Wilder School Virginia Capitol Semester program: Sofhia Pineda Garay explores legislation in action
by Rachel Zeeve
The Wilder School Virginia Capitol Semester program represents a unique opportunity for students to gain direct experience in the policy process. This spring semester internship program allows students to play an integral support role in the office of a Virginia State Legislature House Delegate or Senator during the General Assembly. For Sofhia Pineda Garay, a passion for social equity and social justice reform led her to apply.
A criminal justice and political science dual-major, Pineda put her advocacy skills to work in Senator Mamie Locke’s office. Responding to constituent concerns through in-person and virtual meetings helped Pineda Garay build meaningful connections with the community. She also met with other legislators, advocacy groups, state agency employees and department lobbyists, all while tracking key bills in both the House and Senate.
“The Capitol Semester Program was a great opportunity to engage with and be a part of Virginia legislation,” Pineda Garay said. “This internship is a great chance to watch our legislators in action, witness firsthand public engagement and explore career opportunities offered by state agencies and departments.”
“I really enjoyed knowing that the state of Virginia is endowed to invest most of their budget on K-12 education and Medicaid holders to ensure healthcare accessibility for all. I also enjoyed hearing about the vast majority of career backgrounds of employees in this department.” – Sofhia Pineda Garay
Connecting to the legislative community
For Pineda, invaluable networking opportunities added to her successful experience in the program. “The best and most rewarding part of this experience was the opportunity to network with agency representatives and non-profit organizations in the Richmond area,” said Pineda Garay. “I enjoyed attending committee meetings and watching our legislators debate public policy reform to better public services in our communities and localities.”
2023 Capitol Semester interns Edvard Evans, Sofhia Garay Garay and Laila Barnes gained specialized experience working alongside delegates of the Virginia House of Representatives and the Virginia Senate. Photo: David Slipher
Practical classroom experience supplemented the real-world practice that students gain throughout the semester. Coursework examined state policy issues and legislative process while students participated in the General Assembly. Concurrently, guest speakers shared a detailed look behind the scenes of state government.
“My favorite guest speaker was the director of the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, Michael Maul,” Pineda Garay reflected. “I really enjoyed knowing that the state of Virginia is endowed to invest most of their budget on K-12 education and Medicaid holders to ensure healthcare accessibility for all. I also enjoyed hearing about the vast majority of career backgrounds of employees in this department.”
The semester has served as a springboard for Pineda Garay as she looks to the future. “My career plans had always been to prepare for the LSAT and enter a Virginia law school,” she said. However, the program has expanded her horizons. She’s considering graduate school across subject areas including public policy, public administration and education administration. The Wilder School dual-degree program offering a master of public administration and juris doctorate are also on her radar.
“The biggest takeaway is that there are a vast number of career opportunities in the state of Virginia through state agencies and departments regarding public policy and the state's budget,” she said. “This opportunity has allowed me to be more open-minded to explore different careers outside of my field.”