Jingyue (Jean) Zhang (National Center on Sexual Exploitation)

Effective Active Citizenship

Third to the last day of my work, I sat in front of my desk and pulled up an Excel that I have been working on for almost half of the time in my internship. It was a 5-year-old contact list with 150 US trafficking shelters in it, and my task was to call each one of them to make sure they were still operating and to update the information about the facility. Of course, by the third to the last day, I have already contacted the entire list, and the list was full of my color code as well. Green, contacted. Yellow, messaged. Red, closed.

I scrolled up and down through the list. The red lines kept catching my attention. Even when I moved my eyes to the green lines, I still kept staring at the column “available beds” and the single-digit numbers below. Calculated the total availability, I started wondering, “do these non-profits really help?” And further, “does my work really help?”

I signed up for VIEW specifically wanting to go into non-profits that work on women and children’s issue. I wanted to be part of the force that could make positive and effective changes to the world. But my fantasy about non-profits fell apart in front of this trafficking shelter list. Moreover, concerned friends kept reminding me of the financial situation of working in non-profit; people working in non-profits suggested not to start a career here; even the effective altruism group was promoting the idea of “earning to give” as a way to make the most effective changes. What should I do about my career, my passion and my dream?

Second to the last day of my work, an answer seemed to come my way. After hours of lobbying and negotiating, our organization achieved a major victory in a campaign. We successfully persuaded Hilton Hotel in Texas not to host an adult expo to stop furthering potential sexual exploitation. News agencies posted articles about our movements and more hotel chains agreed not to host this event. It seemed to me a pretty big success, even though what I did for this campaign was simply putting together some reports about previous sexual exploitation in Texas.

Then I start to understand what it takes to make the positive and effective changes I want. It takes not one person, or one group but a collaborative effort from different walks of life. The most effective way for me to be part of it is to find the position where I can perform the best, be it an advocate in a non-profit, a researcher for social issues or a lawyer that does pro-bono work.

Last day of my work, I happened to be the last one to leave the office. As I walked out, I closed the lights and locked the door behind me. I couldn’t believe my time here was over and I had to leave, but I believe my time in DC has already left me with all the experiences, memories and inspirations that I will forever cherish.

Ania Szczesniewski (Greenpeace)

Could it really be only two more days? It feels unreal. As interns, we share only a blip with our full-time coworkers. Essentially, we are merely a round of new young faces, soon to be replaced by the next installment of eager, curious, temporary helpers. I think this is important to stay cognizant of so that that you can make yourself an exception to the word “merely.” Cause it’s true: when I think Greenpeace, the people there during my window of employment fill the whole screen. That space is a vast part of their lives though, so the interns are likely the least defining component of their workspace, simply due to our transience.

An impression is built over time, but you need to make sure you end on the best possible note. The saying goes “it’s not where you start, but where you finish.” You can do great for most of your internship and then tear down the reputation you’d built by growing lazy in those final days. Yes, you may be getting tired. Yes, you may be ready to move on. Make sure to stay happy and savor those last few days. Remind yourself of the excitement when you were accepted, that anticipation for the first day, and all the wonderful surprises you’ve had since starting. Fill yourself with that positive energy and tie a bow around your experience. Let this journey be a present for yourself and those you worked with.

Don’t lose professional connections, but above all, appreciate and value the friends you’ve made, regardless of their title. Your fellow interns may not “get your foot in the door,” but they can be precious too. Mine surely are, and here’s a picture of us:

Ania GreenPeace Interns

The people who always made me look forward to a day at the office.

Bella Jones (Environment America)

My summer in DC has come and gone in the blink of an eye. I am so grate to have had the opportunity to be a part of this great city and to be so near so many important people, organizations, and political events. I’m so happy to have spent my summer here working and growing as a person along the way.

A few things I’ve learned about working on campaign for clean energy:

  1. Be open-minded – Most of the time you won’t agree with your coworkers or your boss about how something should be done. That’s okay. Be open to listening to their views and be willing to accept them. Don’t give you on your ideas, but be willing to accept that sometimes they may be put on the backburner.
  1. Be positive – At the beginning of campaigns especially, you will experience failure. It happens. It takes time to build a movement and it’s even harder when you’re not from the district you’re targeting. Let it roll off and continue to push forward, even harder.
  1. Be flexible – Seriously. Everyone likes to say they’re flexible. In campaign world, schedules can get crazy. But when it comes to changing schedules and uncertainty in assignments, it’s easy to get annoyed. But it’s important to be okay with that uncertainty.

