Leadership UMiami students head to DC for hands-on experience, learning

Rudy Fernandez, senior vice president for public affairs and communications and chief of staff to the president, addresses Leadership UMiami participants before they depart for Washington, D.C. Photo: Ashley A. Williams/University of Miami

By Ashley A. Williams

Rudy Fernandez, senior vice president for public affairs and communications and chief of staff to the president, addresses Leadership UMiami participants before they depart for Washington, D.C. Photo: Ashley A. Williams/University of Miami

Leadership UMiami students head to DC for hands-on experience, learning

By Ashley A. Williams
Students participating in Leadership UMiami wrap up their final week of the intensive, hands-on program with meetings in Miami and Washington, D.C.

Twenty-four University of Miami students taking part in Leadership UMiami have reached the end of their intensive leadership immersion program.

Their final week began at the Richard D. Gerstein Justice Building in Miami, where the cohort spent Monday afternoon gaining an in-depth look at the criminal justice system before traveling to Washington, D.C., for meetings with members of the U.S. Congress.

Jordan Farrell, a sophomore double majoring in criminology and political science, said visiting the different courtrooms and hearing directly from Miami-Dade County officials including Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit; State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; and correctional officer Everett Atkins has given her a new stance on civic engagement.

“The visit really opened my eyes up,” said Farrell, an aspiring defense attorney. “Officer Atkins gave us a very informative breakdown of the criminal justice system in general. It has shown me that even though our system isn’t perfect there are people involved who are passionate about their duties and willing to share information in a non-elitist way. It was really nice to hear from someone who could explain such a complex system in a way we could understand.”

Mechanical engineering major Brandon Martin appreciated getting a first look at Miami’s judiciary process.

“It was really amusing watching and hearing how the judges of the district courts of appeal make decisions,” said Martin, a senior. “We also got to see how real court cases are. Though I am interested in one day working in the train industry and lobbying for transportation, I loved being able to hear different cases. It was a different aspect to the leadership program we hadn’t had a chance to witness yet.”

The following day, the young leaders met with Rudy Fernandez, the University’s senior vice president for public affairs and communications and chief of staff to the president, for a sendoff just hours before boarding a plane to the nation’s capital. 

“A big part of my career has been about paying it forward,” Fernandez said. He shared snippets of his own experience working in the District of Columbia, where he advised presidential campaigns about immigration policy.

“Anything is possible if you are willing to put in the work and build relationships,” he told the students, encouraging them to continue the work they have started on the Coral Gables campus and in their community. “You’re the type of student who gets involved, and you’re going to be the one to convince your peers to vote in the years to come.”

“The two main takeaways are to get involved and be active,” Fernandez said.

Students landed in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night, and will spend four days in the nation’s capital engaging with elected officials including Rep. Donna E. Shalala and Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to learn more about current issues.

Read more in the series following Leadership UMiami's 2020 cohort.