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Currents: internships in washington, d.c.

Students Learn and Intern in Washington, D.C.

By Amber Cronin '11

The Washington Internship Institute (WII) promises that “Interning in Washington will help you find your talents, learn what you want to do, and unleash your professional passion.” Through the institute, four Colby-Sawyer College students are taking the nation's capital by storm, interning at the National Federation of Federal Employees, the Irish Embassy, Mentors Inc., and the Navy Museum.

The Colby-Sawyer students who currently live and intern on Capitol Hill admit that they received a slight culture shock upon their arrival in the big city. Instead of waking up every morning to the sun rising over the mountains, they are blasted from bed by blaring car horns and the noisy chatter that pervades our nation's capital.

“The transition from being a full-time college student to being a full-time intern took a little getting used to,” says Ariana Coleman '10, a History, Society and Culture major. “I had much growing up to do by removing myself from my comfort zone. No longer could I just take my car around when I wanted to; I have to rely on the metro system and my own two feet."

On her own, Coleman has had to learn some new skills, which will prove useful in just a few months when she graduates. “Maintaining a budget and updating my calendar were foreign concepts to me, but now I realize that they are important tools for an organized life, both personally and professionally," she adds. “Nevertheless, I am having an amazing Washington experience and have just a little over a month to go before graduation.”

Kyle Moulaison '11, another History, Society and Culture major, describes his experience of moving to a city as "truly nerve-wracking."

”I haven't really lived in a city before, so when I got here it was a heck of a culture shock,” he says. “At first just getting to work stressed me out. Having to wake up and take the metro from my apartment was the hardest thing, but once I got settled into a groove I was fine. Now, I get on the metro and put on my headphones and try not to look like such a rookie.”

While the students spend the majority of their time – four days a week – at their internships, they also attend classes for WII and attend to other college work as well.

“A typical week for me is to intern at the Irish Embassy for four days (32-plus hours) and on my off day, I attend classes for the two courses we are required to take as interns,” Coleman explains. “Although I am busy with my internship and classes both here and at Colby-Sawyer [Capstone and Rosetta Stone], I try to get out every now and then by visiting various museums and tourist attractions, as well as experiencing the city's nightlife.”

The students report that they spend a lot of their spare time enjoying what the city has to offer by visiting monuments, shopping, trying the restaurants, and dancing the night away.

The transition from a rural to an urban environment was similarly jarring for Ashley Jones '10, a Psychology major, but like her fellow students, she adapted with ease.

“Living and working in the D.C. area has been phenomenal. Coming from New Hampshire, it was quite a shock, but I adjusted fairly quickly and absolutely love it now. There is always something going on. Seriously, I rarely sleep,” she says.

“I have class on Monday and then work Tuesday through Friday, but my nights and weekends are free; I go out to eat, go dancing, go to the movies, go shopping and more importantly, explore the city," Jones explains. "I've been to the monuments and museums, Chinatown and Eastern Marke,t as well as the Kennedy Center. Typically, by Sunday I am exhausted, so I keep it low-key by doing homework, laundry and food shopping. “

Choosing the Best Program for You

In 1990, Dr. Mary Ryan founded the Washington Internship Institute and since that time, the program has grown substantially. Interns are placed in one of three programs: the Embassy and Diplomatic Scholars Program; the Go Green Program; or the Capital Experience program. As a nonprofit organization, the program has educated thousands of future leaders by placing them in these internships in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

The Embassy and Diplomatic program caught Coleman's eye as she was looking to apply for her internship and she now spends her days working at the Irish Embassy.“The embassy will only accept one intern per semester and they always go through the WII program. For this reason, I would not have been able to intern at this particular site on my own,” said Coleman. “My duties include assisting the diplomatic staff with ongoing events, attending meetings and conferences on their behalf in case of scheduling conflicts, and to continue the Embassy Adoption Program.”

In addition to these responsibilities, Coleman also works closely with the Second Secretary Deirdre Bourke, the cultural attaché and consular officer who organizes cultural events and receptions for members of the Irish community. She also drafts speaking points for Michael Collins, Ireland's ambassador to the U.S., for introductions at these events. Coleman hones her research skills at the embassy by replying to questions about Ireland from the general public. She is challenged, also, by getting organized to send out invitations for receptions and then handling all of the RSVPs.

“It is very exciting to have a job where I am learning about a country with such a rich heritage and at the same time I am completing my internship requirements,” Coleman says.

Go Green is WII's newest program and allows students concerned about environmental issues to work with agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Greenpeace.

The oldest program within the WII institute is the Capital Experience Program, which is open to any major and encompasses a wide range of interests. Placements for this program are located all over Washington, D.C., and are dependent on a student's interest. Three of the four Colby-Sawyer interns are currently enrolled in this program.

Jones works for Mentors Inc., a non-profit mentoring organization, whose goal is to increase the graduation rate of the District's public high school students. The organization seeks to achieve that goal by pairing students in one-on-one relationships with community volunteers. Jones, an intern in the External Relations Department, is in charge of outreach.

