Rocky and Me: Julia Decerega ’18 Senior Reflection

In the Rocky & Me series, Seniors reflect on their experiences during their time at Dartmouth.

When I walked into Rocky for the first time during one of the many orientation week open houses I attended, I did not imagine at the time the impact the physical building, and the people in it, would ultimately have on my college experience. I had heard about Rocky when I visited Dartmouth during Dimensions, I even took a pretty brochure home at the time. It was comforting to know that Dartmouth had a center dedicated to the study of public policy and to helping students apply their knowledge in the real world, which is what I was looking for in college. This made my decision to choose Dartmouth feel like the right one at the time. 

It certainly was. Four years later, I now know that being involved in Rocky was the single most important decision I made at Dartmouth. I found out about the First-Year Fellows program as soon as I got to campus, and decided it was something I was interested in. I took the required courses, completed the application process, and next thing I knew, a week after the end of my freshman year, there we were, 23 policy-minded, overeager 19-year olds living together in D.C., ready to start our internships.

Though I loved the eight weeks I spent at Voice of America as a Language Programming intern, the highlight of that first summer for me was sharing the experience with my fellow First-Year Fellows. They are some of the brightest, most passionate people I have ever met, and having the opportunity to learn from them and have them as a resource over the last four years has been truly amazing. Their accomplishments never cease to amaze me to this day, and I am excited to continue to follow their successes after graduation. 

After First-Year Fellows, I knew I wanted to continue to be involved in Rocky. Not only did I get to meet incredible peers during the program, I also got the chance to interact with Rocky faculty and staff, who were supportive and helpful from the start. I decided to pursue the Public Policy minor once I got back to campus my sophomore fall. I signed up for PBPL 45: Introduction to Public Policy Research, which is the prerequisite to the Policy Research Shop (PRS). 

My experience with PRS had a significant impact on my Dartmouth life. I worked on research projects almost every term and have looked at issues in everything from education to environmental policy. I had been used to solving problems teachers assigned by following very specific guidelines, usually set by teachers themselves, which rarely left room for creative solutions. PRS changed that. Our projects often encouraged us to come up with our own ideas for solving real challenges state legislators in Vermont and New Hampshire were struggling to solve themselves, and this gave me the sort of skills and knowledge I quickly realized I would need in the real world. I never thought I would enjoy researching about water quality in Vermont and New Hampshire, but two years later, I still catch myself following legislative updates on the issue. 

I took PBPL 85: Global Policy Leadership my Senior Fall, a culminating experience for the minor, designed to provide real world international policy experience. Each year, students study a specific international policy topic during the fall term, and then travel to the country of study. My class had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Liberia meeting with politicians, academics, NGO and business leaders, aid organization members, U.S. diplomats, and other experts. This hands-on experience, which culminated in the collective writing of a 70-page report about the future of Liberia, gave us the unique chance to apply everything we had learned in three and a half years to decide what policy recommendations we believed would best benefit the country. 

My academic and co-curricular pursuits in policy-related fields landed me in Washington, D.C. for all three of my off terms, with Rocky funding for two of those internships. I sought advice and guidance from Rocky staff and faculty while figuring out which options to pursue, and without their help I certainly would not have found a job I am passionate about after graduation – in D.C., of course! I have spent more time in Rocky than in any other building on campus, from class to late night study sessions, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the people and friends I met because of it. I am not sure what to expect from the real world come fall, but I’m confident everything I learned thanks to the Rockefeller Center will help me succeed wherever I end up. 

Julia Decerega, Dartmouth Class of 2018, grew up in Miami, Florida. She graduates with a double major in Government and Romance Studies, along with the minor in Public Policy. After graduation she plans to pursue a career in government and would like to attend graduate school at some point in the near future.