Student Spotlight: Molly Alcorn

For the last two months, an average day in the life of 20-year-old, Molly Alcorn, has been vastly unlike that of most college students. Each weekday morning she wakes up, makes a short commute from Virginia to Washington, D.C. and at 9 a.m. sharp reports to work on Capitol Hill.

“There is no such thing as an average day on the [Capitol],” said Alcorn. “That’s the first thing you learn when you get there.”

The Sonoma State senior is currently a member of the Panetta Institute’s Congressional Internship Program.

The Institute, a nonprofit ran through the California State University Monterey Bay campus, selects one student from each California State University, as well as Santa Clara University and Dominican University, to participate in a 13-week all-expenses paid program working in Washington, D.C. in California congressional offices.

Founded by Leon Panetta, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and director of central intelligence, and his wife, the Institute provides an opportunity for students interested in leadership and public policy to get hands-on public service experience. Alcorn is earning 20 credit units towards graduation as well as a monthly stipend.

The first two weeks of the program are an intensive training at the Institute. Starting in early August, students sit through 10-hour training days with guest lecturers, including Panetta himself. The students then fly to District of Columbia to work in the California congressional offices.

While the day-to-day operations in Rep. Xavier Becerra’s office can be stressful, Alcorn is no stranger to the political sphere.  Raised by a lawyer and a teacher, she’s had a thirst for civic affairs and policy from a young age. She already knew when applying to college that she wanted to study political science.

She was involved on campus with Model U.N. and attended a delegation in New York City, representing Serbia’s first general assembly. She has also interned for the local political activist group Petaluma Friends of Recreation, which worked to save parks and recreational facilities in Sonoma County.

While in District of Columbia she works full-time, splitting her days between the office and out in the field. When she’s in the office, she is sorting e-mails, faxes, phone calls, doing research and allocating incoming comments and concerns to the appropriate representatives.

She’s also had the opportunity to attend public events with the congressman, such as briefings and hearings on topics from foreign affairs to a notable NASA hearing. Alcorn described this as the most exciting part of the job.

For example, when the congressman was recently interviewed for “The Ed Show” on MSNBC, Alcorn was standing just behind the cameras watching the action. The admission process for Sonoma State into the Institute’s program is unique to any other California State University.

While most California State University students must apply to the program, the selection at Sonoma State is done by faculty and department nomination. Diane Parness, professor of political science, was the one who delivered the news to her student.

Although Alcorn is only in her third year, she will be graduating this coming spring. Entering college with 18 units under her belt, she’s taken winter intersession and summer classes every year, as well as attended classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College. After she graduates, Alcorn plans to continue her education.

“Not going to [graduate] school isn’t really an option for me at this point,” said Alcorn.

She hopes to earn a master’s in public administration or hold a doctorate from U.C Davis, but plans to take a year off to work for her father’s law firm. She is also considering the Capital Fellows Programs, which includes a yearlong fellowship in Sacramento working under a state assemblyman or at the state capitol itself.