by Paul Odu, 2019 KIPP Federal Policy Intern and KIPP Kansas City Alum
When I arrived as an intern on the hill, I immediately felt overwhelmed. The Senator’s chief-of-staff and intern coordinator led me on a very brief tour of the Russell Senate Building, the site of my summer internship in Senator Josh Hawley’s office.
As much as I would like to assert that I approached the impending experience with confidence, the opposite was true. During those first few moments in the Senate, I was quickly jostled from task to task. “I need you to watch the hour-long video on ethics!” “Your ID is ready for pickup!” “You need to set up your Senate email!” My first day on Capitol Hill was riddled with these rudimentary, yet vital obligations.
For me, this internship represented much more than a mere stepping stone or something that I hoped to just mindlessly insert into a resume or LinkedIn Profile. Interning in Congress would serve as a test for whether or not I would seek to pursue politics in the future. Moreover, it represented an opportunity to experience the political process for myself and witness the effect that individuals like me can have on our American leadership.
I was well aware that interning in D.C. would not come with much glory or glamour. Nevertheless, there are so many students across the United States that want to intern in the Capitol but are deterred by costs. Having the opportunity to intern in DC with KIPP’s unyielding support meant the world to me and I know the experiences and skills that I gained working in Congress will make an incredible difference in my personal and professional life going forward.
Coming into my internship, I was hoping to both gain a better understanding of the Judiciary and develop skills that I could potentially transfer over to my academic life in college. As for the Judiciary, I was out of luck. The research I conducted on the hill primarily involved housing and small business, not the American court system. I am grateful that I could learn more about important topics such as affordable housing and rural entrepreneurship. The skills I gained from researching legislation and making policy proposals will serve me well in the future. Beyond politics, I feel that the Hill gave me access to a wealth of resources that made it much easier to expand my professional network.
Looking back on my experience in D.C. this summer, I noticed that many of my preconceptions about working in government—especially as an intern—were incorrect. I expected that my primary responsibilities would include shuffling paperwork, transporting coffee, and answering angry constituent phone calls. The opposite was true. While I did spend a decent amount of time doing typical clerical tasks like logging emails, a majority of my time was spent dealing with real issues that affect real the lives of those living in my community and around the country. That fact alone has made this experience unforgettable.
If I had any advice for aspiring Hill interns, it would be to listen and learn from others. There are so many intelligent people on the Hill, each with their own unique backgrounds and perspectives on politics and life beyond Washington. It’s vital to take advantage of the opportunity to speak with those individuals and learn from their experiences. Reaching out in this way may seem awkward or uncomfortable, but it pays dividends. Regardless of socioeconomic status, political affiliation, or any of the other countless measures we use to divide ourselves, I think that everyone I met while interning in D.C. this summer had a significant impact on my life. Armed with these new ideas, I feel emboldened to effect change not just in my community, but for the world.