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Giselle Cordero

College: Queens College
Awards: New York City Urban Fellows Program, 2017

Learning to Become an Agent of Change

Working as a college aide sanitarian for the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 2014, Giselle Cordero had to enforce health regulations at day camps and other sites where low-income youngsters came for lunch. "A lot didn't have coolers or refrigerators to keep food at the required temperature, so the food needed to be thrown out," she recalls.

That offered a quick lesson in public policy: spending money on coolers and ice could have saved 200 meals at a time - and insured that those children got a daily meal.

Cordero, who earned a bachelor's degree from Queens College this year, recently won a 2017 New York City Urban Fellowship, a nationally competitive, nine-month New York City program that introduces participants to local government, public policy and public service.

"I aspire to become an agent of change and empower those who otherwise feel voiceless under our current system. I want to be an attorney and work in public service, so I can better contribute to my community and address its needs," says Cordero, who majored in political science and government.

She already has quite a start.

In 2015, she worked in the health department's Public Health Engineering Bureau with the team that combated an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. Shortly after, she interned in Albany with then-Assembly Member Guillermo Linares. "I had to quickly adapt and learn the ropes of the office. The experience improved my research skills, and I learned how to draft memorandums and press releases. I sat in on meetings with constituents and attended legislative sessions. Mr. Linares was an incredible mentor."

Cordero is particularly proud of her analysis of a bill to protect undocumented, domestically abused immigrant women from prosecution by state and local authorities. She says her research was published in the state interns' handbook.

In summer 2016, Cordero, an American-born child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador, interned with her own congresswoman, Nydia Velázquez, through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI).

"I enjoyed the policy briefings, where we learned about issues impacting the community and formulated recommendations to solve them. Belonging to two minority groups, as a Hispanic woman who comes from a low-income neighborhood, I was encouraged by being surrounded by women in power who give us a voice," she says.  "Being part of CHCI, which is full of dedicated, young professionals who want to help their communities, motivates me to continue to strive to break down the barriers placed on all minority groups."

Cordero attended a prelaw summer institute at SUNY Buffalo in 2015 and now works in an attorney's office as a paralegal. She intends to apply to law school after her Urban Fellowship.