Student Interns with White House Initiative for Hispanics


Selena Huapilla-Perez, an Interdisciplinary Humanities senior, was one of four students from across the nation selected for an internship with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH).

Part of the U.S. Department of Education, the WHIEEH was established in 1990 to address the educational disparities faced by the Hispanic community and offers undergraduate students a unique look into educational policies with a focus on Latino students. 

As part of the internship, Huapilla-Perez spent this past summer in Washington, D.C., working closely with Hispanic community leaders from across the nation and participating in research focusing on institutions that serve those communities. She even had a seat at the table with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos where she had the opportunity to present her ideas.

girl in red shirt standing next to blue white house education sign
Selena Huapilla-Perez


“As a Latina, I know that historically my community has had little to no say in matters regarding our education, and has had little representation in conversations with people in these positions of power,” Huapilla-Perez said. “This internship reminded my how important my work with education is, and as an educator, I must be successful, not because I have a reputation to keep, but because I have a community to serve.”

The WHIEEH internship gave Huapilla-Perez a first-hand look at how educational policies are created. She attended meetings, briefings, and special events, and gained a new perspective on education at the federal level. 

“What I loved most about my internship was the ability to get a behind-the-scenes look at the way education policies affect our classrooms and communities nationwide,” Huapilla-Perez said. “Prior to this internship, I’ve had experiences working within many classrooms, both in the United States and abroad, so the opportunity to interact with education on a federal level was so different but very necessary for me.”

This internship reminded my how important my work with education is, and as an educator, I must be successful, not because I have a reputation to keep, but because I have a community to serve.

Huapilla-Perez saw first-hand the importance of not only educators, but also change agents in regard to the policies that affect classrooms. She also discovered how broad her options are as an educator and has set her sights on some day pursuing the role of U.S. Secretary of Education. 

“During my internship, I was able to learn more about all the past Secretaries of Education. None of them looked like me or had an educational background like mine,” Huapilla-Perez said. “With each secretary I saw, I become more and more inspired – inspired to become the first Latina Secretary of Education!”

The WHIEEH internship, which was unpaid, was made possible in part by a scholarship Huapilla-Perez received from the College of Arts & Letters’ Excel Network.

three women standing in front of flags and department of education plaque
Selena Huapilla-Perez (left) with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (middle) and fellow WHIEEH intern and Texas A&M University student Valentina Tover (right).


“I am so thankful for the experience," Huapilla-Perez said, "and above all very proud to have been one of the first students from Michigan State to intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics at the U.S. Department of Education.”  

Also joining Huapilla-Perez in Washington, D.C., for the WHIEEH internship this past summer was fellow Michigan State University student, Leobardo Vallejo, a Political Science major. Huapilla-Perez and Vallejo are the first MSU students to ever be selected for the program.

During her time at MSU, Huapilla-Perez has had a number of study abroad experiences. She traveled with a service learning program to Merida, Mexico, where she volunteered at an orphanage for children with disabilities. She also did a semester abroad at the University of the Philippines Los Banos and taught indigenous Filipinos. And, she did a study abroad in Europe where she visited schools that were taking in large numbers of refugees. 

I was able to learn more about all the past Secretaries of Education. None of them looked like me or had an educational background like mine. With each secretary I saw, I become more and more inspired – inspired to become the first Latina Secretary of Education!

With an impressive amount of experience under her belt, Huapilla-Perez plans to graduate in the spring. 

“Before my summer internship in Washington, D.C., I had an idea of a career(s) I wanted to pursue – the role of a college transition advisor, a global educator, work with the Peace Corps, student affairs, or even a Chicano/Latino Studies professor,” Huapilla-Perez said. “Now, however, I have much bigger plans in mind for myself. After seeing how underrepresented Latinxs are and how we are changing the conversation within education, it makes me reconsider my career choice.”