For many of today’s college students, having at least one internship under their belt before graduation is pretty much as important as completing all the necessary credits to graduate.
This unwritten rule was undoubtedly on the minds of Kevin Gilligan ’09, Toronja Williams ’08, and Elizabeth Stamler ’09 when they applied for The Washington Center Fall 2007 Internship Program. However, this program took the internship experience several steps further. Students not only interned in Washington, DC, four to four-and-a-half days a week during an academic semester, they also lived in the city, volunteered in the community, and enrolled in an academic course and a leadership forum.
“The program was amazing from start to finish and really was a life-changing experience in more ways than one,” Gilligan, a communications studies major, said. Gilligan interned in public affairs with the US Department of Health and Human Services in their Web Communication Division, where he received a stipend that covered all his costs of living in DC for the semester.
As part of his duties, Gilligan wrote information pieces and press releases for government Web sites such as HHS.gov and AIDS.gov and assisted them with Web troubleshooting and expanding to social networking sites. He also assisted in emergency response drills and press conferences.
“I was involved in real projects with real consequences,” Gilligan said.
One of his most memorable experiences was formatting a major report to be given to President Bush and used to steer American policy on import safety.
“It was such a surreal experience formatting a federal government-wide major report that was to be handed to President Bush,” Gilligan said. “It was within the first two weeks of arriving in DC and already I was working on something that was truly going to make a difference. I will never forget that feeling.”
Williams, an international studies major, interned with the Institute of International Education in DC, where she was able to network with state department officials, leaders, and advisers.
“It was a rich and rewarding experience,” Williams said.
Describing one of her proudest moments, she said, “I had the opportunity to interview a legal adviser at the Department of Justice’s Overseas Prosecutorial Assistance Training.”
Stamler, a criminology major, interned at the US Department of Justice in the Domestic Security Section, where she primarily worked on illegal immigration and immigration fraud cases, including reviewing e-mails from a large illegal immigration ring.
“I enjoyed participating in the program,” Stamler said in an email. “There were many memorable moments. I attended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ farewell ceremony, a tour of the Pentagon, and the Pearl Harbor ceremony at the Navy Memorial. I have a lot of great memories of being in Washington.”
Since 1975, The Washington Center has gained over 35,000 alumni and worked with over 1,000 colleges and universities, including TCNJ. Other TCNJ students who have participated in the program include Shabnam Salih ’09 and Lindsey Pfrommer ’09, both political science majors who interned during the spring 2008 semester.
Stu Koch, associate professor of political science, and Karen Jenkins, assistant provost in the Office of International and Off-Campus Programs, serve as co-liaisons of The Washington Center program at TCNJ, helping students apply for the program. Koch is the academic adviser of the program, while Jenkins’s office processes the applications, similar to when a student applies to study abroad.
“The Washington Center works really hard in offering these (internship) placements,” Jenkins said. “Certainly, based off what I’ve seen, young people have had a broad array of placements.”
Gilligan, Stamler, and Williams all recommend the program to any student interested in interning in the DC area.
“The Washington Center is a very respected program in the DC area and is well known among businesses and institutions,” Gilligan said. “I would absolutely recommend this program to any TCNJ student no matter what their major.”
Both Stamler and Williams recommend that students who apply should hold out for the internship they want, since the typical student receives multiple placement offers.
“Students should take their time in exploring the kind of internships that they are interested in by narrowing it down to specific organizations,” Williams said.
“I would suggest students go with the internship they really want, and not to settle for another placement,” Stamler said.