Melanie, 23, held internships in the field of political science throughout college, including most recently with the United States Congress. Melanie graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 2012. Here, she shares her internship experiences and advice for youth who are interested in pursuing careers in public service.
I was one of the rare 18-year-olds who knew exactly what I wanted to study in college: political science. So, when an opportunity to intern for a local political campaign was emailed to political science majors during the first week of classes of my freshman year at the University of Vermont, I immediately hopped on the bus and went to the office. The campaign was looking for juniors and seniors, but I explained how passionate I was about the political process and my deep desire to learn more about how campaigns are run. With hard work and a positive attitude, I earned a recommendation for another internship during my sophomore year doing scheduling for a national political figure in Vermont. During my junior year, I decided that I wanted to see the national political scene up close in Washington, D.C., so I did just that. I interned in the office of a senator and I knew that I had chosen the right career path.
Meanwhile, I was spending my summers working at Hidden Valley, a camp in Freedom, Maine. On the surface, working at camps and interning on Capitol Hill seem to have nothing in common. But the transferrable skills that I developed at camp were crucial to my success in Washington. As a counselor and program director, I quickly learned how to interact with all types of people from all walks of life. I also honed my communication, flexibility, and time management skills. It is possible to have fun while working hard, no matter what field you work in!
The advice I would give to youth interested in making a difference and working in the political field would be to apply for an internship with your representative or senator, at a government agency, or with an organization that advocates for an issue you feel passionately about. Politicians have offices all over the state or district they represent, so there are internship opportunities across the country, no matter where you live or go to school. If you have the ability to go to Washington, D.C., for a semester in college, then do it! Often, fewer candidates apply for fall and spring internships, making those opportunities less competitive than summer internships.
When you get an internship, here is my advice to you:
- Demonstrate professionalism. In the offices where I worked, the interns that stood out were those who understood that they were working in a professional office — they put away their cell phones, didn’t watch videos or go on Facebook, and would seek out projects from staffers.
- Take initiative. Don’t sit around and wait to be asked to do something. Staffers are busy and often have too much going on to figure out specific projects for you, seek you out, or explain what to do. If you can find a way to reach out to staffers, take things off of their plate, and do a thorough and complete job, you will become indispensable to your office.
- Have a positive attitude. You want to enjoy yourself and show others that you are happy to be there. You may be asked to work on projects that don’t interest you or to do tasks that seem beneath you, but if you can complete them with a smile, staffers will want to give you the work that is more fun and interesting.
- Keep in touch. When the internship is over, keep in touch with those you feel most comfortable with. Send them an email every now and then to let them know how you’re doing, but don’t send emails constantly. Maintaining that relationship with staffers will keep you on their radar in case permanent staff positions become available.
No matter what career you choose in life, interning for a politician, government agency, or nonprofit organization enables you to gain experience in a professional office and unique insight into the workings of government and how laws get made or changed.
To learn more about public service internships, visit the Making the Most of Public Service Internships webinar archive.