Mark Pickett – National Veterans Legal Services Program

“How was your summer?”

It’s a simple enough question, but I fear for the days when I return to Nashville where I will have to answer this question ad nauseam as I reconnect with my friends from Vandy. Because I will likely be answering this question multiple times a day in the next few weeks, I had better get my story straight.

This summer was the best summer of my life. In terms of experiences, lessons learned, friendships made or developed, this summer has been remarkable for me and I feel that I am entering my junior year a different person from the one who left Nashville in early May.  With plans to explore the public service sector, I packed my bags for Washington, D.C. and set off on an eight week adventure in the rip-roaring, fasted-paced professional community of our nation’s capital.

Most importantly, the work that I have done with the National Veterans Legal Services Program has taught me just how much of an impact a career in public service can have. Since the beginning of my internship, I have been responsible for learning a magnitude of information regarding injustices faced by our nation’s veterans. By providing pro bono legal representation to veterans who have slipped through the bureaucratic cracks of the US military, NVLSP provides a vital service for free to one our nation’s most vulnerable communities. As time has passed this summer, I have been given more and more responsibility at work to the point that I am sad to leave my desk for the final time this week and hand my projects over to my supervisors. It has been a real privilege to work for such an outstanding organization and such a noble cause this summer.

I have had an interesting perspective on the law-making process this summer. As an intern for a veterans service organization, I have not spent much time on the Hill, but I have been closely following legislation as it moves in and out of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees. Although Congress is often thought of as an obstructionist, hyper-partisan gridlock, I am happy to report that when it comes to Veterans Affairs, our elected officials are more than willing and able to find common ground to work together on. The valuable bipartisan work of the Veterans Affairs Committees reminds me of a quote from Sam Rayburn (the 43rd Speaker of the House), “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one”.  I believe that the information that I have learned this summer about veterans law and the political processes of Washington have given me my first hammer and nails. Who would’ve guessed that a summer in D.C. would have me considering a career in carpentry?

On top of all I have learned this summer through my work, I have made and developed some amazing friendships. I feel so lucky to have become so close with the VIEW cohort, and I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things that I know these people will do in the future. To everyone in the cohort, thank you all for being amazing, intelligent, hilarious individuals, and for putting up with my dumb jokes all summer.

As the sun begins to set on my time in DC, I find it almost difficult to look backward, which is probably why I’m afraid to answer that question, “How was your summer?” In the past eight weeks, I have been in a state of perpetual motion. I have sacrificed sleep, skipped meals, run through the city in 100 degree weather in a suit to catch the Metro more times than I’m willing to admit, and I have not stopped to catch my breath.  Of course, there have been quiet, peaceful, reflective moments along the way, but this city has ignited a fire in me that does not allow for rest and reflection. I’ve tried to learn everything that I possibly could this summer. Although the official last day of my internship is this Friday, I feel like I just got my hammer and my nails. I’m done with DC for summer 2017, but I feel that my work here is just getting started.

 

Some highlights:

  • As a nerd of all things politics and Saturday Night Live, meeting Senator Al Franken at the DNC was definitely one of the coolest things I did this summer
  • Funnily enough, I also ran into Michael Che (one of the co-anchors for Weekend Update on SNL) at one of the Smithsonians
  • Watching the Fourth of July fireworks from the steps of the Capitol Building seemed like a pretty American way to spend Independence Day
  • Reaching out to Vanderbilt alumni and other DC professionals has helped me to realize that basically everyone in DC was an intern at one point or another and everyone wants to help
  • Watching House of Cards on my phone during my lunch break in front of the White House
  • I’ve loved every minute of my time in DC and I’ll cherish all my memories of the Cohort and all of our (mis)adventures in the District!

But anyway, enough about me. How was your summer?

 

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Avi Mediratta – The Steinbruck Center

“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”

 

-Albert Einstein

 

Time seems to move faster in Washington, D.C. Perhaps it is the lifestyle that always keeps you on your feet walking to the next event, meeting the next person, or finding the next opportunity. Perhaps it’s because our minds are always occupied with thoughts about our future. Will I come back to D.C.? What careers should I be looking into? What is my life going to look like in ten years? Perhaps time moves faster because there is always something going on in this city, and when there isn’t, there’s always something going on in our mind.

 

But once in a while, it is worth ignoring the future. It is worth slowing down time a bit in order to appreciate the moment. Besides, sitting on a red-hot cinder as Einstein alluded to can’t be that much worse than walking across D.C. in hundred-degree weather while wearing a full suit and tie. We have all accomplished so much this summer. I have had the privilege of working alongside people who are incredibly passionate about social justice and equality while still being laid-back and easy to get along with. I have also had the opportunity to get involved in local community advocacy regarding affordable housing. Outside of work, I have seen other members of the cohort pursue their passions in their respective jobs, and just how much they have accomplished in these eight short weeks.

