When Andreina Barajas Novoa, ‘24, worked in the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) field during the summer of 2019, she began to understand how her father, a construction worker, felt after long, arduous workdays. That appreciation, coupled with her desire to protect the rights of working-class people in the immigrant community, many of whom are undocumented, led her to pursue a double major in sociology and political science at Southern. This fall, Barajas Novoa will take her insight and determination to Washington, D.C., where she will participate in a Congressional internship awarded through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
She is one of just 23 students selected nationally to participate in the program.
According to Barajas Novoa, her desire to pursue a legal career is relatively new, “but it is a feeling that has been culminating since high school.”
She attended Platt Technical High School, where she studied HVAC. Working long, physically demanding hours during the summer helped her understand what her father, a Mexican immigrant, experienced as a construction worker. Even more, she knew her father had put off work-related injuries to continue providing for her family.
According to The Aspen Institute, roughly 25 million workers in the United State are foreign-born; many are employed in jobs where wages are low, working conditions are poor, and safety standards are disregarded. Undocumented workers are less likely to seek remedies for workplace injuries due to their fear of retaliation, such as deportation.
“I grew an even deeper appreciation for my father’s work and immigrant construction workers,” Barajas Novoa said.
After graduating from high school and receiving disappointing news about financial aid packages from several private colleges and universities, Barajas Novoa took a closer look at Southern, where her older sister was enrolled. “For most of my high school career I had learned from my sister about programs, clubs, and activities that Southern offered her,” she said. “I was [already] well aware of the resources I had as a student and how to get involved on campus.”
In August 2020, weeks before starting her first year at Southern, Barajas Novoa learned about the CHCI’s Congressional internship program for Latinx college students. Although it is highly competitive, she was eligible to apply after completing one semester at Southern, so she sent in her application.
She received good news shortly after.
“As an intern, CHCI will help place me in a congressional office where I will be performing office duties and legislative research,” she said. “Interning with the CHCI also means that I will receive leadership training from them, participate in programing that consists of discussions on issues affecting the Latinx community, and participate in a graduate-level public policy course taught by The George Washington University Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute and Trachtenberg School of Public Policy.”
Because Congressional internships are demanding, Barajas Novoa will only be enrolled in the internship course for credit. She will live in Washington, D.C., for two and a half months in an apartment provided by the CHCI.
“Having the opportunity to both intern in Congress and with the CHCI means I will be learning about the legislative process at the same time I am having discussions about issues affecting the Latinx community,” she says. “Studying sociology I get to learn about the social forces that have affected the lives of marginalized communities. Having spent one year at Southern I’ve been able to apply some of my learning in sociology to my job as a Diversity Peer Educator, SGA representative, and as the student representative on the DEI Advisory Council.
“I believe that to help the Latinx community, and likewise other marginalized communities, I must have an understanding of the social forces that have impacted their ability to live in America. This internship will help me understand how I can make progressive social change on campus and within Connecticut.”
Off-campus, Barajas Novoa is a member of Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D), where she has worked on the Husky for Immigrants campaign. She also has taken her advocacy for undocumented Americans to Washington, D.C., where she rallied with United We Dream and called for a path toward citizenship for immigrant communities.
“I learned how undocumented people are very often barred from access to healthcare and how many day laborers are victims of wage theft among other abuses by their employers,” she said. “I’m glad to have chosen Southern because despite being a first-year student, I have felt myself grow tremendously. While I may not specifically focus on undocumented construction workers, I know that I will continue fighting for the immigrant community and continue to advocate for undocumented people in fighting for a path toward citizenship and access to healthcare.”