Students intern in Washington

Heather Bing

Textbook assignments that go on for hours, lousy weather and the daily struggle of rolling out of bed for class – a day in the life of some Kent State student.

Unless you’re Marisia Styles.

The senior political science and international relations major is taking notes for news briefings, attending meetings on the House floor, working on committee legislation, completing training to give tours of Capital Hill and working with Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

“I want to come back and tell people how wonderful Washington, D.C., is – how great this program is,” Styles said.

She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she is completing an internship through the Washington Program in National Issues. This program, offered by the political science department and the Alumni Association, provides students with a 15-week internship that also counts for 15 upper-division credit hours.

Styles also heard about the Columbus Program in Intergovernmental Issues which is modeled after the Washington Program. Although she said she realized interning in Columbus would keep her closer to family and friends, she decided she had already seen Columbus. It was time to try something new.

“I liked the idea of Washington,” she said. “I had never been there before.”

A typical work week for the students runs from Sunday to Friday. On Sunday students attend a weekly overview of the week’s activities, and then on Monday and Tuesday, students attend briefings and go on tours to learn about the U.S. Capitol.

Styles said she has already toured the Capitol and the Library of Congress. At the end of the library tour each student became a member of the library. Students can use the membership to complete research during the semester.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, each student works at his or her individual internship. Styles said the internship has already given her direction on her career path.

“I knew I wanted to work in legislation, but I also wanted to go to law school,” she said. “I still want to go to law school, but now I’m even more interested in the legislation.”

Styles said one of her office duties is relaying messages to her boss, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, from citizens. Some are supportive while some want to express thoughts on current issues and what needs to be done. Styles said she was surprised her boss listens to the messages and stays aware of what the people want.

“To me, being a congresswoman would be the best thing in the world,” she said. “People really rely on you. You have the ability to make changes, and I like that about it.”

According to Michelle McCall, junior business management major who is also currently in the program, just being in the nation’s capital is one of the program’s best perks.

“I love D.C.,” she said. “This is the place that I want to spend the rest of my life.”

McCall said she has visited Chinatown, memorials, the White House and is planning trips to visit the Smithsonian museums and the Holocaust Museum. But she and her roommates also enjoy experiencing another more cultural side of the town.

“A lot of places we go, the average person couldn’t go,” she said. “It’s like being in the political world, only we’re just interns.”

Richard Robyn is an assistant professor at Kent State and the director for the program. He said when the program began in 1973, the students were dropped off and left in Washington, D.C., for the semester. During his time as director, Robyn has traveled to the city to live during the semester so he can teach a class and help the students.

“Kent State was one of the first to do that,” he said. “It was kind of unique in doing that.”

Robyn said each semester in Washington, D.C., is different from the last. Last week, students were able to sit in the galleries of the House of Representatives as the session was coming to order the night of the president’s State of the Union Address. The students will also be talking to lobbyists about the effects the recent scandal involving Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff and the Cassidy and Associates lobbying firm having on Congress and Capitol Hill.

“We’re always told, ‘you’re sure to have a good time,’ each year we go to Washington, D.C.,” Robyn said. “The inside joke is that it’s always exciting.”

Robyn receives feedback from each student about the overall experience when he or she turns in a personal journal at the end of the semester. Students often have complaints about the weather, the expense of living near the capital and suggest the program be moved to the summer or fall.

Robyn said he looks into suggestions that he can control, but that spring is the best time to hold the program. Unlike in summer, there are more internship positions available and unlike the fall, the weather continually improves throughout the semester.

Students also give positive feedback throughout the semester as well as in the journals. The internship, most have found, is unlike anything students can experience at home.

“It’s their first foray into professional life,” he said. “It can be daunting but also very exciting.”

The students selected to take part in the program are of varying majors and have differing plans for the future, but the experience has an impact on every participant nonetheless, he said.

“Students say in journals, writings, to myself and to others, that this is the highlight of their lives,” Robyn said. “Especially their lives at Kent State.”

Contact College of Arts and Scences reporter at [email protected].