Carnegie Mellon University

English Major Impacts U.S. Policies Towards Latin America

English major Melanie Diaz stands with Larry Birns, Council on Hemispheric Affairs founder and director.English major Melanie Diaz wants to help alleviate two issues facing Latin Americans in the U.S.: education and immigration. Carnegie Mellon’s Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP) is giving her an opportunity to write about these issues and find solutions.

Through the program, Diaz is currently interning at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). This non-profit, independent organization promotes the common interests of the western hemisphere, raises the profile of regional affairs, and encourages the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.

“I am interning with COHA because I wanted a chance to influence policy work pertaining to Latin America,” said Diaz, a sophomore with an additional major in Global Studies. “As a person of Mexican heritage, coming from eastern L.A., Calif., the issues that COHA handles are personal to me, my family, and my community. Furthermore, I saw COHA as an opportunity to test the waters of journalism and see what it takes to get an article published.”

As a research associate, Diaz writes articles about current events that pertain to the western hemisphere and assists in editing other research associate’s articles. Diaz is also COHA’s Extramural Producer. In this role, she coordinates the COHA publication process by sending articles written by Senior Research Fellows to editors.
Diaz has already learned a lot about professional writing while on the job.

“I learned that writing a professional article takes a lot longer than I initially thought,” said Diaz. “For this reason, it is important to choose a topic that you are whole-heartedly interested in. Otherwise you can find yourself laboriously lagging on a piece that is already at the fifth or sixth stage of editing.”

Before interning at COHA, Diaz wasn’t particularly interested in policy work or politics in general. “However, due to my experience here in D.C., I understand how important policy is since it influences practically everything in our society from the justice system to international relations,” said Diaz.

Diaz also takes two classes that have helped her understand policy work: ‘International Policy and the Global System of the 21st Century’ and ‘Politics and Poems: Writing Verse in D.C’ through the University of California. Carnegie Mellon is a member of the University of California Washington Center (UCDC) consortium of schools. As a partner in the consortium, WSP students, like Diaz, have the opportunity to participate in any of the partner schools’ elective courses.

As a student in the WSP, Diaz not only attends classes, but also goes to talks at Carnegie Mellon’s International Relations and Politics Capstone Policy Forum. The forum invites leaders from organizations in Washington D.C. and Carnegie Mellon alumni to discuss their career experiences.

So far, Diaz has found a lot to like about the program. “The program really helps students hone the professional skills they need in any workplace and test the waters in a field they are currently interested in,” said Diaz. “College is a great time for students to find out what their passions are and what they probably don’t want to do for a living. And, this program lets students do that risk-free.”

Diaz said she is also a fan of the program’s cost, which is equivalent to the price a student would pay to study on Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus. And, scholarships are also available for students in need of extra financial assistance.

“There’s nothing to lose,” said Diaz. “And you may have the opportunity to return to D.C. for the summer following your semester.”

Through her classes and internship, Diaz has realized she wants to pursue policy work in Washington after graduation. Then, she plans on traveling back to her hometown of Los Angeles to pursue a Ph.D. in English or History to become a professor.

If you’re an English major or minor interested in the Washington Semester Program, Melanie Diaz is open to discussing her experience with you and helping with the application process. Connect with Melanie.

Read recent articles Diaz has written for the COHA:

Solar Energy Lights Up in Latin America

Columbia, Peace at Least?

Photo: English Major Melanie Diaz stands with Larry Birns, Council on Hemispheric Affairs founder and director.

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By: Amanda King