McNair Scholar Prepares for a Public Service Career in the LBJ School

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In the often-cynical world of politics, the youthful optimism of Claudia Montelongo is a breath of fresh air. A first-year graduate student in the master of public affairs program at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, Montelongo has received fellowship support from the McNair Scholars Program and the LBJ Foundation. She believes her possibilities are endless — but she is also making sure she’s prepared.

LBJ School student Claudia Montelongo has already worked for two members of Congress. Montelongo, holder of a BA in international relations from California’s Pomona College, saw the political process firsthand while working on Capitol Hill for former United States representative Hilda Solis, D-Calif., and later for U.S. Representative Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas. As a staff assistant, many of Montelongo’s responsibilities were centered on fielding communications from constituents and ensuring that the information was compiled and shared with the representatives.

“The average person really can make a difference in our government,” she says. “Legislative issues are complicated. We would often see how legislation could help people in some ways but then hear from constituents about how it might affect them adversely. Either way, it’s important for the officeholder to get that feedback. And constituents who voice their opinions about legislation can hold their representatives accountable.”

Claudia MontelongoSolis was a role model for Montelongo, demonstrating as a congresswoman how to keep her constituents’ needs at the forefront and helping connect them to available services. Montelongo calls her an excellent example of a strong Latina who worked her way up through the political system, from her start on the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees to now serving as the U.S. secretary of labor. As for her own future, Montelongo is confident she would have had a successful career without a graduate degree but says the analytical skills and problem-solving tools she is gaining with her master’s will be well worth the work it is taking to earn it. “This degree will give me flexibility to move around in various policy areas,” she says. “To be able to produce effective legislation, you need to have the analytical tools to use limited resources to do the greatest good.”

One key aspect of the master of public affairs program that appeals to Montelongo is the way all of her courses are interrelated: Skills and issues she deals with in one are applicable to challenges in others. This is especially true in the LBJ School’s yearlong Policy Research Project (PRP), which is designed to provide real-world challenges to second-year students. Montelongo enrolled in Professor Gary Chapman’s “State Finances and Online Transparency” PRP and will analyze how government financial information that is currently available online meets the expectations of the public. Working with the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, she and her fellow students will produce a report recommending what information should be available in Texas and other states.

Montelongo’s solid experience and advanced education — not to mention her confidence — should take her far. How far? “It would be great to work in the White House someday,” she says.

By Kathleen Mabley
Office of Graduate Studies
January, 2010

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