My Washington Academic Internship Program Experience

Me standing on the balcony at the Department of the Interior!

For my STEP Signature Project, I completed an internship as a part of the Washington Academic Internship Program (WAIP) through the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. Through WAIP, I was a communications intern at the Peace Corps where I was primarily responsibility for curating, writing, and editing blog content for the ‘Stories’ section of the website. I also got to experience many professional development workshops, as well as study tours, policy salons, and service projects.

My experience is Washington, D.C. drastically transformed my understanding of myself. First, it was my first internship experience, and second, it was the first time I had ever lived away from home (aside from college, but then again, I am from Columbus!) for an extended amount of time. Getting the chance to live on Capitol Hill while completing my internship at Peace Corps really expanded my world-view. The national news that I would read on my Twitter feed was suddenly occurring right around the corner from where I lived! To be able to walk to places like the Supreme Court, the Capitol and the Washington Monument on a daily basis was a very surreal experience. It was also interesting to be surrounded by 29 other students who were equally driven and passionate about policy and social issues. This created a highly motivated atmosphere, and influenced me to learn, do, and see as much as I could while I was there.

WAIP was incredible, but there were definitely moments where exhaustion would catch up to me! I learned a lot about my ability to have fortitude and preserve, even when I was physically tied. I knew in the long run that this experience would carry me a long way after I left, so I continued to give it my best foot forward.

My internship had a big role to play in my personal transformation. I had never thought about how intricate a communications team is in an organization, but having that experience exposed me to all the moving parts there are to it. I personally worked with the digital/social team, but I got to learn a lot about press relations, graphic design, web design, marketing, external communications, congressional relations, and so much more. One of the coolest things I got to do with the Peace Corps was participate in a flyer drop for a recruiting event they had for Capitol Hill interns or “Hillterns.” I got to drop flyers in each congressional office, and later had the opportunity to attend the event myself. I heard Peace Corps experiences from U.S. Reps. Donna Shalala and Joe Kennedy, which even further prompted me to consider applying for the Peace Corps after I graduate.

I worked on several blog series while at Peace Corps, but one of my favorites was “Why I Joined.” I got to read and edit a blog about a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Tanzania who joined to reconnect with her East African roots, as her mother was a former PCV who had met her father during her service.

Outside of my internship, WAIP gave me some incredible moments. One of them was a service trip the cohort took to the Kenilworth Aquatic Park. I ranked this experience as one of my favorites because it was really nice to be able to get away from the busy D.C. life and help create something really beautiful. Another great moment was when I got the chance to visit the Indian Embassy to learn about the History of Bollywood Cinema. This workshop was taught by the ambassador’s wife, whose passion for the topic was engaging and very pleasant to listen to. We were also provided an authentic Indian dinner and it was delicious!

I had some great opportunities to network. I met  up with several young OSU alumni who also underwent WAIP. It was great talking to them because they also have similar interest as me being former communications/ journalism majors. Seeing where they’re majors led them and the career trajectories, they’re on now gave me a lot of hope and excitement for the possibilities of my own future.

My STEP signature project was valuable for me in several different ways. I definitely think I accomplished the goal of learning more about potential career paths following graduation. Specifically, interning at the Peace Corps expanded my understanding of the world. I learned about the gravity of social injustices all over the world, and thus my interest in international relations and grassroot development work was piqued. Though I’m still uncertain of what exactly I want to do the rest of my life, I do know that following graduation, I want to participate in a global fellowship to learn more about how systemic injustices create systems of poverty, and overall help to improve conditions for marginalized communities, specifically for women and girls. Hearing about all the initiatives that PCVs take, I was inspired and now know I want to have a global experience so as to be a better change agent here in the United States.

 

Summer design internship

1.
My STEP project was to get an internship for ESM Group Inc. I was a mechanical engineering intern, and mostly did engineering design.

2.
One of the things I ask myself when learning new material “why do I need to know this?” Often, we are taught the theory, but not how to do something in practice. My internship focused almost exclusively on how things are done in practice, with very little theory needed. I found myself feeling distraught that I was learning all these things in school, but if I wasn’t going to use it in my job then all my hard work wouldn’t be worth much. I quickly changed my perspective when I realized I was using the stuff I had learned in school, just not in the same way I had before. While I didn’t solve any problems similar to those that I see in school, I used the intuitions I’ve gained from my coursework to guide my problem solving. It has led me to a new way of thinking about my education. Obviously I never expected my boss to come in and say, “Jake I need you to do these 20 integrals by u-substitution and get them on my desk by Wednesday”, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was to incorporate my education into my day-to-day life as a mechanical engineer. Now I have a little more clarity on that.

