There is an extraordinary opportunity for college graduates from the valley to learn about and get hands-on experience in government and the process of implementing public policy. It’s called the California Senate Fellows Program and it’s one of the most prestigious programs of its kind in the nation.

Every year hundreds of college graduates apply to become full-time Senate staff members at the state Capitol in Sacramento for 11 months. From the hundreds of applicants, only 18 are chosen. Fellows receive a monthly stipend of $2,627 plus full health, vision and dental benefits. They also earn six units of graduate credit from the Sacramento State Government Department.

I had the honor of being chosen for the Senate Fellows class of 2013-2014 and had the privilege of working for state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, who represents my hometown and most of the area I grew up in.

Unlike most paid internships, the Senate Fellows Program works more like an apprenticeship, with a mentor dedicated to your development and growth. Fellows get to learn about and have an effect on the very policies that come out of Sacramento, and often personally work on legislation or regulations resulting from them.

As a fellow, you are being trained to be a member of the Senate’s staff, and thus take on many of those same responsibilities handled by full-time staff members. I spent much of my time as a fellow in Vidak’s office working on legislation, analyzing policies, meeting with various groups interested in state policy and legislation, and working on issues of concern to Vidak’s constituents.

I also learned about most of the major policies that affect my community and how our office could better represent the folks living there. After serving in Vidak’s Capitol office, I was hired to be one of his district representatives in the Central Valley.

Don’t let the prestige of the program intimidate you. Anyone from any background who is a college graduate and at least 20 years old can apply. Any major may apply, not just those with studies focused on government, political science or public policy. All an applicant really needs, in addition to the academic and age requirements, is an interest in public policy and service.

For example, I was born in Delano and raised in Earlimart. I’m a first-generation university graduate from a rural community. I attended Bakersfield College and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State Bakersfield.

It was during my undergraduate studies that I became especially passionate about politics. That passion led to leadership positions in various campus organizations, attending an academic seminar from The Washington Center at our nation’s capital, and receiving an award of recognition from the Center for Kern Political Education.

Because of the Senate Fellows Program, I am now able to bring all my experience and knowledge from my fellowship to serve my community.

Unfortunately, very few college graduates from the valley apply for the Senate Fellow Program. We need Central Valley voices in Sacramento and this program is a great way to do that. I can only imagine how much difference a couple of more fellows being selected every year from the Central Valley could make.

The deadline to apply for the 2017-18 program is Feb. 13. For more information, go to www.csus.edu/calst/programs.

If you are a college graduate who is passionate about the future of our Valley, I encourage you to apply.

Rogelio Caudillo is the district representative for state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford.