With my STEP grant, I used my funds to pay my way to Washington DC as a John Glenn Fellow in the Washington Academic Internship Program and intern in the United States Senate in the Office of Senator Debbie Stabenow. In the Senator’s office, I worked as a legislative intern on the Energy and Environment team, writing memos, conducting research, and keeping tabs on news in the Energy and Environment sectors. I never imagined how much learning I would be exposed to just by being in the office, let alone how much the staff taught me.
This program completely changed my assumptions about who I am and what I want to do with my life. Working in the Senate forces you to elevate your work ethic and productivity since you are working with the some of the smartest and most driven people in the country. No day is the same, testing your adaptability and resolve to handle stressful situations and roll with the punches. After working in the Senator’s office for a semester I have a newfound confidence in what I am capable of accomplishing.
Working for the Senator also changed my plans for myself. I previously planned on attending law school. After meeting with multiple staffers, policy analysts, and lawyers, I realized that law school might not be the path for me given my passion for policy and working on analyzing legislation. I really want to work in government one day and after working there I know that there are more pathways to making my way there than I previously thought.
A few events occurred for me to learn these lessons. As far as my belief in myself goes, it started slowly at first then all of a sudden at once. I’ve always hated public speaking and talking to those in a leadership position. I would always get nervous, stammer, and trip over my words. I realized that this only happened because I was terrified of not knowing the answer. This was really obvious when I first started answering constituent calls. I would do my best to talk with constituents according to protocol but would still find myself messing up, especially when constituents were angry and demanding I take personal positions on issues. I eventually realized this through some painful error that it’s ok to not know the answer and was my performance improved dramatically.
I also learned to step up my game through my interactions with my co-workers. This internship was my first foray into politics while my fellow interns have multiples internships apiece that prepared them. I was the dumbest kid in class and that gap was not something I was too proud of. However, it was a wake-up call that I needed to catch up to the rest of them, which I was more than capable of doing. I was almost always the first intern in the office, and one of the last ones to leave the office. I read anything I could get my hands on and asked as many questions as I could without annoying my supervisor and the effort paid dividends. I feel qualified and capable of taking on nearly any task that could be asked of a staff assistant or legislative aide within the office and I’m very proud of myself for working so hard.
My most important insight might be that I learned that I may not want to attend law school any longer. That was always the plan: attend law school, get my law degree, pass the bar, and work in a prosecutor’s office. Working in DC, I discovered that I really like working on legislation and on the Hill. Cool, I thought, I could still earn my J.D. and work on the Hill. But congressional staff salaries are atrocious and the price tag for a law degree is as well. I then spent time talking with congressional staff and researchers in think tanks, as well as a lawyer or two. They said that you don’t need a law degree to work on the Hill unless you want to practice. They told me that a specialization in some form of policy is so much more valuable as is an MBA (because it’s so rare). This really got me thinking if it is still the path for me. I’m not decided on what higher degree I want to pursue but this experience got me thinking about it in a serious manner.
This has been so important because it has the possibility to change the direction of my life as it currently stands. The skills I gained will help me perform at a higher level and succeed in whatever field I choose. Interacting with others and being able to effectively convey your ideas to them in a professional setting is so important and these skills are transferable whether I go to law school or not. WAIP also helped me start seriously thinking about my future. I never had a plan for after I graduated which I finally learned was a baaaaaaad idea but WAIP really got me thinking about post-grad life. Although I’m not positive about what I want to do with my life, I’ve finally started thinking about it, which the first step to solving that puzzle.