Photo of Jennifer Nieto speaking at an event

Jennifer Nieto

Major: Political Science

  • Internship: Public Affairs Intern at National Aeronautics and Space Administration - NASA
  • Participated: Summer 2000
  • LinkedIn:
  • Current Position: Senior Director of Government Affairs & Policy at Gilead Sciences

Tell us about your internship. What kind of work did you do? What did you find rewarding?
I was a Public Affairs intern at NASA Headquarters, in the Office of the Administrator. I supported the team's external relations - helping draft and edit press releases, speeches, and other external communications and also helped compile a chronological scrapbook of the Administrator's public and official appearances.

Have your career or life goals changed as a result of your internship? If so, how?
As a direct result of my very positive UCDC experience, I was certain I wanted to live in Washington, DC after college and work in politics. My certainty of this next step - which admittedly, I thought back then would be a maybe 2-5 year experiment! - was even more solidified after the events of September 11, 2001 when I felt called to public service. After graduating from UC-Davis, I moved home for a few months and worked as a substitute teacher to save up money to finance my move, and 4 months later I booked a one-way ticket to DC... that was 19 years ago this April! My first "real" job in Washington was working as a Staff Assistant for my hometown congresswoman, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Silicon Valley), and over several years I worked my way up through the ranks in her office to ultimately served as her legislative assistant for Health issues. Working for the US Congress, and most especially the experience of working for Congresswoman Eshoo, was arguably the most formative experience of my professional career. She was (and still is!) a pragmatic, smart and principled legislator and an inspiring female leader. The opportunity to work on major public health policy and advance legislation under her leadership was a formative experience for me personally and professionally and ultimately laid the foundation for me choosing to continue a career in healthcare and the life sciences.

Share an exciting memory from your internship – something unexpected, an accomplishment, someone you met.
There were so many wonderful memories from my internship summer in DC it is hard to choose one! First, attending events with the public affairs staff was always fun and inspiring. Two memorable events were attending a reception on behalf of the Administrator at the Embassy of Japan. Being able to meet so many international leaders in one room at one time, and being exposed to a different culture was exceptionally rewarding. I also was able to attend the local premier of Space Cowboys, a 2000 film featuring Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones -- the stars of the film weren't there, but attending as a representative of NASA was definitely fun. Second, a long-lasting memory from my summer in DC was the relationships I made. I am still in touch with several of the friends I made that summer; we have attended one another's weddings, send holiday cards, etc. One of my most favorite memories about a month into the program was taking the bus to New York City, cramming 4 women into a tiny hotel room off of Times Square, and experiencing the Big Apple for only the second time in my life, with new friends.

Did your internship lead to any opportunities?  
The summer following my internship I was invited to intern for NASA again, this time at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field (near my hometown of Sunnyvale), where I was a Communications intern.

How has living in the nation’s capital for a quarter changed you?
Being so far away from home, and among completely new people, was a great opportunity to spread my wings even broader than I'd done at college previously, and that gave me the confidence to take a huge risk and move to our nation's capital after graduation. Almost 22 years later I can say with absolute confidence that the UC Washington Center Program was the most formative experience of my college experience and it created a pathway to clearly identify and pursue my personal and professional dreams and goals.

Share any advice you have (i.e. choosing an internship, lessons learned, missed opportunities, etc.
Don't be afraid to try new things, ask for what you want (if you don't ask, the answer will always be "no"), and surround yourself with people who both challenge you to be better and support your goals.

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