For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in Ohio State’s Washington Academic Internship Program (WAIP). Through this program, I took classes in Washington D.C, attended professional events, and interned at the Department of Justice (Office of International Affairs.) At my internship site, I was responsible for many duties, including drafting treaty compliance referrals that were later sent to the State Department and completing translation reviews of court documents.
My STEP Signature Project has been (and will probably always be) the most transformative experience of my undergraduate career. The most obvious reason why my project was so beneficial to me was because it was my first time living outside of Ohio. Especially because I hope to pursue a career in politics, I was immensely appreciative of being able to collaborate with people from all over the country and learn how their experiences have shaped their perspective on various policy areas. Prior to coming to D.C, I had always assumed that all college-aged Democrats probably cared about the same things; however, I realized that there is a lot more variation in the Democratic Party than I had originally thought. Additionally, I learned the importance of public service. I started the semester off not knowing what I wanted to do with my life after graduating; I now know that I am willing to do whatever it takes to work in the federal government because I want to play an active role in bettering this country.
During the course of my program, I lived with and attended classes with 20 other Buckeyes; although we all came from Ohio State, we had different political views and worked at various internship sites. Because we were almost always interacting with one another, we were forced to confront our biases and learn to respect each other’s views. This wasn’t always easy (in fact, it was oftentimes exhausting) but I now feel like I can more easily connect and find common ground with others (a skill that is undervalued in the field of politics.) There is a multitude of factors that influence our views and motivate us to uphold a certain belief. One of my biggest takeaways from my experience is that it’s more important to understand those motivations rather than how they translate to a specific political position.
I was expected to start interning at the Department of Justice as soon as I arrived in D.C; however, due to the government shutdown in early January, all on-boarding and training processes were stalled, leaving me without an internship for a few weeks. While I was initially stressed, I was able to find a temporary internship working on Capitol Hill for a Ohio congresswoman. In many ways, the government shutdown was one of the best things that happened to me because it allowed me to witness how both the legislative and executive branches operated. There are so many individuals involved with maintaining democratic processes; to an outsider, federal employees (such as a legislative assistant or an office bureaucrat working in the Department of Transportation) may just seem like cogs in the wheel. In reality, these are the people that ensure that our government is running smoothly. By working in these positions, my love for government was solidified and I was convinced that I had a duty to pursue a career in public service.
While in D.C, I had the privilege of attending many professional events. This included a breakfast at which leaders from Ohio State (including President Drake), former Buckeyes, and the entire Ohio congressional delegation came together to celebrate our state. By attending such functions, I was able to grow my network and meet people I never would have had I not participated in this program. An early goal I had for the semester was to attend as many networking events as possible and exchange business cards with almost everyone I met; I quickly learned that method is not productive. While it was beneficial to go outside my comfort zone and branch out, it was still necessary to prioritize what events I went to and who I followed up with, especially considering that I was only in D.C for four months. By being more selective with who I made meaningful connections with, I now feel like I have stronger relationships with individuals who can help me in the months (and even years) to come.
I went to D.C thinking that I would attend law school after graduating. Even though I have been on the pre-law track for the entirety of my undergraduate career, I never really considered why I wanted to go to law school or if it was the best option for me at this point in my life. I truly felt that participating in my STEP Signature Project helped me reconsider my motives and evaluate the impact I want to have on this world. By connecting with Ohio State alumni and lawyers living in D.C as well as attending events aimed at career development, I learned that there are many paths other than law school that can lead me to achieving my goals. In many ways, I left D.C even more unclear about what my next steps after graduation are; however, I now know about opportunities I never would have had I not had both STEP and Ohio State’s support.