College: Baruch College
Awards: Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals Fellowship, 2016; New York City Urban Fellows Program, 2016
Studying Germany to Help Staten Island
All politics may be local, as former House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously said, but sometimes the route toward becoming effective in Staten Island means a detour through Germany. At least that's the way Sebastian Franco (Baruch College, '16) sees it.
A devoted Staten Islander, Franco will work in Germany's government through a rare Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), a yearlong program funded by the U.S. Congress and its German counterpart and administered by the U.S. State Department. Just 75 young Americans and 75 young Germans in all career fields get to learn the other country's language and experience what makes it tick.
"I call Germany a ‘for example' country," Franco says. "Whenever you look at happiness levels, health care, sex education, salaries or green energy, the ‘for examples' are Germany and the Nordic countries." He sees much to learn there that could benefit his city and his country.
Not speaking German, he'll begin with language immersion this summer. He learned Spanish from his parents, who immigrated from Colombia and El Salvador in the 1980s and 1990s. "I consider them the most fascinating people I've ever met," he says.
Franco already understands New York City's political scene. He began interning for local Democrats and working in their campaigns at 14. He did stints in the offices of City Council Member Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, State Sen. José Peralta of Queens, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who represents parts of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan and Queens, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
He also was offered a 2016 New York City Urban Fellowship, but declined it in favor of the German program. The Urban Fellowship does on the city level what CBYX does on the international level.
When Franco returns from Germany, he expects to enroll in Carnegie Mellon University for a master's in public policy. And then he intends to focus on local work in Staten Island, "to help my community, my hometown. There's a lot that can be done to make people's lives easier and more enjoyable."
He says major issues include transportation, "just getting to work," and "living every day affordably." Staten Island also suffers from heroin and prescription drug abuse; which he favors treating as a mental health issue. "There has to be proper treatment. And there have to be more educational and other programs after school to give students the same opportunities that helped get me get to where I am today."