Gutierrez shares his White House experience with future students
As an admissions counselor for Georgia Gwinnett College, Jose Gutierrez, ’15, speaks with prospective students from personal experience, especially about the many opportunities GGC provides for expanding one’s horizons.
In Gutierrez’s case, his horizons were expanded all the way to the White House.
The oldest of four children, Jose Gutierrez is the first member of his family to graduate from college. He chose GGC to be close to his family. He majored in psychology, was active in the Honors Program and tutored fifth graders in English, math, science and social studies. He also found time to pursue two of his hobbies, hiking and photography.
In late spring of 2014, Dr. C. Douglas Johnson, GGC professor of leadership and management, suggested that Gutierrez apply for a White House internship. Gutierrez didn’t take the idea seriously at first because he was not a political science major. However, he visited relatives in a small Mexican town that summer and after realizing how few opportunities young people had there, he changed his mind.
“I realized that this was a great opportunity, and that I should take it,” Gutierrez said. Johnson, along with Dr. Catherine Neiner, former director of the Career Development and Advising Center, and Dr. Jen Wunder, director of the Honors Program, provided guidance as Gutierrez completed and submitted his internship application that August. He was notified of his selection as an alternate in October. As time went by without an offer, he settled into enjoying a very light final spring semester. He only had one class left – a Spanish course – before graduating in May 2015.
Then suddenly in January, Gutierrez was contacted for a phone interview. He was offered an internship in the Office of Information Services, the White House’s communications hub … and he had to report to work almost immediately.
A whirlwind of activity followed, as the college made arrangements for Gutierrez to take his Spanish course online, and the GGC Foundation provided financial assistance so he could take advantage of the opportunity.
Gutierrez’s internship duties included helping with emails, filing, updating manuals, running errands, taking notes and other tasks. He also assisted with statistical analysis of daily activities such as call volume and related measures. The responsibility made these seemingly mundane tasks very important.
“Our work was necessary to produce required presidential records, as well as support ongoing analysis of office efficiencies,” Gutierrez said. He described the office as very busy and the staff as nurturing of the interns. He often worked more than 40 hours a week and found that his GGC education paid off.
“My classes prepared me very well. At least one class from almost every semester helped me with my work,” he said. He observed that he “grew up a lot” and honed his skills related to professionalism, adaptability, dedication and prioritization.
In addition to his regular tasks, Gutierrez gave weekly reports to office staff, and he was required to complete a special project near the end of his internship. He chose to do an analysis involving the efficiency of the office’s auditing process.
Most White House interns do not work in the White House itself, but in a nearby office building. However, Gutierrez was able to assist with tours of the White House’s East Wing, which gave him the opportunity to experience the White House environment and meet with guests from around the nation and world. Like all White House interns, he was able to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
During his free time, Gutierrez explored the city, spending a lot of time in museums and taking photographs.
His internship led him to think more broadly about his future.
“The sky really is the limit,” he said. “I feel like I can attempt to do anything because of the confidence I gained during this experience.” He is considering applying for a Fulbright Scholarship and to City Year, a domestic version of the Peace Corps. He also is thinking about graduate school and pursuing a career in the federal government.
As for now, he is spreading the word about GGC through his position in the Office of Admissions, a living example of the difference the college can make in the lives of its students.
“I think my experiences should be encouraging to other first-generation students. You can make something of yourself no matter where you are from. I want to use my experiences to mentor and motivate others.”
Find more transformative stories about the GGC experience in Engage Magazine.