Enrichment Grant Story: From STEM to the Senate

Ray Villalobos (T’23) utilized a Goodnight Enrichment Grant to assist him while he interns at the Senate in Washington D.C. Continue reading to learn more about his passion for politics, engineering, and being a force of positive change in the world.

Tell us about yourself and how you got to NC State

My name is Raymond Villalobos, but most people just call me Ray. I am a Goodnight Scholar currently studying Biomedical and Health Science Engineering through the joint program between UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University with a focus in regenerative medicine and a minor in Political Science. I transferred to NC State from a local community college in Pinehurst, North Carolina called Sandhills, where I graduated with an Associate in Engineering and an Associate in Science. Such a feat was not easy, to say the least, as I was also spending my time as a department leader for McDonald’s on the weekend and serving as student body president, leading both national and local initiatives with students, faculty, and staff. As a member of the student trustee advisory committee for the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), a national non-profit organization that governs trustees of community colleges, I served as a student ambassador and helped raise awareness for students impacted by the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) rescission, programs serving traditionally underrepresented communities, and the need to strengthen under-resourced institutions.

Tell us about your internship this summer and how you were able to utilize enrichment grant funding to help in your experience?

Currently, I am interning for Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. My responsibilities during this six-week-long opportunity include answering phone calls from constituents, attending committee hearings, conducting legislative research, and writing memos or constituent correspondence for Senator Tillis and his staff. I often find myself in awe when I see senators in person because I am so used to watching them on television giving a speech or debating about policy. I typically see these senators everywhere: walking back to their office from a Senate vote, talking with commentators, and sometimes even trying to outrun reporters who barrage them with an endless array of questions. Regardless, what I find most amazing about this experience is how welcoming the Senator’s office is and how every staff member is open to network and provide any advice they can. We also get the opportunity to sit down with the Chief of Staff, Marine Military fellow, communications team, and the Senator himself to ask them about their experiences and learn as much as we can from them.

The Goodnight Scholars program has made this internship and the journey to Washington D.C. possible by accelerating my professional development through the Goodnight Scholars Program class (GSP250) and providing me with an enrichment grant that has helped immensely with expenses. Because of the enrichment grant, I was able to find comfortable, safe, and affordable housing that is less than a mile away from the Capitol. I was also able to purchase much-needed professional attire, which I did not own before going to college. I am especially thankful that one of the pro staff from the Goodnight program, Anthony, went with me as I got fitted for suits and made sure that what I was getting was both versatile and comfortable. 

How do you see this internship play a role in your future endeavors?

I see this internship as an opportunity to take a momentous step forward in my pursuit of a meaningful career in legislative politics. Admittedly, it’s uncommon for an engineer to be a politician since lawyers, economists, and business administrators typically work in legislative offices. Yet, I am not afraid to leave my comfort zone and become a community leader who listens to others, steps into the line of fire, and implements a vision of fairness so that others can be heard. Ultimately, my aim in life is to one day fight for the rights of all Americans in maintaining our freedom of expression and equality, as well as access to education and the opportunity to live the American Dream. This conviction comes from my upbringing and learning about the experiences of people whom I have come to know throughout my life.

One particularly impactful life event was my mother’s car accident which shook the very foundation of our once stable household and brought about financial insecurity and hardship at an early age. It was during this time of grave need that our community members stepped in to shelter us when we lost our home, it was our schools and churches that provided us food and afternoon snacks when we didn’t know where our next meal would come from, and it was our community leaders that provided me mentorship and academic guidance when my father was not in my life.  I would also argue that the stories from students impacted by the DACA decision affected me deeply because my dad, closest friends, and some community members were always in constant uncertainty for their future, as they needed to frequently renew their visas to stay in the United States. They would often tell me about how hard life is outside the United States and how lucky I am to be living in a country that protects freedom of speech, press, and religion. 

Therefore, I recognize that as a Goodnight Scholar and soon-to-be independent adult and voter, I have the opportunity to not only develop myself professionally and academically but also jump in and make an impact in someone’s life right now. I cannot change our past or the past of others, but I can change my future and work to improve the futures of others through hard work and a small sacrifice of time on my end. 

 

What goals do you have for yourself while you are working in this internship? What do you hope to get out of this experience?

At the end of this internship, I hope to leave with a better understanding of the legislative process, new skills, and professional connections on Capitol Hill. Admittedly, before I began this endeavor, I knew very little about policy making, the style of negotiation in Congress, or current political affairs. It was also intimidating at first for me to be working in a Senator’s office since I was recently introduced to politics through my tenure as student body president for Sandhills Community College. Nevertheless, I believe that the United States needs more STEM based elected officials in the federal, state, and local levels of government who can encourage others who may not initially consider a career in politics.

The current semiconductor chip shortage and cyber-attacks on critical US infrastructure highlight the need for more individuals with STEM backgrounds in decision-making roles. Therefore, in taking this first step in faith, I aim to lay down a firm foundation of knowledge that will support my aim in life, which is to one day fight for the rights of all Americans via a meaningful career in legislative politics