“My typical day includes scheduling interviews and training sessions, updating our volunteer descriptions on various web sites, speaking with prospective mentors over the phone, and running background checks,” she says.

Staff meetings are held weekly, with at least one recruitment session or networking event at night to attend. "During those events I try to convince as many people as possible to become mentors," Jones says. "Then twice a month I co-facilitate training for the new mentors. We teach them about the stages of a relationship and trouble-shoot problems that may arise when working with teenagers.”

As Jones explains, this program allows her to experience the responsibilities and activities of a real office. She attends meetings and company events, helps to write briefings, and conducts research for the company.

Moulaison, who interns with the National Federation of Federal Employees, spends his days conducting research on the U.S Armed Forces and other aspects of our country's defense. He then reports his findings to the federation's communications and legislative director.

In addition to student internships, WII offers Faculty Fellowships. Jean Eckrich, professor of Exercise and Sport Sciences, participated in one of the institute's fellowships during her sabbatical in 2003.

Taking the First Step

Toward the end of every student's college experience at Colby-Sawyer, they are required to do an internship, ideally one related to what they would like to do after graduation. With the affiliation between the WII program and the college, these four students have not only taken advantage of a great new opportunity, they have also challenged themselves by living and working in an entirely new environment.

“I decided to do my internship through the WII program because they offered an amazing opportunity,” says Jones. “As a senior, I realized that with graduation just around the corner, I was about to be thrown into the 'real world' without much 'real world' experience. This program presented me with the chance to live and work in Washington D.C., the metropolis of knowledge! I applied in order to challenge myself.”

For the students in Washington, D.C., it has been a challenge to be among the college's first group to take part in the WII program. There were bound to be kinks to work out.

“This is the first time we have done this,” says Kathy Taylor, director of Career Development at the Harrington Center. "This is one of the first affiliation agreements we have had for this kind of program, so the students down there right now are the pioneers."

As for applying, junior Katelyn Fitzpatrick says the process is much like the one she went through when applying for Semester at Sea.

“There's a lot of paper work that I did just for the Harrington Center, but the paper work for the Washington Internship Institute is fairly standard and similar to a study abroad program,” she said. “All I needed were two references from faculty, a very short application, and an essay explaining why I was attracted to the program. The more information you give the better your placement will be.”

Fitzpatrick, who is interested in going into Media Law after graduation, said the Capital Program through WII would offer her the best opportunity to see if that path is really what she wants.

“This internship will give me the opportunity to see if going to law school is really what I want,” said Fitzpatrick. “I want to be in the Capital Program because it has more to do with the communications side and there is an opportunity to get involved in law.”

Another Colby-Sawyer Connection

The Faculty Fellows program at WII offers faculty opportunities to broaden their professional horizons and explore not only their discipline, but also their other areas of interest. This was the draw for Eckrich.

“As I was preparing to take a sabbatical in 2003, I wanted to explore issues in higher education,” says Eckrich. “Many of the professional organizations for higher education are based in Washington, D.C.”

Eckrich was placed with the American Association for Higher Education and spent four days a week in their offices, working on programs like the scholarship of teaching and learning, communities of practice, assessment grants, and organizational change. One day each week she met with individuals and organizations such as a lawyer from the National Women's Law Center, discussing Title IX, or a biochemist from the National Institutes for Health.

“I had a tremendous experience,” Eckrich recalls. “It truly felt like an internship. I had to apply and go through an internship process for the faculty fellows program and then again for my placement. I met, interacted and worked with wonderful people who shared their expertise and who sought my perspective as a practitioner in higher education.”

After taking part in the Faculty Fellows Internship, Eckrich was a driving force in Colby-Sawyer forming an affiliation with WII.

“When I recommended the program for Colby-Sawyer, I felt it would be a great learning experience for our students,” Eckrich says. “They certainly would gain the professional skills associated with their internship and expand their professional network. However, I also thought that the experience of living in the D.C. area would be terrific. My hope was, and is, that the students would take advantage of the cultural events and historical sites. I also hoped that the experience of living, interacting and working with individuals from so many cultures would help foster the development of multiple perspectives.”

As Taylor explains, Colby-Sawyer's affiliation agreement with WII allows students who wish to participate in the program to maintain all their connections with the college.

“The Washington Internship Institute is its own organization and our affiliation agreement with them means that our students who participate are actually doing it though Colby-Sawyer,” she explains. “We can market the program as Colby-Sawyer in Washington, D.C.; the students register and pay tuition to Colby-Sawyer just like they would if they were a student here, but then they get to study away, completing their internship requirements as well as taking two additional courses. Students earn a semester's worth of credit farther away, but they still have access to all of the services and support from Colby-Sawyer.”

Those interested in exploring the possibility of interning with the Washington Internship Institute should contact Kathy Taylor at ktaylor@colby-sawyer.edu.