University launches Capitol Hill internship program for all majors
In the fall of 1980, Ken Bickers was working in a Washington, D.C., political office. He watched Ronald Reagan win a historic election and the U.S. Senate change hands.
At the time, Bickers was a student at Texas Christian University in Forth Worth. He’d come to the nation’s capital as part of a not-for-profit internship program, and the experience augured his career.
“Being on the Hill during a big election was incredibly exciting,” Bickers recalls. “It was in some ways the peak experience of my experience at TCU.”
It also helped clarify what he wanted to do in life. After his internship concluded, he decided to attend graduate school to study American politics and policy, “which is more or less what I had done in my internship.”
Today, Bickers is chair and professor of the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado. He’s still analyzing American policy and politics. “I’m actually doing more of that now than I was then,” he says.
Given his background, it is no surprise that Bickers helped the university launch a Washington, D.C., internship program, which began this summer.
Ginnie Meyers is among that inaugural group. She graduated from the Leeds School of Business in 2007. Afterward, she worked in the banking industry and decided that the “nitty gritty, day-to-day” aspects of finance were less than captivating.
So she returned to CU as a political-science major and signed up for the “CU in D.C.” internship program. She worked in the office of Congressman Mike Coffman, the Colorado Republican.
There, they gave her the opportunity to work on some financial issues again, but in a political context.
She enjoyed hands-on, front-row learning, such as attending key congressional hearings. “I was literally 10 feet away from (Federal Reserve Board Chairman) Ben Bernanke at a hearing on the economic state of the country,” Meyers recalls. A few days later, She watched Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan, brief the Armed Services Committee.
Meyers emphasizes that she loved her political science classes but notes that those courses involved a fair amount of theory. Working in the government helped vivify what she learned in class and “solidified” her conservative views about government spending and size.
Further, working on Capitol Hill illuminated the labyrinthine congressional processes, she notes. “It’s been eye-opening.”
Meyers, who grew up in Boulder, is staying in Washington for a year and would like to work on the Hill longer. While she’d like to work on economic (versus macro-economic) issues, she’s open to other options as well.
She has no regrets about returning to school and joining CU’s new internship program. “I knew I wanted to be in politics. Moving to D.C. seemed like the right path for me to take.” She adds, “I couldn’t be happier about my experience here.”
As Bickers notes, “Washington, D.C., runs on internships,” and the city brims with young people having similar experiences. Meyers adds, “Everybody’s in a transitional phase in their lives, so people are very warm and welcoming.”
Joshua Yahr, also a political science major, was another member of the CU in D.C. program’s first delegation. He interned at the Economic Development Administration, an arm of the Department of Commerce whose job is to foster job creation.
There, Yahr was part of a team striving to incubate jobs to replace the 5,000-plus positions lost at the Kennedy Space Center as a result of the end of the space-shuttle program. Yahr spent a significant amount of time studying alternatives including photovoltaic-energy production and installation.
The internship fit in “spectacularly” with his long-term goals. “I am keenly interested in a career in government. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been put in the position I was in,” he says.
Yahr says hands-on experience—what CU’s strategic plan calls “experiential learning”—is a great way to learn. “It gave me incredible insights on many levels.”
He is taking online courses in Washington to finish his course work and plans to intern for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat, until December, when he will graduate. After that, he’ll search for a job, possibly in a congressional office.
“Politics have been intuitively important to me. I’ve been drawn to them as long as I can remember,” Yahr says.
“I’m a huge fan of history, and history is being made here every day.”
While Bickers has long touted the value of a Washington, D.C., internship program, he was not alone.
“It seemed to me that a university of this size, with as many majors as we have, there ought to be a well-structured program in D.C.,” Bickers observes. Many of CU’s peer institutions have maintained Washington, D.C., programs for years.
Todd Gleeson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, had long had the same vision. Before his retirement, Hank Brown, the former CU president who also served as a U.S. senator and congressman, joined the political-science department as a faculty member.
With the trio’s interest and experience, “The pieces came together.”
This summer, the first CU in D.C. group included six students who interned on Capitol Hill and elsewhere while completing a significant research project. This year, the political-science department ran the program. Next year, the College of Arts and Sciences will take over. The switch aims to attract students from a broader range of majors.
Students most likely to join the program include those in political science, economics and international affairs. Beyond that, there are internship possibilities for students in environmental sciences, life sciences, psychology, communication, sociology, art history and history.
“Students in the humanities may seek out internships not so much because it’s directly tied to their majors but because it’s might give them a leg up” in subsequent job searches, Bickers says.
Bickers acknowledges that students considering the CU in D.C. program are likely to weigh both financial costs and opportunity costs. The direct costs include the price of six credit-hours of tuition, housing, transportation and food. “Unfortunately, it’s more of a commitment than some students can make,” but scholarships are available.
The opportunity cost is what students would not be doing because they’re in the capital.
“What they’re doing is likely to be more important and better than what they might be doing” in Boulder, particularly if they’re spending summers working at restaurants or rock climbing, Bickers suggests.
“I think it’s really important that the college, actually the whole campus, have access to a Washington, D.C., program. … It can only help us as a campus and a state to have kids in Washington, D.C., and experiencing” the legislative process.
Bickers says the first-year group reported having had “great internship experiences” and interacted frequently with Eamon Aloyo, the graduate student who was there to shepherd the students.
Senior instructor Janet Donovan served as internship coordinator and also oversaw the students’ major paper, which is related to their internships and is the primary academic product they’re responsible for. Next year, Vicki Hunter, a senior instructor in international affairs, will serve as internship director.
Optimally, the CU in D.C. program will enroll about 20 students a year, Bickers says.
Next year’s six-credit-hour course will take place during the summer term, between the end of May and early August, in Washington, D.C. Applications are being accepted until 20 spots are filled, after which a waiting list will be compiled.
To learn more about CU in D.C., see http://artsandsciences.colorado.edu/cu_in_dc or contact Vicki Hunter at 303-492-6214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To support the program, contact Kimberly Bowman, associate director of development, CU Foundation, 303-541-1446 or email@example.com.