Seaver College students gain real-world experience in the Washington, D.C. Internship Program.
By Gareen Darakjian
This summer approximately 45,000 college students from around the country flocked to Washington, D.C. to land an internship on Capitol Hill. Among those who earned a coveted position: students of the Seaver College Washington, D.C. Internship Program.
Twenty years ago the single-semester offering was launched as a summer program for political science students. Today, the program has expanded to provide internships year-round to students of all majors, with three groups traveling to Washington, D.C. per term to discover and further their professional objectives.
In 2009 Pepperdine acquired and revamped eight floors of a structure mere blocks from the White House, where students reside and fulfill the academic component of the program— evening courses. Thanks to generous contributions by donors such as Russell Ray, Jr., and Denny Lewis, each semester bursts with eager undergraduates who hope to work and live in the nation’s capital.
Back at Pepperdine for the academic year, four talented students share their personal Washington, D.C. experiences with Pepperdine Magazine.
THE YOUTH ACTIVIST
“So many people have tried to make a change in our educational system, but it’s just not working,” thought Seaver College junior Demisse Habteselasie. Troubled by the inconsistent leadership he witnessed at his high school in Beltsville, Maryland, he took charge as student government president his senior year and implemented changes to improve the processes and procedures that he thought could use some help. “The motivation was just change,” he says, recalling the frustration he felt knowing that neighboring counties were offered more resources and opportunities. “My high school was deteriorating academically.”
As a high school student, Habteselasie suggested a program that enlisted the help of local companies such as Best Buy and Target to set up a rewards system for community schools, a partnership in which retailers donated a percentage of proceeds towards books and resources for local students. At Seaver, the Posse Foundation scholarship recipient revisited this drive for community participation
two semesters in a row through the Washington, D.C. Internship Program, most recently this past spring, when he took part in the Leadership Program at the White House in the office of Presidential Correspondence’s Volunteer Leaders Program.
He interned this summer at Kirkland & Ellis, a D.C.-based international commercial law firm, doing casework and research for various departments. “There’s only so much you can do without a JD,” he says, citing the case assistance he provided for a pro bono immigration case that was granted a motion in favor of the client mere days before the Supreme Court ruled on immigration laws in Arizona.
Ultimately, Habteselasie’s passion lies in trial law, which he plans to pursue as an attorney in the future. “Politics is a career that sort of happens along the way. I definitely want to get involved in it and hopefully education is one of the topics that I tackle.”
THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOLAR
Though the senior has experienced the thrills, trials, and triumphs of living and learning away from her comfort zone, Emily Gibson once again looked beyond Malibu this summer for an opportunity to grow as a student and as a professional. Driven by previous internship experiences overseas—including one with Pepperdine’s London Summer Internship Program—and a bit of wanderlust, Gibson applied to the program as an intern at Amnesty International in the Country Specialist Program.
“I don’t necessarily have political hopes or ambitions, but D.C. is the center for a lot of international activity,” Gibson explains. She found the ideal fit at the nongovernmental organization where she helps approximately 130 volunteers who work to monitor human rights activities and abuses around the globe.
Gibson also found opportunities to be exposed to international human rights law attending luncheons and lectures for interns at the capital. “I have been able to hear things from NGOs and the governmental side of human rights. Working at Amnesty, I’ve learned a lot about how NGOs and nonprofits work, but these series helped me connect how governments deal with human rights and some of the political implications of why they will support one thing and not another.”
Her exposure to these opportunities has reinforced and invigorated her goal of working in some form of diplomacy. “I’ve always been told you should pursue what you enjoy and what you’re good at,” she says. “Working overseas is something that takes a lot of work, but it’s something I enjoy and if working in diplomacy is a way I can influence events for the better, I’d like to do that. And I get to travel!”
THE CULTURE SEEKER
Not all Washington, D.C. interns head to the Hill to pursue a future in politics. “There is a job in D.C. for everybody,” says Tucker Witte, who spent a semester this summer interning for the Policy and Resources Division for the Smithsonian Institution’s office of Contracting and Personal Property Management. “There are a lot of people who work on the Hill and have really cool jobs … and some get to just answer phones.”
