Antonia Quintero, a student of USCB in Bluffton, shares a fist bump with U.S. Congressman James Clyburn in Washington, D.C. Quintero is a resident of Hilton Head Island. COURTESY USCB

Antonia Quintero of Hilton Head Island recently became a U.S. citizen – and she celebrated this milestone by immersing herself in national politics. Quintero, who was born in Colombia and grew up in South Carolina, just spent a semester working for U.S. Congressman James Clyburn in Washington, D.C.

A senior at the Bluffton campus of the University of South Carolina Beaufort, she participated in a highly competitive selection process to become a congressional intern. This fall, she was behind the scenes of the U.S. legislative process, attending meetings and helping constituents who called to express their concerns about issues large and small. The phones never stop ringing at Clyburn’s office – he has represented South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District since 1993 and is the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, as well as chairman of the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

“I had an incredible experience,” she said. “I wasn’t as aware of what was going on in politics before. I learned how to communicate across many different levels, and how to take good notes quickly that others on my team would be able to understand later.”

South Carolina residents contacted Clyburn’s office to express their opinions about the incoming administration’s cabinet picks, and request that lawmakers pass a second COVID-relief stimulus package, among other concerns, Quintero said.

She describes Clyburn, who has crusaded for civil rights and racial justice since the 1960s, as accessible – despite his busy schedule and tremendous leadership responsibilities.

“He is interested in where you’re from and what you think,” she said. “He wants to know what is important to the younger generation.”

After graduation, Quintero, 21, plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration with concentrations in advocacy and public policy. The personal connections she made in D.C. “could really help me in the future,” she said.