 

And I have made so many new friends. They say that as a professional in the job search, it’s all about who you know. This is an oversimplification that makes the entire world of professional networking seem heartless and insincere. When I look around at my new friends in the cohort, I see people who are incredibly smart, talented, and driven. I see the next generation of movers and shakers. We may live off of microwavable chicken nuggets, crack juvenile jokes, and take the wrong metro train twice a week, but we sure have a lot of heart. These are the kind of people that lift you up in life, the kind of people that will be there for you way down the line. They’re the kind of people who care deeply about their friends, their community, and their country. This is my professional network.

 

So, as my time in Washington comes to a close, I hope to soak up this experience as much as possible. I will be forever grateful for the relationships I have formed, the knowledge I have gained, and the memories I have made. I have no idea what is next for me in life, but sometimes that’s ok. Life is pretty fast, but for this last week, like a blue line train during rush hour, I’m going to take it slow.

Victoria Herring – Vanderbilt University Office of Federal Relations

The eleventh floor corner office is a unique place. My first day at the Vanderbilt Office of Federal Relations was a rainy one, and yet the clouds could not deter my anticipation. My fellow VIEW colleague Phyllis had related her experiences in the office to me, and I had been looking forward to working for the greatest University in the country – Vanderbilt, in my humble opinion.

 

I was greeted by Christina West and Janelle St. Croix after coming from six vibrant and eventful weeks on the Hill working for Congressman Jim Cooper. They were friendly and patient with my many questions. The environment in the office is radically different – in Longworth, there is never a moment for silence. There is a constant flow of visitors from the front door, ten interns engaging in loud conversations, three different news sources reverberating from TVs around the room, and a continuous list of presidential statements and briefings that must be tended to. In the Federal Relations office, the quiet is welcoming. It is peaceful and conducive to focused work; while we may not receive as many visitors, we interact with people in conference room meetings and the rapports between offices here is colloquial and inviting.

 

This week marks my first full week at the Vanderbilt University Office of Federal Relations. In a mere five days, I obtained new skills and familiarized myself with office procedure, facilitating my work as intern. With Congress back in session and important science funding and education bills being vehemently debated, this week has been both a lively and animated one. I find the specificity and strategic approach to issues on the private side of DC fascinating: we are there to further Vanderbilt’s agenda and represent the University. We advocate to those who create legislation that influences the way students, myself included, study, pay for school, and use Vanderbilt resources to obtain a valuable degree.

 

Having two different internships while in the VIEW program has been a tremendous opportunity; I have witnessed what it is like to work both on the Hill and with the Hill. While both internships have afforded me a differing perspective, I now know exactly which type of work I want to enter, and I am thankful for my time in DC that has revealed this much anticipated decision. I would like to work in foreign affairs. When I return to Vanderbilt, I will take international relations classes and prepare for the LSAT, after which I will go to law school. My dream is to work in an embassy in Brazil or France, or for the state department, or for the Senate foreign affairs committee – the options are numerous, and the dynamic nature of the work is intriguing. I have seen my peers make similar decisions concerning their careers, and thank VIEW for allowing me the chance to discover my interests as well as the chance to live in an incredible city with an energy and vibrancy all its own.

Joyce Hwang – Data Quality Campaign

Today officially marks the start of my last two weeks of my internship in D.C., and I’m not quite ready to leave yet, to say the least. This summer, however, has made me ready to graduate next year with a confidence and excitement I hadn’t had before. Coming into this summer as a rising senior, I felt anxious, nervous, and frankly, really sad about the thought of having to graduate in the next year. Part of that was because I’ve loved my time at Vandy and couldn’t imagine leaving four amazing years behind. The other part of that, I think, came from my hesitations about what the future would look like post-graduation. However, after genuinely enjoying my time working in D.C., meeting professionals, and living on my own, I’m excited and ready to graduate and embark on the next chapter of my life.

With that said, what will the next chapter look like for me? In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you, and I know that I may not even be able to tell you for a long time, or even in the moment when it comes. What I do know after this summer is that education policy is the field for me. I came to D.C. with a passion for education and the possibility of it as a career choice, but now I’ve solidified that that is the work I want to devote much of my career to. Moreover, I know that D.C. is right where I want to be to do it. I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to explore the field and figure that out by meeting people, attending events, and reading and learning about different issues in the field.

