Washington, DC Internship Experience
Sometime in the middle of my freshman year, I began wondering
how I would spend my first summer after beginning college.
Would I lifeguard? Would I take summer school? Would I work
at the Gap? I was sick of doing the same old thing and staying
around in Edmond, Oklahoma, so I decided to think about other
options available to me.
Because I am a political science and business double major,
I knew that I wanted to explore options that would help me
gain experience in those areas. After talking with friends,
relatives, and OSU faculty, I decided to look into getting
an internship. Not only do internships give a glimpse into
different areas of the real world, but they also
help better prepare for future careers. For me, my internship
helped me decide what area of politics interests me most.
As an avid traveler, I had been to Washington, DC two times,
and had loved the atmosphere of our nations capital.
I decided that I wanted to intern in DC so that I could decide
if I like the area well enough to consider attending graduate
Applying for the internship was an extremely tedious process.
After meeting Senator Don Nickles several years ago, I was
left with a good impression of the way he deals with people.
I also talked to several people who had interned for him,
and they had nothing but positive remarks regarding their
experiences. I got on the Internet and went to Senate.com.
There, I clicked on my preferred congressmans link,
and, once I arrived at his website, I found another link called
internships. All I had to do was download the
application, fill it out, write an essay, and get the correct
references and recommendations. This took several hours of
preparation and organization, but it paid off. I got my recommendations
from people who know me extremely well, who have worked with
me for a sufficient amount of time, and who know the quality
of work I am capable of producing. Having a stranger write
my recommendation would not have helped me at all, even if
that stranger held a high-ranking position.
I had my honors college advisor, my high school counselor,
and a family friend write my letters. At the appropriate time,
I asked if I could proofread, or have someone else proofread,
the recommendations before they were sent in with my application.
I made sure to send all of my information in together, because
Senator Nickles office, and I am sure most other offices,
is flooded with papers and packages. Sending everything in
together ensured that nothing was lost or misplaced.
Walking back to my dorm room from class, I receive a call.
"Hello Maggie, this is Senator Nickles intern coordinator.
Congratulations, you have been chosen to intern." A week later,
I received a large, brown package containing a list of the
other twelve interns for my session, Senator Nickles
biography, the history of the Capitol, what to expect as an
intern, and instructions on how to go about finding housing
in the infamously expensive city.
I contacted two of Senator Nickles other interns and
asked them if they wanted to room with me. Luckily, the two
girls were friendly and wanted to be my roommates. I know
that not all potluck roommate situations turn out to be positive,
and I am extremely thankful that my two roommates and I quickly
After searching through several summer housing programs offered
by various DC universities, we decided to room at George Washington
University because of its cost, location, and reputation.
Even though we had to pay extra because we were not GWU students,
the extra amount was worth the cost because of the convenience
and safety of our dorms.
Upon arriving in DC, we moved in and decided to navigate
the Metro (subway) system so that we would not be late to
our first day of work. The metro system is easy to navigate,
and the underground area is remarkably clean and safe. GWU
dorms are within walking distance of Georgetown, and we went
on many walks into the trendy area. Flooded with shops and
chic restaurants, Georgetown is not for those on a budget.
On the few occasions we felt like going out to a nice restaurant
and having a good time, we headed straight for Georgetown.
At our first day on the job, after walking from the Union
Station Metro stop and entering the high security Hart office
building, all thirteen interns were escorted into the large
conference room and met by our intern coordinator. After everyone
was introduced, we learned what our internship entailed. Every
morning, we would sort the mail, faxes, and e-mail before
doing anything else. If we were going to be late, we needed
to call our coordinator at the office and let her know. After
sorting papers, we would then check in with the staff member
to whom we were assigned for the week to see if that person
needed any assistance, i.e. any research, errands, or other
Because Senator Nickles is a member of the Senates
leadership team (he is the Assistant Republican Leader), he
has an office in the Hart office building and an office in
the Capitol. His busy schedule cannot be handled alone. Senator
Nickles has a large staff consisting of Legislative Assistants
(LA), Legislative Correspondents (LC), a Legislative Director
(LD), a Chief of Staff, two schedulers, two press secretaries,
several secretaries, and four research analysts. These are
just his staff members in Washington DC. He also has offices
in Ponca City, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Lawton.
