Tomas Arango '20: A Powerfully Unexpected Experience

On the final day of his summer internship at the Inter-American Foundation in Washington, D.C., Tomás Arango ’20 got an unexpected invitation: the president and CEO wanted to meet the next day to hear about his summer research project. And while Tomás may not have expected the call, he was ready.

He spent that summer building a database of the independent government agency’s economic development grants in Latin America and the Caribbean during an internship facilitated via the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program. “I got to the point where you could give me a five-letter acronym and I could tell you the grant, what country it was in and what the project was focused on,” Tomás says. “It was great preparation for what I didn’t know was coming.”

Paloma Adams-Allen, the foundation’s president and CEO, heard about a presentation Tomás and his research partner had given the previous day and invited them to share their findings with her directly. They quickly customized the presentation and presented to Adams-Allen, fielded her questions and discussed their research.

“That hour, when I was in a position to speak to and be heard by such an important decision-maker about something that I cared about, was a really fantastic moment,” Tomás says. “That meeting cemented my motivation toward doing what I want to do.”

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Before his summer in D.C., Tomás, an economics and public policy major, interned at the Baker Institute’s Mexico Center, where he worked with institute fellows and scholars on critical policy issues in Mexico.

He also connected with Steven Lewis, the faculty advisor for the D.C. internship program. The program offers Rice undergrads hands-on experience in the world of public policy research and analysis. Since 2004, 141 students in 16 cohorts have represented the Baker Institute and Rice at a wide variety of government agencies, public-policy think tanks and nongovernmental organizations in Washington.

“Experiential education is very helpful in preparing for a future career in public policy and public affairs, especially in Washington D.C.,” Lewis says. “The internship program is designed to help very bright undergraduates like Tomás explore a future there.”

The faculty mentorship Lewis provided would prove essential for Tomás. “Dr. Lewis has helped and advised so many Rice students that he is able to communicate what it takes to be successful and how to take the next step. From thinking through the broad strokes of my interests and motivations to the specifics of cover letters, resumes and D.C. etiquette, he’s been an incredible mentor. I’m really grateful to him.”

Tomás’s summer internship, capped off by that remarkable meeting, exemplifies the concept of experiential education. His rigorous coursework in policy and economics, mentorship by a trusted faculty member and access to a meaningful internship came together to provide Tomás with newfound perspective and confidence.

It was also a turning point as he set goals and prepared for his future.

“Before that internship, I had a vague interest in a lot of things and a special interest in economic development,” he says. “But throughout the experience, because I was working on migration issues, I developed a keen interest in migration specifically in the context of economic development. Working with people running these projects on the ground gave me a perspective on the work that it takes to impact communities, which in turn gave rise to my current interest in human rights and human rights law.”

He embraces, above all, an openness to his own evolution, made possible by what is available at Rice. “My approach is to reflect constantly, every semester, all the time, about what it is that I’m doing, what I’m getting out of it, and what will be most useful,” he says. “Because Rice probably has the opportunity. You just have to figure out what it is that you are looking for and why.”

This year, Tomás is studying abroad at Trinity College, Cambridge, as Rice’s representative of the prestigious Abraham-Broad Exchange Program. Each year, one Rice student spends a full year as a student at Trinity, while a student from Trinity comes to Rice. Tomás is focusing on politics and international relations.

Even as he pursues a bright future, Tomás can look back at that unexpected meeting as a key part of his education. “That was a very empowering moment,” he reflects. “It convinced me that what I was doing was worthwhile.”

When you support experiential learning at Rice, you ensure that our students gain the experience and insight they need to become leaders. The generosity of numerous donors has enabled the Baker Institute to immerse students in the world of public policy. Whatever your area of passion, there are many ways to support hands-on experience, impactful research and immersive travel for Rice students. We invite you to explore stories of our students taking advantage of these opportunities. To learn more about how you can support experiential learning, please contact us.

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