3.
One of the projects that I did over the summer was to design a platform on which a wire bending machine was to be mounted. The machine weighed 2000 lb. and there were six other heavy fixtures that needed to go on top of it. Additionally, each of the six fixtures needed to have a 10” hole in the floor below them, so they could receive material from below. This task was unlike any of the tasks that I have been assigned in school and made me really think critically about just how to approach it.

My task had many design difficulties associated with it. I had to keep in mind all of OSHA’s regulations on raised platforms, and I needed to consider many other variables. The holes in the flooring would mean I wouldn’t be able to use the full strength of the grating and it also restricted the location of the frame beneath the grating. I learned an important lesson with this design where initially I was supposed to have the holes be 8” in diameter, then, after completing the project, my boss told me the holes actually needed to be 10” in diameter. This caused my previous frame design to not work (as the holes would then intersect the frame underneath the platform) and I had to redo nearly half the project. This was a learning moment for me because I realized how important a flexible design is as well as how difficult it can be with having your work be invalidated due to things that are out of your control. These are two lessons that are hard to teach in a class and are important in a real-life work setting.

These difficulties (along with many more) lead me to learn things about the design process that would have been difficult to learn in a classroom setting. Along with those concrete and easy to explain examples, there were also concepts that I learned that were a lot harder to pin down. There were many choices I made for the design that wouldn’t be able to be validated until I had sunk three more hours into designing off that choice. This was a large source of frustration, as I couldn’t find any resources online to guide the initial choice, so a handful of times I had to scrap half a day’s work solely because I followed my gut in the wrong direction. Many of the mistakes I made seemed like they were mistakes that a design engineer would only make a small handful of times, and I felt as though I had learned a lot just by making them and seeing the ramifications of my poor choices. By learning from these mistakes I felt like I was honing my “engineer’s intuition”, and I feel as though I am a lot more qualified now than I was before. Additionally, I feel as though I understand the demands and common difficulties associated with engineering design much better now.

4.
As I said in my previous answer, I feel as though I better understand the demands and common difficulties associated with engineering design much better now. This is important for me as I am still unsure about what field of engineering I want to go into. I have always pictured myself being happiest in a design role, but now I am less sure of that. This is good news for me, as it is better to know now than to know after I have spent a long time building my resume for a career path that I don’t think is right for me. While it is obvious how this relates to my professional development, it also relates to my personal goals. I don’t want to just have a job just to put food on the table, I want to have a job where I have passion for what I do. If passion is asking too much, I want a job where I am interested in the skills I am developing and enjoy getting better at those skills. I have always done my best work when I feel personally and intellectually fulfilled in what I am doing, so I feel like my personal goals feed into my professional goals since I would be doing better work if I am more personally fulfilled by that work. I feel that I am significantly more capable now than I was before at being able to see how a design role aligns with my personal goals. I think the big takeaway is that when the time comes to search for a full time job, I should be more willing to explore other fields than just design.

 

(No photos were uploaded as I don’t have the IP for what I designed over the summer and I do not think I am allowed to post images online of it.)

STEP Internship Reflection

Type of Project: Internship

 

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

This STEP project allowed me to serve as an intern at an automotive parts manufacturing facility at the Columbus Hirschvogel Inc. facility, with a primary responsibility of a lab technician within the quality management lab. This role primarily consisted of me doing metallography, lab reports, data management, and general assistance for the ultimate goal of quality control.

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

Going into this STEP project, it was all too easy to lose personal focus on my studies and how they could realistically be applied into a profession. “Being a metallurgical engineer” seemed to be such an abstract and almost unobtainable goal, no matter how many years spent in university. This summer has allowed me to understand that this is not the case, and in fact, I already know quite a lot of relevant information and techniques that can prove helpful in a metallurgical lab. This was an extremely heartening discovery, as it directly validated many years of studying and proved I could make a living outside of brewing coffee or making sandwiches. This process involved a level of independence and maturity I previously have not been forced to demonstrate, and proved as a great learning experience.