I was surprised to see what actually comes in the mail. The
DC office receives several (up to five) bundles of mail a
day. Most of the mail is letters from concerned Oklahomans
fulfilling their civic duties and voicing their opinion; however,
we received a lot of newsletters and updates from interest
groups and organizations wanting the Senator to endorse their
cause. Legislative Assistants read all of the newsletters
so that they can stay updated on the current state of important
issues. Even Playboy sends the Senator a magazine each
month. Of course, Senator Nickles did not actually subscribe
to Playboy; they just send a copy to all of the Congressmen
for free so that they can advertise that the nations
leaders receive the magazine. Things like this are considered
junk mail and go directly to the trash. Other items categorized
under this title are mail from out of state citizens, mail
without a return address, and newsletters that are too old
to be considered current (over 6 months old). This group of
mail currently makes up about one half of the total mail received.
Because of added precautions post-9-11, the amount of old
mail we receive has greatly increased. After the anthrax scare
in the Hart building (in an office directly across the hall
from ours), the government required all mail to be sent through
a radiation chamber and "cooked" before it reached the personal
offices of the Congressmen. When beginning this routine, screeners
had to experiment with the temperature at which the mail would
be cooked. At first, they overcooked mail and it came out
black, burned, and unreadable. After several test runs, the
proper baking temperature was established, and that temperature
is used on all incoming mail.
Many concerned citizens are not aware about this precautionary
measure, and they send in things that should not be cooked.
For instance, one day, while opening the mail, I came upon
a package stating, "VHS tape enclosed, do not expose to extreme
heat." The screeners are not allowed to adhere to requests
like that, and, when I opened the package, I discovered a
melted, disfigured tape. We have also received melted CD cases,
cassette tapes, and other plastic items.
The anthrax scare had another impact on the mail process.
Posted on the wall above the mail desk was a poster illustrating
what to do if we opened an envelope containing suspicious
material. If that occurred, we were instructed to immediately
walk to the nearest bathroom with the letter and lock the
door. An emergency cell phone was stored on the counter top
at all times so that we could call the front desk of the Senators
office and inform others of the situation without taking the
risk of contaminating others. Nothing even remotely close
to this ever happened, but we were prepared for the worst.
Once the constituent letters, e-mails, and faxes are sorted
into topics, they are then filed accordingly and sent to the
LCs. Each of the three LCs is assigned to twenty topics. They
are well researched on all of the topics, and they can typically
answer any question constituents ask. Responding quickly to
constituent mail is an important piece of the political puzzle.
If constituents are not happy with Senator Nickles, he will
not be able to continue serving as a senator because he will
not be reelected. The entire mail response process was upsetting
to me at first, because I, like many constituents, naively
believed that Senator Nickles wrote all response letters personally.
I was upset to find out that he does not even see any of the
constituent mail, let alone write response letters. Obviously,
it would be impossible for him to do so considering that he
receives approximately five huge bundles each day. As one
would imagine, the build-up of mail from each weekend makes
every Monday extremely hectic.
When I went to check in with my pre-assigned staff member,
Don Kent, a Legislative Assistant, he informed me that I would
be doing research on various topics and writing up reports
that Senator Nickles would review before his committee meetings.
I was excited to find out that some of my research could actually
become a topic of discussion at one of his meetings.
After researching several topics and writing up five one-page-reports,
I learned that Senator Nickles is extremely dependent on his
staff. Without the hard work of behind-the-scenes people,
he would never be able to stay updated on all of the issues
concerning him and his office.
