When Elizabeth Mendoza ’14 secured a coveted placement with the U.S. Senate Budget Committee through Columbia Law School’s Externship on the Federal Government in Washington, D.C., the position was the next logical step in a developing career.
A native of Yakima, Washington, and the daughter of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, Mendoza worked in local politics after graduating from Dartmouth College. She became a community organizer in her hometown, served as a board member for the civic engagement organization Washington Bus, and won a spot as a state delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
After she was accepted into the Law School’s prestigious externship program—run by Social Justice Initiatives—Mendoza set her sights on the committee chaired by Sen. Patty Murray, Washington State’s senior Democratic senator.
“I knew that I wanted to work with Sen. Murray,” Mendoza says. “I’ve followed her career closely. Her values really align with mine. Politics is something I’ve been interested in since high school, but I’ve always been involved at the state level. I’d never lived in D.C., and I thought, ‘This is my last shot before I go back to Washington State.’”
Mendoza spent the semester working full-time in the Budget Committee counsel office, researching everything from the IN-STATE for Dreamers Act and patent reform to the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless adults. She was profiled in a recent feature in The Seattle Times.
“Because the budget touches everything—health care, education, defense, entitlement programs—basically any topic that I wanted to take on was available to me,” Mendoza says. “The experience and connections I made were invaluable.”
During her time in Morningside Heights, Mendoza excelled in the classroom, earning James Kent Scholar status for her grade point average. She also served as a representative and member of two student groups—the Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Latino/a Law Student Association—and was a student intern for Columbia Law School’s Mass Incarceration Clinic.
After graduation, the self-described “Pacific Northwest girl” is headed back to the West Coast where she will spend a year clerking for Judge Richard C. Tallman of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before starting a job at Perkins Coie in Seattle, about a two-hour drive from the town where she once rose before dawn to pick fruit with her parents.
She plans to stay involved with her community.
“Staying engaged in underrepresented communities, especially in helping improve voter participation, is vital,” she says. “I was born and raised in Yakima; that’s where my family is; it’s always going to be on the radar for me.”