D.C. internships bring new opportunities

During the past fall semester I decided to study in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., through American University and the Washington Semester Program here at Carnegie Mellon. As a Pittsburgh native and a Carnegie Mellon student, I had never been far away for a long period of time. Being away from home and leaving my teammates on the women’s basketball team were two of the hardest setbacks I had to consider before making my final decision to go.

This time a year ago, I began hearing information about the Washington Semester Program, and I decided to look into it a little more. As a public policy and management major, I figured there was no better place to go to see how I could put my major to use. I applied, got accepted, and was able to go with the help of a Friedman Fellowship that I had applied for and received.

The Washington Semester Program has an internship component you must complete during your time in D.C. The program I was in — public law — required two full days of internship experience a week. Though the Washington Semester Program guarantees placement in an internship, I wanted to gain some job searching experience. Over the summer, I began looking for an internship for my arrival in D.C. I applied with several members of Congress and governmental agencies. I have some interest in environmental policy, and I landed an internship with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Office of Pesticides, Prevention, and Toxic Substances.

My internship choice turned out to be a great one. The people I worked with were knowledgeable, and the experience was relevant to what I wanted as my career. At the end of my semester, my supervisor offered me a continuation of my internship during the summer. By doing this, I will be considered a member of the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), and upon completion of 640 hours I will be eligible for noncompetitive conversion to a full-time employee when I graduate. This alone justified my going to D.C. for the semester because I gained connections, and even a potential career, that I would not have otherwise.

My internship, though, did not make up my entire experience in D.C. The city itself was a great experience: seeing the sights, going to sporting events and museums, and realizing more and more every day that I wanted to work for the federal government in some way. I lived in an apartment on Capitol Hill, run by Washington Intern Student Housing (WISH). The location and ability to become more independent gave me an even greater experience.

The public law program through American gave me both professional preparation and memories that I could never forget. The setting of the program was different from that of a traditional class. We were required to dress professionally every day, and we were encouraged to write and speak more professionally. We were hardly even in a classroom, instead constantly traveling throughout the city to see sights and meet professionals or observe the proceedings within the sites. Each day provided a novel learning experience that could not be provided anywhere but in our nation’s capital.

My class met a representative from the National Rifle Association and a representative from the Brady Center for Gun Control. They provided two very different perspectives on the Second Amendment. They gave me a greater understanding of both sides of the gun control issue, and also made me better able to develop my own opinion on this controversial issue.

We also met Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart,Clerk of Supreme Court William Suter, Congressman James McGovern, attorneys in the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, and the chief judge of both the D.C. District Court and the Federal Appellate Court.

We also met with additional members of Congress: Jim McDermott, Pete Sessions, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Betsy Markey, Anthony Weiner, Bill Delahunt, Mary Bono Mack, and Bobby Scott. We also met Senator Richard Burr and Congressman John Conyers, who is also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. We got to watch the closing arguments of the Kevin Ring trial, (He was an actor in the Abramoff scandal.) We met several more judges and attorneys, and the executives of the Boeing Company, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, Pepsico International, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration. Of course meeting the people mentioned was great, but learning about the different positions and administrations was an even greater experience. From of all of my experiences, the most vivid in my mind is meeting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and watching a Supreme Court argument.

Words cannot describe how amazing my time in D.C. really was. My experiences, though, aren’t the only thing I took away from the Washington Semester Program. I now know what direction I want my life to go in. I recently applied to the Heinz School for an accelerated master’s in public policy and management and am going back to D.C. this summer to continue working for the EPA to fulfill my SCEP hours requirement. Upon graduation I hope to return to the EPA full-time and move throughout the government. My decision to study in Washington, D.C. turned out to be one of the best and most influential decisions of my life.