Even though Senator Nickles seldom does his own research,
he does manage to keep a busy schedule. While talking with
his personal scheduler, I learned that he runs from meeting
to meeting, plays golf about four times a week with other
businessmen and politicians, meets with constituents, speaks
on the Senate floor, and travels back to Oklahoma several
times a year without missing a beat. His high level of face-to-face
interaction is what allows him to continue to succeed in his
Although he seldom has a moment to spare, Senator Nickles
made an enormous effort to spend quality time with all of
the interns. Because there were thirteen of us, he had to
work very hard to get to know all of us on an individual basis.
From talking with all of the other interns, I realize that
he accomplished his goal.
Personally, my interaction with Senator Nickles was frequent
because I often got to work in the Whip office. He took me
down on the Senate floor a couple of times, which is an impossible
feat for most Senators. Only the four Senators in leadership
have floor passes. One time, while I was stiffly sitting in
the bench against the wall of the Senate floor, Senator Nickles
called me over to talk to him in the middle of the room at
his chair. Astounded, I began walking over to his seat. Before
I arrived, I tripped on a step. This incident would have been
embarrassing anywhere, but the fact that it was broadcast
on C-Span made it mortifying. Nickles just laughed with me
and made me feel comfortable. I ended up getting to sit by
him while he gave a 25-minute speech on the Death Tax. Sitting
surrounded by some of the nations most prominent leaders
and policy makers will stand out as one of the most memorable
experience of my entire internship.
In addition to the perks of working with a senator on leadership,
we also received perks just for being interns. The thirteen
interns Senator Nickles had for his June session is quite
typical of most senators and representatives. There are 535
members of Congress who each have approximately ten interns.
The massive amount of interns on the hill each summer attend
events planned by staff members from different legislators
offices who come together and brainstorm fun ideas. We enjoyed
an intern ice cream social, an intern lecture series (consisting
of speakers such as Trent Lott, Martin Scheen, Tom Daschle,
Joseph Liberman, and many more), and an intern Bible study
luncheon. All of this interaction provided wonderful opportunities
for me to establish contacts with people from all over the
country and make friends with youths from different backgrounds,
cultures, and traditions than those to which I am accustomed.
Because thousands of interns and other staff members work
in the congressional office buildings at all times, security
precautions must be taken. Before 9-11, everyone entering
an office building had to first pass through a metal detector.
Now, not just anyone can enter the buildings. Only people
wearing a congressional staff badge complete with a nametag
and a photo can enter the Capitol. Packages can no longer
be delivered to congressmens offices. Someone from the
receiving partys office must pick up the package outside
of the building and open it before reentering. This precautionary
measure seems tedious at times, but it prevents possible bombs
and other unwanted items from being brought into buildings
holding the worlds leaders. Security officers also are
cautious with cars entering the staff parking lot. By using
large mirrors on poles to check underneath cars as they enter,
officers can see whether or not a bomb has been planted. These
added precautions might not make Capitol Hill 100% terrorist
proof, but they do provide extra comfort in the tense and
stressful environment Washington DC has become.
Aside from working on the hill, there were many other things
to do and see in our nations capital. Our intern coordinator
made every effort possible to inform us of every concert,
free exhibit, or community event occurring during our stay.
She even gave us one afternoon off to "explore the city."
We used that afternoon to walk through the Holocaust museum
and go see the Smithsonian museums. One evening, when we felt
the weather was dry and cool enough for us to handle, my roommates
and I went on a walk after work. Living at Washington Circle
provided the perfect location for sightseeing. After walking
for about 15 minutes, we arrived at the Viet Nam Wall. After
inscribing names onto a piece of paper, we walked two minutes
over to the Lincoln Memorial. When we finished reading the
Gettysburg Address, we turned around and viewed the Washington
Monument cast against the evening sky. While walking the length
of the pool, we came upon hundreds of teams playing softball
on the mall. After watching a few pitches and home runs, we
walked over to the White House and saw that the First Lady
and the President were also outside enjoying the weather.
