Three John Jay students — Alondra Cuevas, Cataydra Brown and Jonathan Penuela — have been chosen as members of the 2016 class for the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship program, the highly competitive initiative that selects 15 New York City undergraduate students and provides them with paid internships for three consecutive summers.
Awarded by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, the fellowships allow the brightest New York City college students to pursue opportunities working with leading nonprofit, for-profit, government, and law organizations.
Cuevas, a sophomore Political Science major from Woodhaven, Queens, has been drawn to issues of justice since she was 9 years old, when an encounter with corrupt police in the Dominican Republic first exposed her to the fragility of the legal system. "When I realized how corrupt the police are there, I started thinking about New York City and how the system compares," she said. "I wanted to know how people are being protected." Following an internship at King's County Housing Court, Cuevas decided to apply for the Watson Fellowship, but her initial attempt was unsuccessful. "That sparked something in me," she said, resolving to try again the following year.
This past April, Cuevas was thrilled to learn she had been accepted, and she will be starting her first internship in June at the Mayor's Office, working with the Gender Equity Commission. "What I'm really excited about Watson is it lets me explore different interest of mine and see what I like best. I'm hoping that I can find my own direction," she said.
Penuela, a freshman studying Political Science and Economics, is also from Woodhaven, but he wrote most of his application during a spontaneous trip to Columbia. Penuela said he loves to travel, and already plans to spend one of his internship terms in Australia. "My comfort zone is elastic because I'll go wherever my passion takes me," he said.
With long-term plans that include law school and a career in the field of constitutional or immigration law, Penuela said he is looking forward to the challenges and new experiences offered by the fellowship. "I want to be thrown into a situation where I’m not comfortable," he said, "so I can gain confidence and a knowledge of different cultures." This summer, he will intern with The Bronx Defenders, a public defender office in the South Bronx.
Brown is a freshman from Corona, Queens, who has always been involved with law, whether it was moot court or mock trial work in high school or her Political Science major at John Jay. "I want to go to law school for sure after John Jay," she said. "Ultimately, it’s about people’s rights, and protecting them from the government." Brown noted that her double minor in Africana Studies and Gender Studies "is a way to get to know myself a little better."
This summer, she will be working with the nonprofit organization Scenarios USA, which works to develop youth voices in the classroom through storytelling and other artistic mediums. "I've always used education as my own platform to gain awareness, so to have the opportunity to share that with kids is really exciting," she said.
The Watson Fellowship is acclaimed for encouraging students to leave their comfort zones and participate in completely new experiences. According to the program's website, "Fellows experience the expectations and challenges of professional-level work while expanding their personal, cultural and professional horizons." Through rigorous internships in the United States and a final overseas semester spent immersed in a different culture abroad, the fellowship challenges students' existing perspectives and broadens their worldview.
Dr. Charles R. Davidson, Director of the Pre Law Institute, offered high praise for the new Watson Fellows, noting "The success of our students in this highly selective fellowship competition reflects the generous investment of time and effort on the part of dedicated faculty and staff members throughout the College."