Program gives window into Washington’s inner workings

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The lights go on. The scent of coffee begins to fill the room as it starts to brew in the pot. The computer hums as it warms up.

While this might sound like just a typical day in the office, it’s the start of Jillian Wheeler’s Monday to Thursday. A junior from Le Grande, Ore., majoring in history, Wheeler is currently interning for Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

After getting the office ready for the day, she gives tours to those wanting to learn more about the legislature. It’s not just all menial tasks and tour-guiding though.

“One of the biggest ones that you do is a briefing for the rep’s office for a leadership meeting,” she said. “We talk about all the bills that are going to be up that week, whether they are rules or under suspension.”

After the meeting, she types up a memo that goes to the representative to read and use.
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Students at the Washington Seminar vary in their internship responsibilities. Some may focus on government and policy, while others work in their specific discipline. Examples of organizations that students intern for include various federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and court-related positions.

Heidi Rees, a senior majoring in English, from College Station, Texas, is interning at The Wilderness Society, where she does research and reports on what she finds. Those reports are then edited and become part of papers the society publishes. Aside from learning these skills, Rees said working in an office environment has helped her personally.

“I’m just a really shy person, but since I’ve arrived here, one of the most critical things I have learned is to ask questions,” she said. “Whether at church or  work and luncheons, you have to be just trying to meet new people and put yourself out there.”

Susannah Hertz, a junior from Salt Lake City majoring in environmental science, said it is important to make those connections and keep them.

“You can’t make a bunch of good connections and not keep in contact,” Hertz said. “Keep that connection through your life. As Lyndon Johnson said, ‘It’s not who you know, it’s who you get to know.'”

Hertz also said the program really tries to tailor your experience to your major.

“I get to work with the representative’s environmental manager, and get to meet with environmental lobbyists,” she said.

When asked what the benefits of attending the Washington Seminar were, Spencer Christensen, a senior majoring in psychology, said it was a golden opportunity for BYU students to learn skills in a unique environment while still strengthening their testimony and being with people with similar morals and standards.

“It’s a great way to meet new friends and contacts and gets you exposed to real world experience,” he said. “You gain an appreciation and knowledge of the United States government. It is just a good life experience, something you’ll never forget.”

Christensen said it was hard to not get involved in politics while living in the nation’s capital.

“One of the things is a lot of people tell you you have to make a political stance, so it forces you to be patriotic and choose what you believe about the role of government,” he said.

Greg Williams, who works at the Federal Judiciary Center with Christensen, is majoring in media arts. Even though the center deals more with law, Williams works in the education department, where he gets to work with videos.

[pullquote]”You have to be looking for opportunities to go above and beyond the call of duty; you can’t just meet expectations.”[/pullquote]

“[Working here] opens my mind to the things I am learning in school that is applicable to the professional field in ways that I had never thought before,” he said.

As one of the few married students, Williams said the program is accommodating of spouses, and allow them to come to all the briefings and on the trips at no extra expense.

Five BYU interns currently work at the Federal Judicial Center, and they have definitely impressed their employers.

Stephanie Hemmert, an assistant division director at the Center, works with both Christensen and Williams.

“They’re wonderful,” she said. “They know what we want. “It’s nice because we’ve gone through a cadre of interns who tell other students, they get a better idea of what the internship is like, so the internship meets up with their expectations.”

Fun in DC

Students live in the heart of Georgetown, a historical section of the city which serves as a commercial and entertainment scene. Students have access to most of the city by metro and the bus system.

Wheeler said that as she was walking to the American Art Museum one day, she got sidetracked, because a SWAT team was kicking Occupy DC protesters out of a park. She never made it to the museum. She said living in the capital is a great adventure.

“The monuments have been larger than life,” she said. “It’s still amazing, but it’s odd to see the White House by these giant buildings. It’s also delightful, because while walking back from the Lincoln Memorial, you realize you’ve just walked by the State Department.”

Rees loves the museums and the monuments that are free.

“There are all kinds of restaurants and musical clubs and music bars,” she said. “We also go shopping, and you can take day trips to New York and Monteicello, or spend the day at the zoo with pandas.”

Schoolwork

Before going off for the semester, students take a class where they learn how to apply to internships, how to be a good intern, and what it’s like living in D.C.

Each Friday, students have classes, where people called “briefers” talk to the students about their jobs and impact on public policy.

Most of them have a connection with BYU; they are usually prominent individuals who deal with policy and explain what they do. For  example, the US ambassador to the UN came and spoke about national defense. While they have speakers go to the  Barlow Center, they also travel to the speaker’s workplace, like a judge’s chamber.

“These are professionals who are really knowledgeable about their fields and we get exposure to that,” Christensen said. “I like being exposed to contrasting views so that I can make my own decision on what I believe in right. One thing that had an impact on me was when a liberal speaker asked a question, ‘How self-made are you really?’ Being in Provo, you get a narrow, conservative view. Being exposed to more liberal ideas was more beneficial for me.”

Church

Students attend the Washington D.C. 2nd Ward, which caters to YSAs living in the area. The ward is active and hosts numerous activities and functions each month.

Richard Wallace is a counselor in the bishopric that works with the Washington Seminar students, making sure they are settled in. Wallace and his wife enjoy participating in Family Home Evening with students each week. Wallace has been working with the students for almost two years. He said that it is definitely a different experience for the students.

“When they go to church in Provo, they live a block or two away from church,” Wallace said. “When they come here, church is a45- minute bus ride away. About 80 percent of the ward here are working, so the students are a minority, and sometimes it’s a bit of an adjustment for them, to how the ward works and functions.”

Wallace said he enjoys interacting with the internship students.

“They are eager and anxious about their internships” he said. “College students have a certain level of maturity, and this group seems to be a little more exceptional, more intelligent.

Advice

With what she has learned so far, Wheeler had one last bit of advice for students.

“Be focused, always,” she said. “You never know exactly what you’ll have to remember, so keeping your mind sharp – even in the most ordinary of situations – is necessary. Also, you have to be looking for opportunities to go above and beyond the call of duty; you can’t just meet expectations.”

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