When I received an informational email about a new program open to sophomore Scholars students that would allow them to explore their career interests in our nation’s capital, I knew that this would be what I used my STEP funds for.
About 20 of my peers and I spent the first two weeks of May 2014 in DC on a professional exploration and leadership trip. The first week consisted of group meetings (9-12 people), while the second week consisted of individual or small group meetings (1-4 people).
Our first full day in DC was spent participating in an “Amazing Race”-style scavenger hunt around DC to familiarize ourselves with the metro system and layout of the city. The rest of the day was free time and my group visited the National Archives and the White House.
Our second day in DC began with an early morning and the start of our large group visits. Each day, two large groups visited 3-4 locations and/or met with a variety of professionals. My group’s first day consisted of visits to the Federal Communications Commission, Department of State, and National Public Radio (NPR). At the FCC we met with Bob Cannon, senior counsel in Internet law, and Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC. At the Department of State, we were able to sit in on a press briefing and then have a private meeting with Marie Harf, one of the spokespeople at the Department of State. Our third and final visit of the day was a trip to NPR. We were taken on a tour of the building, sat in on a live radio show, and sat down with White House Correspondent Tamara Keith.
Our next day’s visits were to Senator Portman’s constituent breakfast; a tour of the Capitol building; a quick meeting with Representative Stivers; a meeting with Bradley Saull, an employee for the House Committee on Homeland Security, and the Washington Post.
Our next day of group visits included time with Voice of America, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and a meeting with Representative Beatty. The visit with Voice of America was one of my favorites as we sat down with the Chief of the Khmer (Cambodia) Division, Chris Decherd; Digital Media Coordinator/Reporter (also in Khmer), Sophat Soeung; Executive Producer of the South and Central Asia Division, Susan Shand; and Public Affairs Director, Letitia King. The conversations we had with them were absolutely fantastic. We learned about Sophat’s experience growing up in Cambodia and becoming a journalist in the US, Chris’s tenure as a journalist in Cambodia for a number of years, and Susan’s life as an international correspondent for CBS before beginning her own freelance business that worked with foreign press offices. We also discussed the challenges that VOA faces in getting news to non-press-friendly countries. VOA uses TV, radio, and internet to spread their content, however certain countries, North Korea for example, can only have access to radio. We were told that journalists and their families have been targeted by governments and regimes to discourage a VOA presence. This behavior led to the reduction of VOA’s content in Russia- they can no longer have TV programs there. After our talk, we were able to take a tour of the studio; they have programs 24/7 and one of the live broadcasts we saw was meant for Afghanistan.
Our final day of group visits my favorite, as we went to Ohio State’s Government Affairs office, the Supreme Court of the United States, and a met with former Texas Representative Henry Banilla. At the Supreme Court, we were given a lecture about the history of the Court in the courtroom, which was incredible. To actually sit in the courtroom where they hear cases was awe-inspiring. After the lecture, we met with two of Justice Alito’s law clerks- Paul and Maureen. Since their job is one I would like to have someday, I was excited to meet with them. We started with a behind-the-scenes tour of the courthouse and saw the brown-bag lunch room where the Justice’s eat together, the law library, basketball court and gym, and function rooms. The building is absolutely gorgeous, with outdoor courtyards in the interior, sheltered from public view. There is a running joke at the courthouse about the basketball court being the “highest court in the land” because it is directly above the courtroom.
After free time over the weekend, which I used to visit the Newseum and the European Union embassies, I began the second week feeling prepared to go on the individual meetings. I met with variety of professionals, including several private attorneys, attorneys who work for the US Department of Justice (DOJ), a judicial clerk at the US Court of Appeals, an admissions counselor from American University’s Washington College of Law, and someone who works for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. I especially loved meeting with the DOJ attorneys because working at the DOJ would be a dream job for me. I also really enjoyed meeting with the admissions counselor as I plan to attend law school someday.
Though there were times when I felt stressed, frustrated, and very overtired on the trip, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was worth the months of uncertainty about who I would get to talk to and what we would talk about. As a rather introverted individual, meeting with that many people and having to be “on” all the time was draining, but I worked through it and learned a lot about myself in the process.
I feel like this trip had a definite impact on my career path, even if it did not clear up my vision of my future like I thought it would. This trip has definitely shown me that government is the sector I want to work in. The work is interesting, variable, important, and it’s all in DC. I have also definitely decided on going to law school. However, there are several areas that this trip made more muddled for me.
I had hoped to narrow my focus and concentrate on one area in law, but I am interested in too many things. My meeting with the person from the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology piqued my interest in policy and I’m surprised I never thought of it before. Being in DC for two weeks has also made me rethink my decision to take time off before law school. I kind of want to just go straight in and get going with my career. But then sometimes I think I should still work for a couple years beforehand. I just don’t want to go straight through and regret not traveling or exploring my options more later on in life. I guess the question is, would I regret not going to law school straight out of undergrad? Would I regret not taking time off? These are the crossroads in my life and whichever path I choose will impact my career.