 

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

The most useful component of my internship was easily the interactions with my supervisors and the lab technicians. Going into the internship it became clear to me that my direct supervisors were experienced metallurgists who not only enjoyed their craft, but also derived a great amount of excitement from talking with others who shared this passion. As a student with still much to learn, I had what I felt must have been an obnoxious amount of questions, but my supervisors never hesitated in setting aside what they were working on to talk about the science behind every question. In my scholastic career, I have had a number of great mentors, and how I was mentored through this internship was analogous to the best of these teachers.

The company I interned with began their busiest time of the year right as a joined the team, but despite this on my first day my boss walked me around the facility. He taught me all about the parts being manufactured, the processes being used, and the metallurgical principles being utilized. I shook countless hands and was handed a number of business cards. It was an amazing way to join an organization and to begin a summer internship. I was also invited to tag along for lunch with my supervisors a number of times, where they would graciously pay for my meal, all the while making me feel a part of the team even further. My supervisors also showed a great amount of patience and understanding, even in key moments of personal failure, like when I broke an $800 grinding wheel. This level of kindness was upheld the entire internship. My last week working with the organization myself and a fellow intern were driven out to a steel distributer overnight for a tour and demonstration. I was not only given invaluable lessons and information on the trade, but I also realized the importance of helping the new guy and the value of mentorship.

The guidance experienced within this intern opportunity was not exclusive to my supervisors, but was a general attitude that was seemed to be shared by all employees. My best friends within the company quickly became the two lab technicians who, not only appreciated the extra hands around the lab, but also appeared to enjoy giving a kid like me tips they had picked up over their years carrying out metallography. Jokes and updates on personal lives soon became exchanged, and I even found my coworkers giving me tips on how to improve my cooking after I would mention the trials of independent living I never truly experienced. I am confident that through this internship I built lasting relationships with my coworkers, but not only as mentors, but as friends.

 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Through this project I was able to acquire extremely relevant and exciting exposure to my desired industry, of manufacturing. Up until this project, I had a fairly loose understanding of what the manufacturing industry even was, and being able to spend a summer as a part of an active automotive part manufacturer, shed incredible insight. Through such experience, I learned a great amount of technical and practical knowledge that can be directly applied to my studies and scholastic pursuits. I have a newfound sense of clarity and personal conviction for my career path, as I now know how relevant my studies actually are. I also now have the peace of mind knowing that I not only enjoy my classes, but will derive a great amount of personal satisfaction as I apply such knowledge. I also feel as if I have overcome a personal landmark of finally infiltrating the professional world, and was not completely inept through the process. The intimidation of such a step is lessoned knowing the possible patience and empathy of the individuals in my field of study. This STEP project has allowed me to obtain invaluable peace of mind, along with motivation to continue pushing forward into a profession of manufacturing.

 

Some equipment I had the opportunity to become familiar with:

Saw used to obtain cross sections of parts.

Grinding wheel used to observe microstructure of parts. 

Grinding and polisher used for metallography.

Automated hardness tester used in lab.

 

My WAIP Experience

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

The Washington Academic Internship Program (WAIP) consisted of an internship on the hill, classwork, study tours, and a capstone paper.These culminated in an amazing experience that taught me a lot about our federal government and how I can effectively work within it.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

WAIP changed how I viewed working in the federal government; through this program I was able to see many of the positions inside a congressional office. This program allowed me to personally grow, living further from home and for a longer period of time than ever before was a new experience and I became more independent and self-reliant.

I was also able to interact with a variety of people from many different backgrounds and perspectives. I spent a lot of time with the other people in my cohort and was able to develop a better understanding of how others from a variety of perspectives view issues and approach problems.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

The one that initially comes to mind is when we did a service project at the Kenilworth aquatic garden. We were tasked with weeding a pond so that lilies could be grown. We had to work together to not slip in the water and get the roots of these weeds, which were usually six feet long.  This activity brought us all together and allowed me to have a basis to understand their approaches to issues.

During my internship I had to work heavily with constituents, many of who were contacting us out of anger or dissatisfaction. The constituents would call about a variety of issues and had a range of comments or complaints. Working with constituents was difficult but rewarding because I felt a sense of accomplishment when I could help them with their issue. This experience exposed me to a lot of problems that I wasn’t aware of beforehand.

