The UC in Washington program launches political career

The UCDC program launched Ricky Le’s (Rachel Carson, Politics ’99) career in national politics. Photo contributed by Ricky Le.

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The UCDC internship program enables UCSC students to study and work in the nation’s capital.

Ricky Le (Rachel Carson, Politics ’99) was an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz the first time he set foot outside of his home state of California — headed to Washington DC to participate in the UC in Washington program, widely known as UCDC. He had little idea what to expect, nor whether he would even like it, but his experience with UCDC — made possible in part by philanthropic support at UC Santa Cruz —completely changed the trajectory of his life.

The UC in Washington program supervises and supports students who pursue a quarter of academic study and internship work in the nation’s capital. Students spend three to four days a week at their internships — gaining hands-on experience working in a variety of opportunities that can include positions on Capitol Hill, in government agencies, major media outlets, cultural institutions or other nonprofit organizations, or at one of the many corporations with a presence in DC.

As a result of his UCDC internship, Le fell in love with politics — launching a career that has included a variety of political roles including working as a policy advisor for US Representative Zoe Lofgren and executive director of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation. Le has called Washington DC home since 2005 and currently serves as Chief of Staff for US Representative Linda Sanchez of California’s 38th district.

“Before UCDC, I had an interest in politics, but I was really unsure about my career path,” Le says. “My participation in UCDC changed my life, and opened up new avenues. It helped me realize that I want to be in DC, on Capitol Hill, participating in national politics. ”

Le, a Vietnamese refugee, was a first generation college student. He chose to attend UC Santa Cruz in part because doing so would allow him to remain close to the support of family and friends in his hometown of San Jose. Coming from a low-income family, he says he didn’t feel sure he belonged in higher education.

He found a caring and supportive community at the university, though, and says he felt comfortable being himself. It was one of Le’s professors, Dan Wirls, who encouraged him to apply to UCDC. “He saw potential in me before I saw the potential in myself,” Le says. Le credits much of his ultimate success to the nurturing environment at UCSC.

The UCDC Washington Program offers a unique – and even life-changing – opportunity for UCSC students, and philanthropy is key. Tuition is the same as it is for students on campus, and a scholarship that supports a student at UC Santa Cruz can carry over to UCDC. The need for scholarships, however, often outweighs the number available. Additional UCDC expenses — which are the responsibility of program participants– include travel to DC, housing, food, the cost of business attire, and other needs. And while some of the internships offer a stipend, many do not.

“Philanthropy can make the difference between a deserving student being able to participate in UCDC or not,” notes Dr. Wirls, who in addition to being a professor of politics is also the UCSC director of UCDC. “Unfortunately, I’ve seen students who were accepted into the decline program because they felt like they couldn’t afford it.”

UCDC set Ricky Le on a career path he never would have imagined. Le encourages other UCSC students to participate in programs like UCDC and take advantage of all the resources the campus has to offer.

“Don’t be afraid, go beyond your comfort zone — you’ll be surprised by what you can do,” Le says.

Scholarships and stipends for programs such as UCDC are among the many funding opportunities supported by UCSC’s Student Success Initiative. To learn more about how you can be the change, visit success.ucsc.edu or contact Molly Sims at maasims@ucsc.edu

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