When senior White House policy analyst Allan Manuel visited Union College in November 2012 to encourage students to explore a career in civil service, Iliana Panameno couldn’t attend his chapel talk. But with Manuel’s help, Panameno, a senior social work major, will spend the summer as an intern at the Institute for Philanthropy and Voluntary Service in Washington, D.C.
“I actually was not able to hear him speak that day because I was doing my internship,” said Panameno. “I was too busy at that the time to even think about anything other than graduate school applications.”
Social work majors at Union need a minimum 480 hours of internship experience to graduate, which Panameno already earned this past year working alongside lawyers and social workers at Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit organization in Lincoln, Neb.
“Nebraska Appleseed is a public interest law firm,” Panameno explained. “They try to stop unjust bills from becoming law here in Nebraska.” Recently she helped the organization work to stop a bill eliminating funding for prenatal care to mothers illegally in the United States whose children would be born US citizens.
“Injustices like that don’t make sense,” Panameno said. “When these children get older and a doctor notices some type of disorder that could have been prevented, the state will end up paying more money than if prenatal care had been provided.”
Panameno’s interest in social work was originally inspired by her mother, a clinical social worker in a hospital. “I want to do more macro-social work—community education, organizing, planning, advocacy work and reform, so it’s a more broad level,” explained Panameno.
The Boston native transferred to Union her sophomore year because she found it more affordable than the West Coast school she attended as a freshman. “It was after taking a social policy class at Union, that the interest became stronger,” Panameno explained. “It’s amazing what advocacy can do for marginalized groups of people. You are basically giving them a voice.”
A shy student herself, her Union classes and internship helped her step outside her comfort zone. “I enjoyed the internship at Nebraska Appleseed and I feel like it has made me grow a lot,” she said. “When you are advocating for other people you can’t be shy.”
After being accepted into graduate school at both Boston University and Boston College, Panameno decided to pursue more experience through a summer internship. “I was unsure of my chances of acceptance for the internship program, since the application was much more work than my graduate school applications,” she said. Manuel, a friend of John Wagner, Union’s president, helped her through the internship application process. “He called me and he gave me a lot of suggestions on the application and made it a lot better. He played a big role in my acceptance into the program.”
A Seventh-day Adventist attorney who served as a deputy division chief at the Federal Communications Commission before his current post as Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President of the United States, Manuel has a burden to see talented people with strong moral principles begin careers in government service. During his talk at Union, he used biblical examples such as Daniel and Joseph—men who stood true to their convictions and were able to have great influence in government.
“Public service in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches is a noble calling,” he explained. “Our country needs its best and brightest to develop and implement policies, laws and decisions that impact and benefit all Americans and influence the whole world.”
For Panameno, every step at Union College helped her form a career plan and the internship at Nebraska Appleseed allowed her to connect with community leaders as well as lawyers and social workers who are doing the type of work and leadership she hopes to do in the future.
“I know that it was all in God’s plan for me to be part of this summer internship at the White House,” said Panameno. “I have good grades, but it took a lot, like a recommendation from a Nebraska Appleseed lawyer who is known at the federal level. Things just lined up like they were supposed to.”
After being uncertain of her future career, a hands-on internship at Nebraska Appleseed and an internship working with representatives at the federal level have put all fears aside. “I’m very excited for this opportunity,” said Panameno. “I began to question a lot of things last semester and after a while I just decided to move forward. Things happen for a reason and I’ll always believe that.”