During Hispanic Heritage Month, UCF Today will share some of our students’ and faculty members’ stories and how being Latino has shaped their lives.

Every day for an entire semester, Alex A. Alvarado would wake up, walk to Capitol Hill, and say to himself: “Man, how did I get here?”

Both resourceful and ambitious, this legal studies major grabbed at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look of government during one of the nation’s most colorful election periods.

Alvarado is the first UCF student to be selected for a highly competitive Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute internship. He was one of 22 selected nationwide. The internship aims to give low-income Latino students demonstrating a strong academic record an opportunity to experience working in a congressional office while participating in weekly professional and leadership development, and civic engagement through community service. He was assigned to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. She represents the 27th Congressional District – Alvarado’s home district.

Alvarado, who was born and raised in Miami, used to see his mother juggling two and three jobs to support his family, and he thought, “How can I change the system? How can I alleviate and help people who are in a similar situation?”

Seeing his mother and father struggle, especially after they were laid off three times during the recession, was difficult. It was these life moments that pushed Alvarado to a career in public policy and politics.

“I’ve always had this intellectual curiosity as to why do things happen the way they do,” he said, “And how can we change it? Or how can we at least try to figure out what the problem is, and determine a solution.”

Among writing policy briefs, conducting research for legislative aides, and attending committee meetings, Alvarado also had a chance to network with many politicians in Washington.

“The hours are crazy, but I’ve never loved something so much. It’s almost like you’re not working, just part of something that is constantly moving,” Alvarado said.

One of the hardest lessons Alvarado said he learned during his internship was how much fluff there can be in politics. He hopes to change that one day.

Alvarado saw Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in action. He also saw President Obama during an exclusive event at the White House.

He said the highlight of his internship was receiving a plaque signed with a message from Ros-Lehtinen honoring his hard work.

“She told me, ‘You work so hard. I’ve seen you always helping and do anything you can to help me. You’re always trying to do everything perfectly,’ and during the graduation at the end of the program she spoke and had me join her at the podium. It was a humbling moment,” he said.

And one of those politicians he met, led him to another internship opportunity as a legislative intern with Rep. John Mica.

Alvarado said the internship and the opportunity to meet 22 others with similar experiences has made him more confident. After graduation, Alvarado plans earn a master’s degree in public administration and eventually run for office.

“Despite adversities you can find a way, even when you think there is no way to make it,” he said. “It’s definitely made me think I can do more.”