Although we did not get to discuss our pleasant evening with
the two of them, we discussed it with each other on our 20-minute
walk home. We were pleased to find out that we experienced
several of DCs highlights in a short three hours.
Along with seeing historical sights in DC, my friends and
I also attended a taping of Crossfire, a political debate
show taped nightly. Another night, one of my roommates and
I were able to snag tickets to an invitation-only Expo hosted
by General Motors. General Motors was hosted the expo complete
with expensive food and drinks, futuristic cars, and elegantly
dressed people as part of their strategy in lobbying for money.
Because I was not used to the rigorousness of a 9-6 workday,
I was often tired and too worn out to go out on weeknights.
Most evenings, my roommates and I came home from work, cooked
dinner, and started getting ready for bed at around 10 pm.
Because we woke up at 6:30 every morning, it was necessary
for us to go to bed before midnight in order to be able to
face another day of Capitol tours, faxes, mail, and research.
By eating breakfast and dinner at home and taking our lunches
with us to work, we saved time and money; however, we ended
up spending our saved money on entertainment and outings during
Celebrities often make appearances at rallies, Senate sessions,
committee meetings, and galas to promote movies, charities,
and other projects they are involved with. Because Senator
Nickles offices are both in prime celebrity-sighting
locations, I was able to see several prominent figures. One
day I say Colin Powell walking out to his car from the Hart
office building. I saw Nicholas Cage walking by Senator Nickles
Capitol office as he was entering the Senate gallery to promote
his new movie. Five minutes after that, I got to hold the
door open for Kay Bailey Hutchinson as she stepped outside
and into the black car awaiting her. I even had the opportunity
to meet Josh Hartnet who was in town supporting a youth charity.
Before Senator Liberman and Martin Scheen spoke at a Democratic
rally, I shook hands, took pictures, and talked with both
I often sat in the Senate gallery and watched all of the
Senators interact with one another during roll call votes.
Watching them interact was interesting because I was surprised
to see that not everything that occurs in the Capitol is proper
and stiff-lipped. Senators converse like long-time neighbors
would--patting one another on the back, cracking jokes, and
enjoying themselves. Even as I watched the Senators step into
the "Senators only" elevators, I observed that they were just
like me. When they have a free, unscheduled second of time,
they are willing to talk to interns about topics ranging from
politics to sports. Yet even Senator Nickles staff members,
who talk to him every day, are fascinated with their boss.
They both admire and respect him for his dedication to our
country and for his down-to-earth personality.
While talking with a friend who worked in the Old Executive
Office Building one afternoon, I was invited to be one of
20 people to watch President Bush take off on Marine 1 early
the next morning. I had to give my name, social security number,
phone number, and date of birth to my friend so that he could
send my information in for a background check. After I was
checked and cleared, I was issued a pass to attend the departure
the next morning. I arrived at the White House at 5:30 am
only to find out that the President would not be taking off
as scheduled because rain had made the landing pad slick.
Luckily, I decided to stick around in hopes of catching a
glimpse of him as he walked from the back door of the White
House to his caravan of cars. President Bush felt badly that
all 20 of us woke up early and stood in the cold rain to see
him, so he decided to personally thank us for coming that
morning. As I shook hands and conversed with the President
of the United States, I could not help but think that my experience
in Washington, DC was one of the most exciting events in my
entire life. My picture with the President reminds me of that
morning when my bad luck turned into the most memorable moment
of my entire internship.
On the night before our last day of work, all of Senator
Nickles interns were invited over to his chief of staffs
house for a pizza party. This evening, filled with food, friends,
and laughter, made me realize that my internship left me with
more than a wonderful experience that will look good on my
resume. It left me with new friends in a new city who I can
count on to be there for me. The friendships I made over sack
lunches and constituent mail will last a lifetime. I recommend
interning, in Washington, DC or anywhere, to anyone interested
in an intellectually stimulating summer full of new surroundings
and fresh faces.