This semester, I had the opportunity to spend 15 weeks in Washington D.C. working two part-time internships: one with the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) in the education office for the ranking member, and the other with a national nonprofit, the Sustained Dialogue Institute. I also took two online classes through Appalachian, an independent study in the Politics of Education Policy and a Master’s class through the department of Curriculum and Instruction on Advanced Topics in Diversity. I lived in the heart of Washington D.C., just a block away from the Senate Hart Office building and two blocks from the Supreme Court building and was able to build relationships and connect with change makers and new friends from all across the globe. It was the first semester that I was really able to fully engage in my future career goals of education policy, and it was completely eye-opening and life-changing in so many ways.
With the Senate HELP Committee, I participated in research projects and worked to analyze recent legislation and regulations in education policy. I also had the opportunity to shadow my mentor, a former Appalachian alumna who was the Education Policy Director, to some meetings, and attended several briefings for new reports and various legislative actions to write memos for the staffers. One of the highlights of the semester was attending a “constituent coffee” with Senator Patty Murray (WA), who was the ranking member of the HELP committee. It was so inspiring to be able to meet a Senator, have a small conversation with her, and hear more about her story and how she came to be involved with federal politics 24 years ago.
With the Sustained Dialogue Institute, I primarily worked closely with the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network staff in assisting with tasks to expand the reach of their programming and to create new handouts and information for workshops and trainings. I also was largely responsible for a lot of event planning that went into the Host Committee Luncheon and the National Dialogue Awards to honor U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (which also meant I got to see her speak, which was incredible!) Through my work with Sustained Dialogue, I was able to not only learn a lot about the inner workings of nonprofits and the different skill sets required to work in that field, but also really engage with diversity and dialogue work and expand on my communication and leadership skills as well.
Throughout the semester, I was also given many amazing opportunities unrelated to my internships or online courses. I attended the World Bank Youth Summit: Rethinking Education for the New Millennium. I took a White House tour (East Wing only) and ventured onto the White House lawn for the Fall Garden Tours. I was able to attend the opening ceremonies for the National Museum of African American History and Culture and was also somehow able to get tickets to attend the museum two weekends in a row. I spent time exploring every monument and museum, my favorites being the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Hirshhorn Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, and the Air and Space Museum. I became a big fan of D.C. United, along with the Washington Nationals and the Washington Capitals throughout my stay. Most importantly, I made amazing friends from across the world as I built relationships with other interns and college students from England, the Netherlands, Brazil, South Korea, Turkey, and various states across the U.S.
All in all, my semester in Washington D.C. was life-changing in so many ways. I discovered that this is the city that I really want to live and work in after college, and I discovered an unwavering passion for education reform, both through the federal government and the nonprofit field. I became more confident in my abilities and my strengths throughout the semester and learned to push my boundaries and try new things more than I ever had before. I believe that I grew exponentially as an activist and citizen throughout the semester, as well as just emotionally and mentally in many ways. I am so sorry to see this semester end but cannot wait to see the adventures that will come as a result of this experiences. Even further, I can’t wait to return to D.C. as a member of the workforce someday!
Written by: Sarah Aldridge