While I’m still in the process of narrowing down what kind of role I want to play in the field, I can tell you what I’ve learned that I don’t see myself doing. For example, I don’t see myself as one of those resilient, on-the-ground practitioners at the school level, whether as a teacher or an administrator. I don’t see myself conducting rigorous education research at a university. I don’t see myself working in communications or using social media to advance education efforts. So now, I’m considering being one of those folks in the middle – facilitating information that policymakers can then use to impact students’ lives. Perhaps I’ll write reports in a think tank. Maybe I’ll staff on the Hill, working on education issues for the legislators themselves. Or, maybe I’d enjoy working in an agency like the Department of Education. While I still have a ton to learn about what my role could like, this summer has made clearer what was originally an out-of-focus picture of what my future work may look like. What’s more, even if I may not be sure yet how I want to work on issues regarding education, I’m thankful I can now say what issues I want to work on. As I’ve been taking in so much about the education field and all its nuances, I’ve been keeping by my desk a running list of issues/topics in education that I’ve found that I am passionate about, including English language learners, education equity, arts education, civil rights, cultural competency, children in foster care, among so many others. These issues, and the children who are affected by these issues, are ultimately the end goal. No matter what my work looks like, if I get to work on such issues in any capacity in the future, I know that my work will be meaningful and worthwhile, and that is what will keep me going post-graduation as I continue (and maybe sometimes even fail) to figure out what my career will look like for me next year.

Phyllis Doremus – Vanderbilt University Office of Federal Relations

Today was like any other day in the office. I was speed walking my way down Independence Avenue, constantly checking my watch in fear that I would be late to the congressional hearing I’d been asked to attend that day. To my dismay, I missed the walk sign and was stuck waiting to cross the street. I tapped my foot in impatience, opening my phone to read the latest news updated I’d just received on my phone. A family approached the crosswalk as well, a young girl and her parents, and the little girl turned to her mom and declared, “I’m gonna work there one day.” I looked up at the large white building, smiling as I listened to this little girl outline her political aspirations to her parents as they crossed the street besides me. Yes it’s cheesy, but I was so incredibly grateful in that moment for the chance to spend my summer running past the building each week. It’s very easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of work, but that moment was a perfect reminder of the amazing opportunities I’ve had this summer and how cool my job is.

My time at Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations has solidified my love for policy work, and helped me to grow more confident in my ability to write strategic memos, my critical thinking skills, and my own prowess and understanding of the inner workings of the federal government. Each day at work I am constantly challenged by the work that we do with a delegation of members that I am not totally familiar with, and many that I fundamentally disagree with on key policy issues. Despite the plethora of classes I’ve taken about Public Policy, there is nothing like experiencing the process first hand through an internship.

It’s hard to believe we’re even at the point where I am asked to consider the “now what”. I have grown so much this summer, professionally and personally, and I owe so much of that to my internship experience as well as the support of the amazing people who have been on this journey with me. I cannot say enough about the cohort of individuals who are a part of the VIEW program. We shared similar struggles, dreams, and fears this summer and being able to have others who really understood some of the critical issues one confronts when considering careers in public service was incredibly helpful. It also rocked to have other people who get as excited about historical monuments and politics as I do. And people who take weekly Monday night trivia as seriously as I do. But I digress.

The work that I have done this summer helped me realize that I love government relations, and helped inform my future career aspirations for next summer and beyond. The number of individuals willing to take time out of their days to let me ask question after question about their career was perhaps the most formative part of my summer, as their candid answers helped me to gain much needed perspective about the abundance of career paths available in this city. I would love to come back to DC next summer and continue to pursue these interests, but who knows where the next cycle of internship searches will take me.

 

Ashley Davis – The Livingston Group

Just like everyone else, I cannot believe I have only three weeks left in D.C.! This has been one of the most memorable summers I’ve had; with living in a new city, meeting new people, and coping with my first “real-life” job, it’s incredible how much I’ve learned, both professionally and personally.

Coming into The Livingston Group, I was worried I would not be prepared for the type of work I would be doing. And I was definitely right! No political science class could have readied me for adapting to a fast-paced world where news breaks every few seconds and policy briefings need to be churned out in minutes. At first, I was overwhelmed with how much I did not know

But then, I began to see every moment where I didn’t know something not as an excuse, but as an opportunity to learn something new. Just a few days ago, I was tasked with preparing a report on the relationship between the US and Qatar. I know NOTHING about Qatar, and less than nothing about its relationship with our country. But as I dove into researching the subject, I found the task gradually less daunting. In fact, I enjoyed learning about the foreign relations between our two countries and analyzing the impact of the articles I read.

