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Internships in D.C. Place Students at Center of Political Activity

Publication Date: 11/19/2012

The following is Part I of a five-part series on internships in D.C. We start with the series’ writer, Caroline Ponseti ’15, as she takes us through a first-person look at her experience.

Caroline Ponseti ’15

Last summer, I experienced the rite of passage of every political science major—an internship in Washington, D.C. As a D.C. intern, you aren’t just exposed to current affairs, you’re thrown straight into them, which is an exciting experience in itself. When you live in the nation’s capital, you never know what kinds of situations you will find yourself in—or how much your body will freeze up when former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is sitting across from you on the Senate tram.

My internship, which followed my freshman year at Rhodes, was with Sen. David Vitter, who represents my home state of Louisiana. I had many new lifestyle changes to adjust to—including my wardrobe’s evolution from sundresses to pencil skirts. I lived alone in a small apartment on Capitol Hill and walked five minutes to work every morning in the Hart Senate building, one of the three Senate office buildings. In Sen. Vitter’s office, I worked in the “press shop,” aided staffers with research, and did typical Congressional intern tasks like answering phone calls from concerned constituents and giving tours of the Capitol to Louisianans.

My time in the press shop exposed me to the government’s relationship with the media, a behind-the-scenes aspect of political science that has always fascinated me. Through drafting press releases and updating correspondences with the press, I became a part of the process of how the media gets their information on what is happening in government and gained understanding of the method behind what stories appear on the news on any given day. I even had the opportunity to draft a script for a video message, a task which both excited and intimidated me.

Additionally, I researched new social media outlets for the senator to use to better interact with his constituents. It was an unusual feeling to be on Pinterest, FourSquare, and Instagram and be doing actual research instead of browsing the latest sugar-free granola bar recipe. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to be a part of the process through which modern-day government is utilizing the growing opportunities of technology.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my internship was having direct contact with constituents, either through giving tours of the Capitol or answering phone calls. These interactions enlightened me about what the citizens of our state are passionate about and demonstrated the importance of a government that is accessible to the people.

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