Queens Native and Watson Fellow Seeks Justice For All | Macaulay Honors College

10/18/2019

Student and Alumni News

Getting things done ahead of the pack seems to be a theme for Aaron Fernando, who grew up in diverse South Richmond Hill. After learning about Macaulay and attending an open house at John Jay, he was sold at once and ready to keep the momentum going.

“The themes of justice and advocacy really spoke to me,” recalls Fernando, a double major in Law & Society and Philosophy. “As soon as they sent out an email with interview dates and times, I picked literally the very first one.”

Then, in the very first semester of his freshman year, he applied to intern in U.S. Senator and Presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand’s office—and he was selected, making him the youngest person in the office at just 17 years old.

“Working for Senator Gillibrand was incredibly humbling,” Fernando says. “There were people on my same level who were in their 30s, and one of my coworkers came here from the UK to take the internship for law school. And here’s little old me, taking the train in from Queens every day!”

Then, at the start of his sophomore year, Fernando was one of just four Macaulay students selected to become part of its 20th class of Jeannette K. Watson Fellows. Through this prestigious award, Fernando will spend each summer interning for important organizations—first in New York City, then in the U.S. or abroad.

In summer 2019, Fernando interned at TransitCenter, a nonprofit that seeks to improve public transit and make cities environmentally sustainable and socially just. He researched hiring trends at the MTA for a transit plan the foundation is creating to help influence the conversation on how public transportation in New York could be improved to benefit the city and the citizens.

As he thinks ahead to both his next internship and his career path—potentially to law school and a focus on civil rights—he’s considering more avenues to explore public policy and how it relates to law.

“Right now, I’m learning more about equal voting rights, especially in the Southwest,” says Fernando. “In places like Montana and South Dakota, there are high Native American populations that experience low voter turnout. There are lots of reasons why this could be—voter suppression laws and not having standard physical addresses, for example—but I think it would be interesting to work with a voting rights organization to learn more and see what we can do to help change the policies and make an impact.”

When he’s not seeking to right social inequalities around the country, Fernando is staying busy here at home—he’s on the Macaulay Scholars Council as the elected representative for his John Jay cohort and the vice president of Campus Affairs, as well as the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Macaulay’s SCRIBE Magazine.