Since 1992, the HACU National Internship Program (HNIP) has been connecting Hispanic college students with federal agencies and private corporations across the United States. The nation’s largest Hispanic college internship program, HNIP has changed the lives of more than 5,000 students, including Juandy Paredes, a second-year grad student at Lehman College, a City University of New York (CUNY). With the help of HNIP, she is realizing her dream of helping people from all walks of life. Read more about Juandy’s story below.
Did you always know you wanted to go to college?
College was something I always saw in my future, but growing up in the Dominican Republic, there weren’t many opportunities. My father never went to college, and my mother attended college in the Dominican Republic for five semesters but never earned her degree. Moving to New York in 1991 opened so many doors for me. I come from a very close-knit family, so I wanted to stay close to home for college. That’s why I chose Lehman College.
What factors did you consider when choosing an undergraduate school and major?
I always loved teaching and helping people, so when it was time to select a major, education seemed like a logical choice. Given the high crime rate and low pay in schools today, my parents expressed concern with my choice and influenced me to major in economics instead. “That’s where the money is,” they’d say. I reluctantly took her advice.
It wasn’t long before I knew that a career in economics was not for me. Sure, I’d be personally and financially secure, but I’d also be bored to tears! At the same time, my desire to help people continued to grow, and I became interested in what I was learning in my psychology class. After some serious soul searching, I decided to major in psychology and minor in education. Changing my major was the smartest decision I have ever made because it led me to HACU, who introduced me to the world.
What happened after undergrad?
I earned my undergraduate degree in 2002 and immediately applied to Lehman’s graduate program for early childhood education. I took a job in a daycare center, where I received handson training in the field. Much to my disappointment, I also discovered that New York City schools were putting little to no emphasis on recreation—an important part of child development. I made it my goal to build recreation into every school’s core curriculum. My friends joked that I would be the “Director of Recess,” but I didn’t care. It just made me want to try harder.
How did you discover HACU?
I found out about HACU while working as a CUNYCAP graduate assistant. CUNYCAP, or the CUNY Counseling Assistantship Program, is a federally funded program offered to students who have completed their undergraduate degrees and are pursuing graduate degrees at CUNY. The organization pays for six credit hours of my schooling every semester for three years, and in return, I work in Lehman College’s Career Services Center, where I assist the internship coordinator and help plan career-related events. A HACU representative came to campus as a guest speaker. Until then, I had never heard of the organization. I was intrigued to hear about all they offer to Hispanic students, especially HNIP. It seemed like a great way to meet new people, see new places, and experience new things.
How did you come upon your internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service?
My career counselor at Lehman encouraged me to send my HNIP application to HACU, and I took her advice. I emphasized my recreation experience and my willingness to help other people. A few weeks later, I received a call from John Metrione, the recreation planner for the Belt Creek and White Sulfur Springs Ranger Districts in Montana. He offered me a 15-week internship as a forestry technician, a job that includes traveling through forests, collecting and recording data, and fixing trails. At first, I was very enthusiastic, but when John explained that there would be no trains, buses, or cell phones, I began to have second thoughts. Could I survive without the modern conveniences of life in New York City? Somehow, I summoned a courage I never knew I had, and I decided to accept the internship.
Were your family and friends surprised by your decision?
At first, they thought I was crazy to accept a job so far from home and in the middle of nowhere. Adios to my dress shoes, my comfortable bed, and my desk job! For the next 15 weeks, I’d be wearing hiking boots, sleeping in a bunk, and hitting the trails from morning till night!
Describe your internship experience.
Since I would be the only female in my crew, I had some concerns about living arrangements. HACU took care of everything and even arranged for me to have my own bunkhouse, complete with a huge bathroom and kitchen, a living area with a couch, and a dining room set. Things weren’t looking so bad, after all!
Unlike a lot of internships, which give students minimal hands-on experience, I was thrown right into the action. I received the necessary ATV and horseback training, and then it was time for the adventure to begin. I had no idea how unprepared I was, physically and mentally, for what lie ahead.
My team consisted of two forest technicians employed by the federal government, another HACU intern, and myself. Our first day on the trails, we traveled across rugged terrain and climbed steep hills—more like mountains! I barely made it to the top, gasping for air the entire way. It would have been so easy to quit, but I made myself keep going. I wanted to prove to my crew, and to myself, that I could do it. We worked very long hours, and most nights I was so tired, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
My experience in the field gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to work in the rangers’ station office during the second half of my internship. Since I was familiar with the area, it was easier to relate to the dangers that other forest techs were going through. Working in the office made me feel like an integral part of the team because the decisions I made were actually affecting people.
What did you gain from your internship?
Aside from the experience I received on the trails and in the office, I also gained a newfound confidence in myself. No one, including me, thought a young girl from the city could survive in an environment so different and unfamiliar. But every day, I pushed a little harder and went a little farther. The challenges became easier, and by the end of my internship, I knew there was no mountain I couldn’t climb—literally!
What are your thoughts about HACU and HNIP?
Like many Hispanic students, I didn’t realize the wealth of career opportunities out there, especially in the federal government. HNIP connected me with people, places, and opportunities that I may have otherwise never known. I attribute much of my success and community involvement to HACU, and I believe in what they do for Hispanic students.
What are you doing now? Do you have plans for the future?
I recently visited Brooklyn College as a HACU representative and enjoyed sharing my story. I am also learning a lot from my CUNYCAP job in the Career Services Center. I plan to graduate in 2006 and begin working toward a post-graduate degree in administration. Ultimately, I’d like to work in the parks and recreation industry, preferably with an organization like HACU. If I can extend a helping hand to someone the way that HACU extended a helping hand to me, I will feel truly successful.
Do you have any advice for Hispanic students who are thinking about attending college and participating in HNIP
Don’t give up! If you have the dream and the drive, don’t let insecurity hold you back. I was scared, just like you, but I took a leap of faith. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Life is all about networking and making connections, and HNIP is great practice for “the real world.”
We are the future Hispanic leaders of America. It is our responsibility—and our honor—to pave the way for the future. Good luck!
To learn more about how HNIP can help you reach your goals, call (202) 467-0893 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (202) 467-0893 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (202) 467-0893 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (202) 467-0893 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or visit www.hnip.net.