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Interns Learn About Life on Capitol Hill
Six UConn students learned first hand about life on Capitol Hill during internships in Washington, D.C., last semester.
The Washington Internship Program, now in its fourth year, offers students the opportunity to work full-time for a semester in the office of a Connecticut Congressional representative or senator. Students receive 12 credits of internship in Political Science 297 and three credits of independent study coursework in Political Science 299.
"It's an exciting, wonderful opportunity for students to be right at the hub of government working in a congressional office," says Howard Reiter, professor of political science and faculty advisor to the program. "They get to see events unfolding around them, people they've seen on television or read about, and watch the legislative process from the inside."
Adam Sadowski agrees. "You get to see first hand what you read about," says Sadowski, a political science and economics major who worked in the office of Christopher Shays (R, 4th District). "It's a real-life work environment experience in politics."
Reiter met with the students in Washington three times for two-hour seminars during the semester. They were required to read three books on Congress and had to turn in three papers. But most of the time was spent working on the Hill.
Interns perform a variety of duties for legislative assistants and directors - from answering constituents' telephone calls and mail to researching issues for hearings.
Sadowski spent much of his time dealing with constituents. "Many calls were about President Clinton's impeachment," he says. "Shays was one of the few Republicans who didn't vote for impeachment, and people would call about that."
Dorothy Puzio, who is majoring in economics and French, worked in Sen. Christopher Dodd's office. The senior had heard about the internship program in her freshman year and was finally able to fit it into her schedule. "I've always had an interest in politics and kept this program in the back of my mind," she says. "I'm not a political science major and the internship gave me a much better understanding of how things work."
She spent a lot of time working with Dodd's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions - preparing materials for briefings, summarizing testimony for hearings, putting together information for the senator and his staff, and doing research for speeches.
Her job became particularly interesting during the election and its aftermath. "Every time there was a court decision, we had to try to find the document itself so that staff could predict what legal actions would be taken next," Puzio says. They were trying to keep track, trying to predict what was going on. Everything was a reaction to what was happening in terms of official positions that the senators were going to be taking publicly." Through her work, Puzio says, she learned "how important staff people are to the various senators."
For some of the students, the fall 2000 election season added an extra dimension to the internship.
Jonathan Ariano, a political science major, worked for Sam Gejdensen. "Looking back on the semester, despite Sam's losing the election, I do not think that I could have chosen a better spot for myself," he says. "Probably the most rewarding thing I got from the experience was the relationships that I was able to form throughout the office."
Ariano says the highlight of the internship was "when Sam had me drive him around campaigning one morning. It was unbelievable," he says. "The loss, however, was very hard to take. Sam was (and still is) somebody who I really felt I could believe in."
Luis Gonzalez worked in Sen. Joseph Lieberman's office. "I've always been interested in politics. It's such a prevalent force in society," he says. He decided to do the internship to "gain a little bit more insight and clarity about how things work." The senior majoring in economics says his job duties didn't vary much from those of the other interns, but "Lieberman's being a vice presidential candidate gave a different atmosphere in the office," Gonzalez says. "There was a lot of excitement, a lot of happiness, a lot of sadness - a lot of extreme emotions because it was such an intense election.
"After the election and during the whole Florida fiasco, the level of phone calls we were getting was just insane," he adds. "We had five different people on the phones and sometimes each person had three people on hold."
Gonzalez says his experience was exciting. "Just the feeling that I was in the center of it all, the hotspot of the nation. Everyone was focused on Washington, D.C."
The students in the internship program meet periodically with a UConn faculty member and complete reading and writing assignments. The program is offered to juniors and seniors in any major who have an interest in politics and a proven academic record. Each student receives a $1,000 stipend for the semester to help defray costs of living and transportation.
Applications for the fall semester internship are due March 1. For information, call Kathy Usher at (860) 486-6255 or e-mail her at Kathleen.Usher@uconn.edu. Applications can also be found by accessing the undergraduate research website: http://ugradresearch.uconn.edu/washing.html.