I’ve learned about Ukrainian steel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Iran nuclear deal. I’ve learned how to write policy briefs, find contacts for congressional staffers, and conduct myself in a professional setting. I’ve also learned how to build relationships with other professionals and how generous people are with their time. I have formed many connections with various people in various industries, who are all so kind and willing to help me figure out what I want to do with my life and how to get there.

By speaking with these people, I think I am monumentally closer to figuring out a general career path for myself. Leaving D.C., I want to make sure I preserve these relationships in order to learn from others as they progress on their own career path.

I’m going to miss living in D.C. a lot, but I’m mostly going to miss our cohort!!! The best part about VIEW has been having a reliable, intelligent, fun group of people to share my successes and failures, my highs and my lows. They have been the best people to have on this journey in Washington, and I am so incredibly thankful for them. I cannot wait to see what amazing things each one of them is going to do following VIEW, and I’m proud to say I knew them when we were all just lowly, innocent, unpaid interns in the capital city.

Kayla Butsko – Department of Commerce

I can not believe I am half-way through the summer! My experience in Washington D.C. interning at the Minority Business Development Agency for the Department of Commerce has been so meaningful to me. I have learned more about myself and what I want in a career. I now have a stronger direction for the path I want to take in my professional life.

Public Service is a career field where you must learn to be more selfless and humble. Having patience, a giving heart, and mindfulness is so important. Working in public service is not about gaining power or prestige, it is about being committed to serve a community. I value having the opportunity to work for a place where my efforts are having a positive impact on others’ lives.

I’ve also learned more about values I want in my career environment. I thrive in an environment where people exhibit enthusiasm and positive attitudes. I was so encouraged during the midst of many work assignments when staff members reached out to me to get coffee or lunch. I learned how much I value meaningful supportive relationships in the workplace. Hearing others stories’ behind their dedication to the cause and mission of MBDA was inspiring.

Additionally, I have learned more about the ins and outs of living in a big city. Navigating the city and dealing with its size can be overwhelming at times, but I found that there is so much opportunity here for professional and personal development. I love being surrounded by so many passionate people.  I have enjoyed being in D.C.and can see myself working here in the future, possibly in an business-related government agency or in consulting.

In an academic sense, I am even more excited to take on my Human and Organizational Development and Psychology classes and tie them into what I’ve learned at my internship. I value my education and want to take every chance I have to grow in knowledge and experience.  I am so grateful for my summer here in Washington D.C.

 

 

CARA BUMCROT – DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE

As cliché as it sounds, it is hard to believe I’ve been here for over 6 weeks now! Somehow it simultaneously feels as though I’ve been here forever, and my first days seem so long ago. Yet also, I feel like the summer is slipping away fast and there is still so much more I want to do and see while I am here. My favorite thing about D.C. has been the fact that there is always something to do, if you put in minimal effort. We all work all day every day – many of us for the first time at a desk job. It is extremely tiring, so it’s very easy to go home after work or on the weekends and jump right into bed and binge watch Netflix. However, you can do that anywhere. There are infinite unique, amazing things this city alone has to offer, so I have been getting intense cabin fever pretty much every time I am in my apartment.

That is where the cohort comes in. Anxious to check off everything on my bucket list, I have started just texting in the cohort Groupme saying “does anyone want to do something”, and a few people are always down! That’s the best part about the cohort; it is a fun group of very different people who fit well together, we always have fun, we have similar interests and values – and we’re all tourists, so there are always others who will actually be interested in going to museums with me.

The cohort has been especially great for me since I am the only intern in my department at the DNC. I like my coworkers, but it definitely gets lonely not having people your own age around to talk to. That being said, there are numerous aspects of my department culture that I do really like. It is just myself and 3 female staffers, and they have all been wonderful in giving me interesting projects, helping me learn about D.C. and jobs in the field in general, as well as giving suggestions of places to go or to eat at.

The DNC also sent about 30 of the interns down to Atlanta, Georgia for a week to help work on Jon Ossoff’s Congressional Campaign. Many of the other interns had plenty of canvassing experience whereas I had never worked on a campaign before. It was definitely a very unique, valuable experience that I do think everyone interested in the political field should have at some point, but it also confirmed for me that I do not want to work on the election/campaign side of politics; I much prefer the policy side, once people are already in office.

