Hokies on the Hill internship program propels students to pursue careers in public service

Student interns with Rosa Gumataotao Rios

Student interns with Rosa Gumataotao Rios

NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, May 27, 2010 – "It has taken everything I've learned, both in class and extracurricular, and thrown it all together for an amazing semester."

This is what Nicholas Jeffress of Midlothian, Va., who graduated this month with a degree in English and political science from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, had to say about the Hokies on the Hill Internship Program launched in the National Capital Region this spring.

“Whether talking politics with former Congressman Tom Davis, grabbing coffee with friends of friends to learn about their [Capitol] Hill experiences, or meeting constituents and listening to what’s on their mind, I feel as though everything about this semester has gotten me energized to move forward,” Jeffress added.

One of five undergraduates from Blacksburg who participated in the program, Jeffress worked in the office of Congressman Rick Boucher. “When I started this internship I had planned to go to law school,” said Jeffress. “Now I want to continue to be a Hokie on the Hill; law school is on the back burner.”

Hot-button issues like health care reform made it an especially exciting time to be working on Capitol Hill, according to the interns. Constituents bombarded congressional offices with phone calls and correspondence and they helped respond to them. In addition to manning the phones and answering correspondence, interns attended hearings and worked on research projects. Jeffress’ work experience included giving tours of the Capitol.

While working for U.S. Senator Jim Webb, Brittany Brown of Richmond, Va., a 2010 graduate with a degree in international studies from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, was asked to attend and write summaries on Congressional sessions pertaining to East Asia, clean energy, and transportation. “The transportation sessions were particularly interesting,” she said. “I found that this issue is very important to more people than I realized.”

Like Jeffress, Brown was focused elsewhere before beginning the internship. “I wanted to travel the world,” she said, “but now I just want to work on Capitol Hill. “I saw how hard people work but I also saw how they really care about what they do.” Both Jeffress and Brown said that their internships have put them in a good position to network for a job, “an opportunity we would not have had otherwise,” said Jeffress. Brown will continue to work in Webb’s office as an intern while she looks for a full-time position on Capitol Hill.

Two other 2010 graduating seniors participated in the program. Olivia Leonard of Appomattox, Va., who is majoring in political science, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, worked for U.S. Senator Mark Warner and Ashlee Goodwin of Columbus, Ohio, who is majoring in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences worked in the office of Congressman Jim Moran. A fifth intern, Josh Deutschmann of Columbia, Md., was a sophomore majoring in economics and mathematics in the College of Science. He interned for the Clark Group, a firm specializing in public and private sustainability, climate solutions, and renewable energy.

Chris Yianilos, director, federal relations, Virginia Tech, was instrumental in developing the Hokies on the Hill internship program, and worked with Professor Richard Rich, political science, in Blacksburg. “Our students were given a unique opportunity to witness first-hand how Washington works during a remarkable time in the Congress,” Yianilos said. “Based on their success and the high value that each student has placed on his or her experiences, it is my expectation that the Hokies on the Hill program will continue for years to come.”

All Hokie on the Hill interns earned six credit hours for working a full day Monday through Thursday and three credits for other activities associated with the internship, which generally took place on Friday. Students were able to earn another three credit hours through an online course or an independent study arranged through their department of study.

The spring semester included touring Washington, D.C., landmarks like the Pentagon, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving, and the U.S. Treasury. At the treasury, they happened upon U.S. Treasurer Rosa Gumataotao Rios, who invited them into her office, and posed for photos with them. They also visited with Virginia Tech alumnus and Congressman Rob Wittman in his Capitol Hill office. Wittman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biological sciences from Virginia Tech in 1981.

Classroom seminars with Yianilos addressed both legislative issues and their personal internship experiences. Anne Khademian, professor and director, and Matt Dull, assistant professor, Center for Public Administration and Policy made a presentation during one of the sessions.

Also speaking to the interns during specially arranged meetings were former U.S. Senator John Warner, who covered a wide range of topics from Virginia political history to campaign finance reform and how the United States Senate has changed over the 30 years that he served in the United States Senate; former U.S. Senator and former Virginia Gov. George Allen, who discussed energy policy; David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington, D.C. , who shared many anecdotes from having served as advisor to four presidents; and former Congressman Tom Davis who, according to Jeffress, “was charismatic, funny, and extremely knowledgeable about politics and campaigning.”

“All of the speakers had a wealth of information and great stories to tell,” said Brown. “These sessions were an important part of the internship program.”

From the very beginning, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger had a strong interest in launching the Hokies on the Hill Internship Program."This program provides our students with real-world work experience in our nation's capital while at the same time allowing them to form networks that could be immensely helpful when they enter the job market upon graduation," said Steger. "I am grateful to the Virginia Congressional delegation for their continued, strong support of Virginia Tech and for providing our students an opportunity to serve them on Capitol Hill this past semester."

During a trip to Washington, D.C., Steger met with the interns. “Our meeting with President Steger was absolutely a highlight of my internship experience. It was a great opportunity to meet the president of the college I attended for four years. He is someone I truly admire,” said Brown.

Hokies on the Hill will continue spring semester 2011. Slots are limited and the application process will begin in the fall. To learn more about the program, contact Chris Yianilos at (703) 518-2701.