I will carry these valuable lessons onward with me into my career and my life. Outside of my internship, I really have enjoyed DC as a city. There is so much to do and the community is so involved in festivals and events like Jazz in the Garden and the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. I love the food as well. Someone once told me that DC’s restaurant beat Nashville’s. He was not wrong. My foodie experience in the city has been out of this world. From the abundant farmer’s markets to the unique restaurants, there is no doubt that DC is brimming with dinner possibilities.

I have been so lucky to have spent these two months here, to have gained the insight I have from others, and to have gained the work skills I have. Until next time DC.

Crystal Liu (Brookings John L. Thornton China Center)

The first month in DC, it was more like letting myself absorb the atmosphere as much as possible. I took a while to settle in, arranging things like setting a reading goal for the summer, finding a comfortable running route, deciding a workout plan, and forming a good group of friends. As the second month approached, I found myself already experienced in dealing with different situations at work, at home, or at networking scenes. Therefore, I let myself follow the rhythm and decided to explore DC more aggressively. And here follows are some quotes from my conversations with different people that I hold dearly to heart.

  •  The underlying principal of effective networking is to engage other people into your journey.
  • Take the chances to try cool things. You are young.
  • Build on the character in the time of chaos, and then you will be able to either deal with it gracefully or fight it back elegantly.
  • You are extremely lucky.

 

Madison Blackstock (U.S. Trade Representative)

At moments it feels like I’ve been in Washington, DC for a lifetime. While it’s only been seven short weeks, with three more to go, I can’t help but begin to reflect on everything this city and my experience here have taught.

Professionally, I anticipated growth and hoped for a better idea of what career would be able to both engage me and allow me to best showcase my strengths. To my surprise, DC is a younger city than most, filled people not that far removed from myself and eager to help the next group of leaders. Through their guidance and listening to stories of their own experiences, I have a renewed excitement for the future – perfectly timed after a bit of a sophomore slump.

However, my experience in DC has been so much more than learning new professional skills. More than anything it’s been about learning myself. While here I’ve challenged myself in areas I may have previously avoided, for fear of doing something wrong or simple lack of experience. From something as simple as trying newer, healthier foods to opening myself up to a series of new ways of thinking; I now feel like a stronger, more well-balanced version of my previous self.

DC has given me a new worldview and a stronger personal insight that I’m eager to bring back to Vanderbilt.

Emma Stewart (Congressman Jim Cooper)

This summer I have been lucky enough to have not just one internship, but two. A little less than a month ago I packed up my stuff in Representative Kevin Yoder’s office, made the figurative trek across the aisle to and started working for Representative Jim Cooper. When I was applying for internships, I didn’t plan on doing two or working for both a Republican and a Democrat. But now that I am almost done with my summer in Washington, I know I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Coming into the summer, I was very nervous to have two different parties listed on my resume. I thought I needed to pick a side or else I was going to doom myself for any future employment because I had “worked for the enemy.” I thought I needed to take a stand one way or another if I was ever to make a real difference in our world. America’s party system is divided red and blue, so I felt like I had to be too. However, what I’ve learned is that the ability to see things from all angles and being open to other opinions is not a weakness, but a strength. And today, and rare one.

In my two months working in the House of Representatives, I have had a lot of time to reflect on what I believe and my vision for what America should be. Meeting with staffers, going to hearings, and talking to constituents on the phone I’ve been exposed to countless perspectives on issues I didn’t even know were issues. Sometimes, I completely disagreed with what people had to say. A few times, I had no opinion whatsoever. But all the time, I listened. If I have learned anything this summer, it is that a lot of problems in Washington could be solved if everyone just listened to each other a little more. Spending time on both sides of the aisle, I realized red and blue aren’t quite as different as they appear.

Looking back, it seems crazy to me that I was afraid I would never get hired again if I worked for both parties. This fear of being truly bipartisan is all part of the problem of modern party polarization. If I have any advice for someone who wants to work in Washington, take the risk and work for the other side. There’s a lot more to learn over there.

Emma Stewart and Cooper Interns

Alexandra (Allee) Smith (The Livingston Group)

The pivotal moment in my summer was when I stopped looking at my internship as a job but started seeing it as an opportunity. We all joined VIEW, the Vanderbilt Internship Experience in Washington D.C., in order to be a part of something more than our job. However, thinking about this type of experience and living this type of experience is very different.

For most of us, it took a learning curve to appreciate that, while we may provide free labor for a variety of relatively low-skill tasks, our respective organizations provide much more to us. They provide us exposure to a variety of topics, experience with new situations, perspective on the work force, advice for our potential career paths, and most importantly a network. The moment we saw past the daily tasks we were assigned, looked at what was going on around us, and became engaged – these were the moments where our internships became experiences.