I went into this summer with vague interests, goals and expectations, mainly hoping that it would help me in some way solidify some goals or plans for my future. It really has done just that – this job has taught me about what I like to do, as well as what I don’t like to do (equally important), provided me with amazing connections in various fields, from whom I have gotten great advice. My experiences in this city have led me to look into careers at the State Department, and realize that many positions there combine my interests and skills perfectly, and I can’t wait to pursue that further! Maybe I will intern there next summer!

Farah Arif – Senator Dick Durbin

As I write this, I have just three days left at my internship and I’m pretty torn up about it! After almost 8 weeks of a full-time work schedule, of commuting every day on the metro, of giving tours to constituents and VIP guests, of answering phones during the great Senate GOP health care bill debacle, of running into people I’ve only seen on TV before this (KAMALA HARRIS IS EVERYTHING I EVER WANT TO BE by the way), of befriending some of the coolest people I’ve ever met in the form of my co-interns – I’m going to miss this place a lot! There’s so much to say, but for this post I’ll focus on how serendipitous this summer has been for me.

Serendipity  – an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

I’m someone who firmly believes that things have a way of working out in the end, often unexpectedly and for the better. This summer in D.C. has emphasized this belief even further. My main example of this is my experience giving tours to constituents from Illinois and guests of our staffers and the Senator.

 When I first came to learn that giving tours would be one of my major tasks, I was a little apprehensive. I’ve always been more reserved and have trouble speaking loudly. I didn’t think I would be able to engage a group at all, but surprisingly, giving tours quickly became my favorite duty.

Our office receives fewer tour requests than offices on the House side, so generally I gave 2-3 tours a week and always with a partner. I came to cherish this hour or so out of the office. I loved talking to people from all over my home state and even from different countries. Some memorable groups include:

  1. My first tour ever was kind of thrown at me and I didn’t know the route or most of the information, but the two ladies were the sweetest and very patient. They live streamed parts of it on Facebook live, so I’m definitely on the internet somewhere, making an utter fool of myself, but we all have to start somewhere!
  2. I also gave a tour to a former Senator of Ireland and her family. We spent the time breaking down the differences between American and Irish politics, and exchanged contact information at the end, so overall I’m pretty proud of that tour!
  3. My tour this past Friday was very different as we decided to explore more exclusive parts of the Capitol building with a couple and their two kids (who were so well behaved and passionate about learning? WOW). We went out on Speaker Paul Ryan’s balcony, which has been on my bucket list all summer! The woman’s sister is actually a Vandy alum who also interned for a senator at some point, so that was very cool and I’m hoping to reach out to her soon. The couple is very involved in Illinois’s education system, so they also said they would love to help me figure out career plans in education.

I’ve made some of my best networking moves while giving tours, which is something I absolutely did not expect. And I was actually pretty good at giving the tours too! The other day, I received a call from a constituent who went on and on about how great his tour with me was, and it honestly made my whole week!! Giving tours has taught me to be confident about my public speaking because in the end no one is going to care if you mess up a fact or two. As an intern, you’re the public face of the office, so greet them with a smile and make sure to ask them about their story too – you never know what you’ll learn! Be open to your weaknesses, the unknown, and the unexpected; I promise you’ll be better off.

Eunice Sohn – Council of State Governments

It has already been three weeks and a day since I started my internship. I remember the first night before my internship: setting several alarm clocks, checking and re-checking the directions to my internship site, picking out my business professional outfit, and packing my bag for the next day. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions and I have already learned so much from my experiences thus far.

The first week, the first day was the toughest with an overwhelming amount of writing and research ahead. I spent the first week questioning my abilities, worrying, and wasting my time. At the first cohort meeting, someone mentioned taking advantage of every opportunity and allowing room for mistakes. We also discussed our goals for the summer and for me, it was simple: to learn. The following week, I completely changed my attitude towards my internship. I was given various tasks and I took on all the tasks even the ones I wasn’t confident about. Now, realizing the fleeting time, I value every moment at work and it amazes me how much I have learned in the past three weeks. I am truly grateful for all the opportunities I have stumbled across and am excited for the remaining weeks.

During my time here, I have also spent most of my weekends exploring D.C. There are so many amazing restaurants, museums, galleries, monuments, events, and places to visit. I quickly realized that I won’t be able to visit all these places if I don’t actively schedule them into my calendar. I plan out my weekend ahead of time, so I can visit all the restaurants and attractions during my time here. Exploring D.C. also meant meeting new people. I went to my first official networking event, had several informational interviews, enjoyed the VIEW cohort events, and established Sushi Thursdays with my fellow interns. The people I have met are not only accomplished and driven, but are also welcoming and encouraging. They are all different with different interests and personalities and I have learned so much from every single one of them. I can finally see why people love Washington D.C. so much.