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The Washington Initiative: Live and Learn in D.C.

Mar 27, 2018


smiling students and professorDuring January Term (J-term) 2018, eight Randolph-Macon College students experienced what it's like to live and intern in Washington, D.C. Their internships were made possible in part by R-MC's Washington Initiative and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

The Washington Initiative
The Washington Initiative, which was launched in 2014 at Randolph-Macon College, was created to enhance opportunities for students and make the most of its ideal proximity to the national capital. Over the past four years, this initiative has helped fund over 40 student trips to Washington, D.C., enabling hundreds of students to explore the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, The Library of Congress, The National Archives, and dozens of other sites.

Political Science Professor Elliott Fullmer, director of the program, has sought to expand the Washington Initiative to help assist students participating in internships in D.C.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund
"The expenses associated with housing and transportation can be an impediment to students who hope to intern in D.C," he explains. "The college has previously benefited from generous donors who have helped support students completing public service internships. Both the Louis and Nan Renjel Fund and the Porter Hardy Internship program offer fellowships to help fund student expenses while interning in D.C. In 2016, the Washington Initiative program was awarded a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund to further support those expenses. During summer 2017, six students interned in Washington, with their housing completely funded, and during J-term 2018, eight students interned in D.C. as a result of the grant."

The students lived in apartments within walking distance of The Hill.

"Our students experienced the many rewards and challenges that come with interning in a bustling city," says Fullmer. Living on Capitol Hill was especially beneficial. "When students are immersed in the city, they can attend social and professional events after work that help them become familiar and comfortable with the city, build networks, and learn from others in the field. They are also able to take advantage of the innumerable cultural opportunities that D.C. offers."

Chase Childers '19 (political science major)
Childers interned for Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, the House Minority Whip.

"Learning how to meet people and network were by far the most important skills I learned," says Childers, who assembled bill summaries for the policy team and arranged meetings in the Congressman’s office. "I also learned the ins and outs of living in D.C., including navigating the Capitol and the congressional office buildings." The busy pace of his internship kept Childers on his toes. "I worked during the government shutdown," he says. "It was interesting to be on call at a moment's notice. We were also in D.C. during the State of the Union address, and the buzz around the city and offices was really cool."

Childers, who also interned with Hoyer in 2016, says the experiences helped shape his post-R-MC plans. "After graduation, I will be moving to D.C. to find a job as a congressional staffer," he says.

Brianne Habit '19 (communication studies and political science major)
As an intern for Virginia Representative Rob Wittman, Habit discovered the importance of communicating clearly and effectively. She spent much of her time answering constituents' questions via email and telephone; she also attended hearings and wrote briefings for staff members.

Habit, a Trustee's Award and Hampden-Smith Scholarship recipient, says, "I learned how to conduct myself in a professional environment, and how to write with a political voice. Living in D.C. was outside my comfort zone, but I enjoyed being able to walk to and from work every day and seeing the National Mall on my walk." Habit's future plans include law school. "I feel confident that the skills I learned during my internship will help me be successful in law school and beyond," she says.

Rowan Hierholzer '19 (political science and Spanish major)
As an intern for Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Hierholzer researched bills that Kaine was asked to co-sponsor; attended committee hearings; and answered correspondence from constituents. She learned that politics can be complicated.

"Politics is a never-ending web of communication, bargains and problems," says Hierholzer, a Dean's Award scholarship recipient. "I was happy to be a part of creating solutions to policy issues." Living in D.C. was exciting for Hierholzer, who quickly mastered the Metro system and discovered favorite restaurants. "I spent my free time visiting museums and monuments that I hadn't seen before, making full use of my time in the city," she says.

Her future plans include a career with the U.S. Government in Latin America. Hierholzer hopes to improve U.S. foreign relations with Latin American countries and stabilize politics in countries like Venezuela and Colombia. "My 2017 study abroad experience in Santiago, Chile helped my language fluency, which I hope to use in my future career," she says. "That experience, plus my internship on Capitol Hill, helped me develop the skills I need to move forward."

Ruby Rim '19 (sociology & anthropology major; psychology, English and political science minor)
Rim, a Presidential Scholar and Dean's Award recipient, interned in the Litigation Analytics Department at Summit Consulting, a specialized analytics advisory firm. She conducted research on opioid litigation, pay equity, and discrimination cases, and she learned several computer coding languages. Rim interned under the mentorship of Jennifer Folsom '97, chief of corporate development, and Tori Puryear '14, litigation analytics consultant. She also worked alongside Mason Sutton '17, an analyst.

"I learned about the process of using big data and cloud computing to perform economic, statistical and financial analyses," she explains. The hard and soft skills she learned—including coding and networking—support the skills she’ll need in her future career. "I worked with a network of highly accomplished people who are driven and supportive of each other. Jen, Tori and Mason are amazing alumni who made sure I got the most out of my experience." Rim's future plans include law school. "I hope to practice law and eventually apply my legal expertise to develop public policy, advise NGOs and work for the United Nations," she says.

Sean Ryan '18 (political science and communication studies major)
In New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne's office, Ryan helped develop and execute the Congressman's Black History Month media. He also drafted one-minute remarks that were read by the Congressman on the House floor; created social media posts; and helped complete the Congressman's 2018 newsletter.

"This was my second internship on the Hill—last year I interned for Senator Tim Kaine—and I assumed a lot more responsibility," says Ryan, a Dean's Award scholarship recipient. "I felt as though I experienced the life of a staffer. I learned how to meet deadlines, and I improved my editing and speech-writing skills. I also learned more about the legislative process by working during major national policy events."

Living close to The Hill was a major perk. "Being so close to the Capitol, I was able to take advantage of networking events," says Ryan, who plans to work on The Hill doing communications and writing work. "This internship was perfect for me because it gave me a sneak peek into life after graduation."

Kirby Struhar '18 (political science major)
At the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, Struhar assisted the government affairs team by researching policy issues and creating spreadsheets. One of his projects involved researching tax reform.

"The Council represents many insurance intermediaries, and I researched the way certain types of businesses were treated with the new tax law's implementation," explains Struhar. He also helped prepare for the annual Legislative Summit, where he attended meetings on policy issues facing the insurance industry.

"Internships give you the opportunity to learn more about yourself and your passions," he says. "I am thankful to Professor Fullmer and the college for the opportunity to experience life in the city. The experience helped me solidify my desire to work on Capitol Hill."