This summer I have had the incredible opportunity of interning with The Livingston Group and with their lead partner in the International Practice area. Through this experience, I have learned a variety of skills and lessons that will stick with me for years to come. I have discovered new things about myself, my friends, and the work force that I will join in only 10 months! I made these discoveries by engaging in the network available to me and talking to anyone who was generous enough to share their time. Through these conversations I learned many lessons of which I will just name a few.

  •  Don’t make assumptions… about people, about your abilities, about your future, about anything.
  • Don’t ever let your ego get bigger than your work ethic. Be willing to work.
  • Do not ever talk badly about anyone. What goes around, comes around. You never know who that person may become in the future.
  • Ask questions (but do your research first).
  • Wish success for others so others will wish success for you.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Pass “the torch”. Everyone got to where they are today because of someone who helped them along the way. When given the opportunity, be that torch for someone else.

 

 

 

Brianna Moreno (U.S. Senator Marco Rubio)

This week I have had the opportunity to work for several staffers on different projects. One project I particularly enjoyed was compiling a comprehensive list of my boss’s work in the western hemisphere. Latin America has always been important to me, and my family has always emphasized the importance of strong relations between the United States and Central & South America. This project allowed me to see all the work the Senator has done in defending human rights in the area, particularly in places like Cuba and Venezuela. The people of these countries do not have the freedoms we enjoy here – if they speak out against their government they face prison, they cannot access food, they do not have the basic rights they should expect from their government. This is a reality my family has known and has always taught me to recognize. Being able to really see every thing the Senator has done for the betterment of others in these areas really made me realize I’m doing work I’ve always wanted to do.

Mckenzie Jones (Vanderbilt University Office of Federal Relations)

The Challenges to Changing Public Policy

Interning at Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations has allowed me to learn more about public policy and the challenges political organizations face when advocating for certain legislation. After attending First Focus’s 2016 Children’s Budget Summit and a briefing entitled “Building on the Child Tax Credit to Help All Children Thrive” hosted by the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation, I learned that even legislation aimed at fighting child poverty (something I’m sure everyone would agree is a good thing) can be mired by political controversy.

At the summit, Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist and CNN correspondent labeled the child poverty rate in America a “nightmare” and blamed common stereotypes many Americans hold regarding individuals in poverty for the lack of public support for social programs (i.e. SNAP, TANF, and the Child Tax Credit). Blow noted that because many Americans often view individuals in poverty as unmotivated and unintelligent, they oppose social programs in order to punish these individuals. Blow then ominously warned that efforts to punish parents inadvertently inhibit our nation from protecting its most valuable investment: its children. Blow’s words became all the more relevant when I attended the Child Tax Credit briefing the next day. Several panelists raised alarm concerning the risks children who grow up in poverty face: increased high school drop-out rates, increased incarceration rates, and greater likelihoods of becoming adults who live in poverty. After panelists advocated for eliminating the minimum wage earnings requirement in order to make the CTC more accessible to low and moderate income families with children, a member of the audience asked if panelists worried that by making the CTC more accessible they would breed a “victim culture” or sense among low-income parents that they are incapable of ever becoming financially independent.

Panelists eagerly replied, making the point that the majority of low income families want to be financially independent and thinking like his is holding our nation back. It ultimately surprised me that someone could mean well, but still hold implicit stereotypes about low-income families. While his question, which I’m sure was intended to emphasize the importance of widely celebrated American values like a strong work ethic and self-reliance, it ultimately revealed his assumption that once individuals living in poverty receive government assistance they will no longer feel the need to continue working towards financial independence. While I may simply be too young and optimistic, I ultimately believe that every parent wants to become financially-independent in order to ensure greater stability and success for their children, and that stereotypes – one size fits all labels – rarely have much accuracy. The discussion made me realize that often changing public policy is only half the battle; it seems one must change public sentiment first.

Mary Catherine Cook (Cassidy and Associates)

This weekend I went to a talk about the election at the Newseum. This museum offers six floors of exhibits all about the history and the influence of the press in the United States, beginning with the very founding of our republic and ending with today’s headlines. The museum had some amazing exhibits, including a piece of the Berlin wall, the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence, and a beam from the world trade center. At the talk, a Washington Post reporter was offering his opinions on Donald Trump’s choice of vice president, the power of the press in this particular election, and several other high profile topics to a packed audience. As I listened, I thought about all of the different veins of political influence pulsing through this city—from the White House all the way down to the legislative assistants in a representative’s office. The idea that all of this power resides in this one city that was built on a swamp never fails to amaze me, and I came away from the talk with renewed awareness of my power as a citizen to influence our political system. Going along with this thought, I attached this picture of me pretending to be a presidential candidate at the Museum of American History because, you know, an intern can dream.

Mary Catherine Presidential Candidate