The capstone paper allowed me to explore in depth a topic I had only cursory knowledge of beforehand. I wrote my paper on missile defense and it was a very interesting topic to research. Learning about the developments and potential is very rewarding. I didn’t know what I wanted to write my paper on when I started my WAIP experience but I went to a hearing on missile defense during my first few weeks in my office and was interested in learning more. Keeping my options and mind open was a common theme during my WAIP experience.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Keeping an open perspective and being able to hold multiple points of view in mind is a valuable skill to hold especially in my major, Public Management, Leadership, and Policy. Innovation is impossible without having an open mind and being willing to try something new. I have also gained a lot of experience in being self-reliant which will surely pay dividends throughout my life.

My Summer in DC: Uniting Education and Policy

Over the last three months, I was able to live, intern, and study in Washington, DC through the John Glenn College of Public Affairs’ Washington Academic Internship Program (WAIP). As a John Glenn Fellow, I worked from Monday through Thursday at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in the Office of Congressional Affairs, taking Fridays off to explore the city with the rest of the WAIP cohort. We visited everywhere from the Pentagon to the Anacostia River, and supplemented these interactive learning experiences with policy discussions and public affairs classes two nights a week.

My summer Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) Signature Project was a learning experience for me in more ways than one. Firstly, I gained a newfound understanding of and appreciation for the U.S. political system. Working in congressional affairs for a government grant-making agency (the NEH), my office responsibilities included legislative tracking and monitoring congressional activity. This summer was also my first time taking any Public Affairs coursework, and the opportunity to expand my academic perspective regarding public policy was really valuable. The hands on government relations work combined with the theoretical practice in the classroom gave me a well-rounded picture of the current political climate.

Although I learned all kinds of important practical and professional skills along the way, including in government relations and communications, what stood out to me most about this past summer was my increased focus on education and education policy. While working at the NEH, I was lucky enough to meet with grantees ranging from K-12 students to respected academics. As they came from across the country to the NEH headquarters, I was able to hear the very real impact that humanities disciplines like History, English, and Philosophy had had on them. These interactions made me realize the urgency of education policy that supports the humanities and often overlooked disciplines that support critical thinking and reasoning skills.

During one of our biggest events of the summer, National History Day (NHD), I was part of a coordinating team that arranged 50 meetings between congressional offices and NHD-participating K-12 students and teachers from around the country. For NHD, students work independently on creative history projects, ranging from plays to papers. This day is a perfect opportunity for the NEH to facilitate meetings between students and members of Congress to show them how important the humanities are in middle school and high school education. I represented the NEH in congressional meetings with two middle school students from Alabama who had been working on their Birmingham Children’s March presentation for just under a year.

Listening to the two students talk about their research process, their visits to the archives and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and their important takeaways from the history project was really special. They had dedicated so much time to this project, with the support of their teacher, and had been able to explore and make real life connections to the past. Despite the fact that both wanted to enter STEM fields in the future, this experience truly meant something to them and had a significant impact on their education.

Spending the day with these amazing students and their teacher impacted the way I thought about the NEH’s work for the rest of my time there. It gave me something tangible to work towards during my internship, and made me even more confident in the agency’s mission. In the long-term, it made me even more passionate about making sure that the humanities are part of the daily curriculum for young students, even as much of the funding and emphasis shifts away from fields like English and History and towards fields like Engineering. The endeavors of STEM and the humanities do not have to be exclusive – both realms of knowledge are so important, especially for young people as their perspectives are being shaped. I was lucky to witness this firsthand throughout my time in DC.

It was really important for me to have this STEP experience the summer after my sophomore year at Ohio State. Not only was I able to grow personally by balancing work and school while living independently in a new city, but I was able to focus my future academic and professional goals by narrowing my focus to education policy. This coming semester, I am focusing on a more interactive educational experience by working as an English as a Second Language (ESOL) tutor at the Columbus Literacy Council. And after graduation, I am hoping to utilize both my internship experiences with academic grants and education policy and my hands on tutoring practice to engage in a full time teaching experience before applying to graduate school programs. Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t have such a clear direction moving forwards, and I’m grateful to Ohio State’s STEP Program and the John Glenn College for making this possible.

At the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the government grant-making agency where I interned this summer.

Me and my fellow John Glenn Fellows on one of our weekly study tours.

Two NEH grantees visiting their representatives.