Instead of spending sunny Saturdays in flip-flops and a T-shirt watching baseball games at Swayze Field this spring, University of Mississippi senior William Gillis is in Washington, D.C., walking the paths of top policy experts, touring Smithsonian museums and visiting national monuments.
Gillis, a 22-year-old marketing major from Columbus, is one of 17 UM students participating in the first Washington Internship Experience Program. Developed by UM’s Trent Lott Leadership Institute, Department of Political Science and Division of Outreach, the semester-long internships combine work and study for UM undergraduate and graduate students planned around their special interests.
Gillis said the view outside his window is just one reason he’s enjoying the experience. “I came up here as a business major and not really having any interest in politics; I am now seriously considering moving back to D.C. after I graduate,” he said.
The interns spend 32 hours each week working for government offices, the media or national institutions. They also attend a weekly class on Washington policy processes and take online courses through the university to maintain full-time student status.
Ashley Collins, a 22-year-old senior managerial finance major from Little Rock, Ark., said her internship has given her a new perspective on her studies.
“I work in the economic policy department of the Center for American Progress , and I thought I hated economics because my econ classes haven’t been that exciting, but being here makes me want to eventually pursue a career involving economics,” she said.
Dallas native Katie Hiatt, a 21-year-old junior journalism major and political science minor, said balancing school and work can be a challenge. After working all day for U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, (R-Texas), Hiatt must find time to complete nine hours of online classes through UM and attend the three-hour required class. Also, her internship work, which began with small responsibilities, has progressed to writing letters to constituents and material for the Congressional Record, giving her real-world experience in her major.
When stressed or homesick, Hiatt said she reminds herself why she is there. “Every little task I am given makes me feel better equipped and able to tell a future employer, ‘I’ve done X,Y and Z,’ and hopefully other people interviewing for that job won’t have that same experience,” she said.
Blake Jackson, a 21-year-old political science major from Shreveport, La., works for U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). He said he expects the experience will be a plus whether he decides to go to graduate school or find a job.
“I have a full semester of top-notch experience and references that will stand out in any pile of grad school and job applications,” Jackson said. “A GPA is important and campus activities are special, but any employer will tell you that your past work experience is what will set you apart.”
Though the WIE is an academic program, students are encouraged to take advantage of the full schedule of events and opportunities available to them in Washington.
Collins said she especially enjoys activities at the Center for American Progress arranged by the university outside of her internship. “We’ve been to the Kennedy Center, Arlington National Cemetery, Washington Monument, White House, Wizards games and more,” she said. “Our weekends are eventful and the best part is that Ole Miss has helped with the expenses if they weren’t free.”
Applications for WIE are coordinated by the Division of Outreach, said Mary Leach, on-campus program coordinator. After students complete an online application, they must meet for an informal interview with Leach; Joel Clark, adjunct professor of public policy leadership; and Tim Angle, assistant provost of summer school and outreach.
“We do an informal interview to make sure the students are up to par with this program,” Leach said.
Upon acceptance into WIE, each student has the opportunity to apply for merit-based and need-based scholarships. Leach said that 16 of the 17 students interning this semester received scholarships. Besides scholarships associated with the WIE program, all current scholarships and financial aid a student is receiving also apply.
Feedback from the interns indicates that the WIE program is successful. Leach is in weekly contact with each of them and reports that they all seem happy and well adjusted to their routines.
“I can’t imagine this program going any better,” Hiatt said. “It’s been really smooth, and I can’t think of a thing that could be done in a better way. The people are great and the program advisers are amazing people who I will hopefully always keep in touch with.”
Jackson said his time in Washington is proving to be invaluable. “Although Oxford in the spring is hard to miss – and I sure do miss those baseball games – the time I have spent here, learning daily what I want and don’t want to do with my life, has been priceless.”
For more information visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/washington_internship/
Students participating in the UM Washington Internship Experience Program for spring 2008 are:
- Christy Babb, of Nesbit, interning with the American Correctional Association
- Jeremy Becker, Arkabutla, International Center for Terrorism Studies
- Drew Brooks, Knoxville, Tenn., Center for Security Policy
- Mariah Cole, Oxford, Families USA – Publications Intern
- Ashley Collins, Maumelle, Ark., Center for American Progress – Economic Division
- William Gillis, Columbus, Tim Rupli Lobbying Firm and the office of U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
- Mary K. Hiatt, Dallas, Texas, U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarlings (R-TX)
- Shauna Harris, Horn Lake, Center for American Progress – Events Planning – College Campuses
- Michelle Hoenger, San Diego, D.C. Attorney General’s Office – Juvenile Division
- Jose Honeker, Argentina, Americans for Tax Reform
- Blake Jackson, Shreveport, La., U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
- W.B. Langley, Athens, Ga., U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
- Matt Minyard, Vicksburg, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
- Elena Murgina, Sarah, International Community Corrections Association
- Evelyn Parreno, Ecuador National Education Association
- Eric Pettit, Houlka, Correctional Corporation of America
- Stefan Sanders, Pope, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Personnel Operations and Services Dept.