics and lack of available health care can lead to higher rates of cancer,” said Taber. “I also learned about several associated diseases that are somewhat unique among this population can lead to various cancers, such as exposure to viruses.”

Her research was utilized by the president of the National Hispanic Medical Association during presentations to government officials and members of Congress during Congressional hearings.

During her internship, Taber attended several Congressional hearings on the effect of immigration on federal government programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid, and on establishing English as the nation’s official language – topics that support her interest in international health. She also attended the meetings of four Congressional minority caucuses, including a group of Hispanic members of Congress, and the meetings of various advocacy groups, such as the Partnership for Medicaid and the Nursing Education Coalition.

“I really learned first-hand how federal legislation moves through the process toward becoming law,” she said.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in medical-molecular biology from RSU, Taber plans to apply for a year-long Hunger Fellowship at the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington, D.C., before she enrolls in medical school. Her ultimate goals are to earn a medical specialty in pediatrics, focus on international health issues and participate in medical missions in underdeveloped countries. In addition to studying biology at RSU, she took several courses in the Spanish language to prepare her for mission work in South America and points beyond. “I want to go wherever better health care is needed,” she said.

In addition to her work in health policy, Taber served as a volunteer resident assistant at the Greater Washington, D.C. Hispanic Youth Symposium, an event designed to introduce Hispanic high school students in the D.C. area to the opportunities available to them in college. As resident assistant, she chaperoned four students during the program, who were originally from Bolivia, Nicaragua and Peru. “It was rewarding to witness these young people interacting with business executives and government officials. I think it significantly improved their chances of succeeding in life.”

Taber also volunteered for the Potomac Conservancy during her summer in Washington, helping to clean up a trail along the Potomac River. And no summer in the nation’s capital would be complete without touring the National Mall and its monuments, the museums of the Smithsonian Institution and Arlington National Cemetery. “But one of the highlights of my trip was attending a Revolutionary War demonstration on the grounds of Mount Vernon on the Fourth of July,” she said.

“I can’t tell you how much I grew as a person. I met so many people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. I sampled new varieties of ethnic food. I made important contacts in Washington. And I made friendships that will last a lifetime.”

This fall, two RSU students will be completing internships, including Brandon Jones of Claremore, a liberal arts major who will work at the National Endowment for the Arts, and Eric Loggin of Owasso, a criminal justice major who has been assigned to the Drug Enforcement Agency. In the last two years, a total of six RSU students have participated in the program at agencies such as the Small Business Administration and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

For more information about the Washington Center Internship Program at RSU, contact Dr. Taylor at (918) 343-7627 or visit www.rsu.edu.