Sheila Lorenzo didn’t expect to end up on Capitol Hill.
Lorenzo applied to George Mason University to pursue a degree in biology but her aspirations swiftly shifted: Biology proved the wrong fit, but the Havana, Cuba-native said she has “always had a natural interest in international relations.”
Now a junior in the Schar School of Policy and Government, Lorenzo made the switch to a government and international politics major and picked up a minor in global affairs. Her studies focus on international policy, with an interest in issues such as terrorism and immigration.
Lorenzo moved to the U.S. in 2016, meaning many of her formative years were shaped by the culture and people of Havana. It also means having grown up in an environment where “the possibility to be involved in policy-making institutions is nearly zero for the regular citizens,” she said.
“Coming from a country where there is no internet or access to many resources, I was hungry for knowledge. I knew I could make a difference with the freedom I had here [in the U.S.]. Having the opportunity to do so has always been a dream of mine.”
Lorenzo has already made that dream a reality—and then some. Outside of her involvement on campus, in which she is an active member of the Chi Kappa chapter of Chi Omega, and participating in her classes, she has made the most of the internship opportunities available to Schar School students.
She started working at Mason at the College of Science’s renowned Ted R. Bradley Herbarium as a research assistant, where working with the internationally recognized collection of dried and pressed plant specimens was fueled by her original fascination with biology.
In spring of 2020, she held an off-campus internship with the California-based nonprofit Planetary Society, where she learned the complexities of creating earthly policy for use in space. “My Planetary Society internship was really fun,” she said. “I was mostly researching issues related to space, attending briefings, and drafting documents.”
And now Lorenzo now holds an “amazing and super interesting” internship on Capitol Hill, working for U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), who represents the Atlanta district previously represented by the late civil rights activist, John Lewis.
“I’ve been able to work closely on issues related to the district of Atlanta,” Lorenzo said. “On a daily basis, my job consists of tending to constituents worries and making sure they are presented to the Congresswoman, drafting letters, and attending conferences.”
The work means a lot to her.
“Knowing that I can be a part of something bigger, that I can make an impact by being involved in policy-making and sharing my story, and that I can educate those around me, is very fulfilling and motivates me to keep going," she said.
From Cuba to Capitol Hill, Lorenzo’s motivation and impact has been undeniable. She makes it abundantly clear that she has no plans on stopping.
“My ambition is to be a living example and a voice for my community,” she said, “for the Cubans who still live on the island, and for Cuban refugees all over the world.”