Gaining Resilience on the Way to a Career in Public Policy

International Relations major and SEL scholar, Gisela Sarabia-Sandoval’22 is acquiring the knowledge, experiences, and skills - academic, personal, and professional - needed for a career in public policy.

As a first-generation student at Beloit College, Gisela Sarabia-Sandoval’22 was unsure she belonged in academia. Soon after arriving, however, she was reassured by faculty and staff.

“My first-year advisor made me feel welcome and confident about choosing international relations as my major. I’d be able to change my mind with no negative consequences if I’d made the wrong choice.”

Meanwhile, Betsy Henkel, her financial aid counselor, played a key role in helping her navigate the financial realities of college, from helping her understand her bill for tuition and fees to finding ways to reduce expenses.

Student Excellence and Leadership (SEL) advisors Maria Scarpaci and Daryl Saladar were also there for Gisela from Day One. “Both encouraged me to apply for opportunities and expand my horizons.” And junior and senior SEL mentors helped Gisela recognize her accomplishments as a first-year student. She did belong.

A campus job as a front desk assistant at SEL was also key. Gisela not only developed work skills, but became aware of campus resources.

“I learned how to organize data, write professional emails, connect with people, and create posters and announcements for the SEL community. Plus, I was exposed me to the many resources available through Career Works, such as internships, mock interviews, feedback on CVs, and opportunities to volunteer in the community. Take advantage of these!”

Gisela had come to Beloit College for its liberal arts curriculum. “I knew I wanted to put theory into practice outside the classroom and connect ideas across disciplines. Beloit teaches you to do that.”

Thus, in the summer following her first year, a scholarship enabled Gisela to take a course on environmental justice with Beloit professor of international relations and environmental studies Pablo Toral at Coe College’s Field Research Station. “I learned how to conduct field interviews. I also learned how to make observations and record and analyze field data.”

Service as a student editor in her junior year for the Yuyanapaq collection, a joint project between the international relations program and the Wright Museum of Art, was followed by enrollment in a six-week, virtual program at the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in summer 2021 as a McNair Scholar.

In the program, she not only took courses, but completed group research projects. One focused on understanding racial disparities in the funding of nonprofits, and the second on developing a policy proposal to reroute the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Pipeline to lessen the corrosive harm to Native American communities.

What comes next for Gisela in her journey to a career in public policy? In late September 2021, she’ll head to Costal Rica to learn first-hand about Latin American foreign policy and sustainable development. As a study abroad student at Veritas University, she’ll focus on political science but also take a literature course while living with a host family.

“Latin America is the focus of my IR major, as well as foreign policy toward China. At this point, I need to acquire depth of knowledge in a particular Latin American country.”

Gisela is thankful for the late September start of the Veritas fall semester; it will give her time to prepare for the GRE and do the background work needed to apply for graduate studies in either public policy or international relations and for fellowships.

She also needs time to breathe, as planning for study abroad definitely tested her resilience, something Beloit College hopes all of its students will develop. Gisela won a Freeman-Asia scholarship to study in China, only to forfeit the scholarship to the pandemic. Plans to study in Mexico also had to be scuttled, and then an alternative plan to attend a university in Uruguay.

Fortunately, study abroad advisor Kathy Landon was able to steer her toward Veritas thanks to Beloit College’s membership in ISEP, the international student exchange partnership.

“I’m really looking forward to my studies in Costa Rica, as I hope my time there will help me narrow down my focus for graduate school. In the meantime, I’ll continue my studies of the Chinese language, and I’ll work on applications for fellowships such as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan. I’d really like to have some time between graduation from Beloit and graduate school to continue to expand my horizons and apply what I’ve learned in my classes to real-world contexts.”

By: Elizabeth Brewer
September 10, 2021

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