Witte’s responsibilities fell into the former category. The business administration major nurtured his longtime fascination with museums and applied to the Smithsonian for the overall experience. “Museums have always been interesting to me,” he admits. “I’m the guy who can go to a museum for the day and really enjoy it.”
One of the most memorable experiences for the museum buff was when the interns were given the opportunity to visit the “Pods,” five numbered buildings in Maryland in which the Smithsonian keeps most of its collections not displayed in museums. “The museums hold about 10 percent of acquisitions,” he explains. “We were able to see how restorations for textiles, paintings, and woodwork were done.”
Witte’s team was in charge of acquiring new purchases for Smithsonian museums and developing and greenlighting the use of an e-learning software platform called Moodle. Witte’s division created online training courses for new employees with purchasing capabilities, which launched shortly after the end of his internship. “We finished and were on our last round of testing when we were contacted by other Smithsonian offices asking about using it,” he says. The software is now being considered as a pilot, which will be fine-tuned for Smithsonian-wide use.
“A lot of the things that I made are being circulated right now and will continue to be used for the next five to 10 years,” enthuses Witte. “I’m not saying I worked on the most important projects or things that needed to get done today, but I got to work on things that will continue to be used. I feel a lot of pride in my work.”
THE ADRENALINE JUNKIE
Tanner Sanchez likes a good adrenaline rush. So when he was presented with the opportunity to intern at the United States Marshals Service, he knew that it would satisfy his interest in a job that was demanding of both his physical and mental energy. “I was like any other little kid playing cops and robbers growing up. It just turned into a passion for me,” he says.
At the Marshals Service, Sanchez interned for the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, where he worked on censorship of sensitive information before dissemination to the public. But that’s just one exciting task out of the several he had the chance to experience in Washington, D.C. In addition to doing background investigations for wanted fugitives, Sanchez coordinated with field officers, providing them with necessary support at their locations. He also practiced building-entry and room- clearing and wore a bulletproof vest as he accompanied officers performing surveillance on a fugitive.
“The trainings were really eye-opening and exciting,” recalls Sanchez. “They were adrenaline-filled, and it was fun to acquire and develop new skills. Those were definitely memorable. It was also great just gleaning information from the officers and deputies and getting their take on their experiences.”
In one heart-pumping exercise, Sanchez traveled to the Drug Enforcement Agency Academy in
Quantico, Virginia, where he was given a “simunition” gun—a weapon that fires dummy rounds—and sent through a “kill house,” a warehouse with moveable walls that can be arranged to create different floor plans. “That was an amazing experience!” he recalls.
With plans to focus on a federal law enforcement career, Sanchez is confident that the Washington, D.C. Internship Program has been a valuable component of his future job search. “It’s interesting to see what matters to employers,” he remarks, referring to the ways in which employers prioritize different qualities in applicants. Sanchez knows that the pairing of his academic successes in Malibu and real-world work experience in D.C. are essential to his future in the federal service, “even though I’m not really thinking about school as I break in a door,” he laughs.
Introducing: The Washington World Program
Starting in the fall of 2013 the Washington, D.C. Internship Program will transition into the Washington World program, the newest phase of Pepperdine’s International Programs offerings. Modeled after current international programs, which, since 1963, have prepared students for transformative experiences in an international context, the Washington World program will open students up to the regional opportunities of the global city and incorporate two-week international study tours during the fall and spring semesters, as well as the opportunity to participate in part-time internships.
Given the options of a Middle Eastern experience in the fall (Dubai) or Latin American experience in the spring (Cuba or Haiti), students will spend four days immersed in the local cultures and integrate with local university students to socialize and participate in symposia, cultural exchanges, and stimulating conversations relevant to each of the cultures and countries.
The summer semester, which will remain internship-based, will provide Seaver College students with the same robust program that has afforded them the opportunities to investigate their professional goals in our nation’s capital and prepare them for a career in the global marketplace.