From SDSU to the White House: Raul Leon's inspiring internship in D.C. leads to job offer back home

A chance to meet the President of the United States was a dream come true for Raul Leon, a 2023 geography graduate.

Monday, January 22, 2024
SDSU alum Raul Leon is photographed outside of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
SDSU alum Raul Leon is photographed outside of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Not many recent San Diego State University alumni have walked the halls of the White House, let alone met the President of the United States. For Raul Leon, a geography alumnus, this became a reality as part of the internship program of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

After graduating in May 2023, Leon applied for an internship with U.S. Rep Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach) in Washington, D.C. Leon’s background in geography, focused on environmental and sustainability issues and policy, equipped him with a diverse skill set that proved useful in the representative's office.

"Geography is very broad," Leon said. "It's not just data-based; it encompasses different perspectives, including human quantitative data. The skills I learned in my SDSU geography courses — from policies and politics to GIS and various mapping techniques — really propelled my career."

During his internship, Leon’s contributions included translating scripts for speeches delivered in Spanish by the representative. Leon said this experience was particularly touching, as it underscored the importance of representation and demonstrated the representative's commitment to serving the diverse needs of the Latinx community.

Reflecting on his time in Washington, D.C., Leon acknowledged the historical significance of the events he witnessed, from potential impeachment proceedings to government shutdowns. The experience provided him with an insider's perspective on the workings of the U.S. government during a pivotal period. 

Dolores Huerta with SDSU alum Raul Leon.
Raul Leon attended the Green Latinos nonprofit reception where he met Dolores Huerta for the first time. Sept. 27, 2023.
A standout moment for Leon was the chance to meet President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other members of the administration. During one ceremony, Leon danced with Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association and a historical figure he had long admired; it was a moment he called “a blessing.”

These encounters made his internship experience memorable. 

Leon's journey from a transfer student, with a vision to start a geography club at SDSU to becoming its first president of the club and later a representative for A.S. GreenLove, a sustainability initiative, showcases his dedication to leadership and community engagement.

"I always aim high," Leon said, highlighting the importance of resilience and determination in the face of challenges. Leon sees his career achievements as a testament to the sacrifices made by his immigrant parents who he said had an unwavering commitment to help him create a stable future through education.

SDSU Raul Leon stands outside of the president's office in the White House, in Washington, D.C.
SDSU Raul Leon stands outside of the president's office in the White House, in Washington, D.C.
“I'm a first-generation student — the first one in my family to graduate,” he said.

Leon savors the opportunities now open to him after humble beginnings growing up and walking to school near refineries and freeways in Los Angeles.

“I always take a picture of the Capitol each time I walk to work. It's one of those ‘I-cannot-believe-I'm-here’ moments — every day.”

With the chance to meet his heroes in Washington, D.C. (and now accepting employment in Garcia’s district office), Leon has come full circle in pursuing a career aligned with his passion.

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