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Student interns gain insights into political process on Capitol Hill

by Sherry Fisher - April 17, 2006

One student researched the results of the most recent Israeli election and organized a briefing book for a U.S. Senator.

Another helped prepare testimony on national security wiretap hearings and met with the First Minister of Northern Ireland.

They are among seven students learning first hand about life on Capitol Hill by participating in UConn’s Honors Congressional Internship Program.

The program is a partnership with the Honors Program, the political science department, and the Study Abroad Program.

“I have learned more in the few months here than I ever could have taking classes or reading textbooks,” says Thomas Misenti, a junior majoring in political science and English, who is interning with U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons.

“The program fit my interests perfectly, both academically and professionally.”

The program offers students interested in the workings of the U.S. government the opportunity to serve in a congressional office as interns, with Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Christopher Dodd, and U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Nancy Johnson, John Larson, Christopher Shays, and Simmons.

“This is an extraordinary experience for undergraduates,” says Lynne Goodstein, associate vice provost and director of the Honors Program.

“Our students have an opportunity to be actively involved in the day-to-day life of the office of our congressional delegates. They also have access to other significant figures in Washington, which will help them network and prepare for their careers.”

Participants work as full-time interns and are fully integrated into the operations of the office.

They participate in staff meetings, attend committee meetings, research and write reports, and visit other offices on Capitol Hill.

They also help with the office’s constituent services. Some have the chance to help research and write new legislation.

Stephen Barry, a junior majoring in political science and Spanish, is working with Shays.

He says the semester as a congressional intern offers him a “rare and invaluable perspective on the internal function of our government. As a political science major, working in the pulse of our nation is as close to a ‘clinical’ as I can get. Observing and taking part in the day-to-day function of the Federal government has allowed me to apply the many theoretical and academic ideas that I’ve studied and learned over the past three years at UConn.”

Brian Powell, a senior who is working with Lieberman, says he has learned much about how Washington works.

Stephen Barry and Jessica Papadopoulos
Stephen Barry, left, and Jessica Papadopoulos, both interns in the Honors Congressional Internship Program, in Washington, D.C.
Photo supplied by Thomas Misenti

“This is an incredibly insulated town, which is very focused on networking and contacts,” says Powell, a political science and philosophy major. He notes that the internship provides opportunities to make “potentially valuable contacts.”

Students do not have to be in the Honors Program to participate, but they must have a high grade point average.

There is also a vigorous interview process with the University and congressional offices.

Those who are accepted into the program are the University’s “best and brightest,” Goodstein says.

Interns also take a course, Political Issues: Congress in Theory and Practice, taught by Jeffrey Ladewig, an assistant professor of political science at UConn.

The course includes reading books about Congress and writing papers applying theory to practical experiences. Ladewig meets with students in Washington several times during the semester.

Students receive 12 credits for the internship and three honors credits for the course.

They also participate in a speakers’ series, where they meet informally with three UConn alumni from the Honors Program who have successful careers in Washington, D.C.

Ladewig says the program offers “deeper insight into the theory and practice of our legislature and democracy. Many interns in the past have used this experience as a stepping stone to a full-time career. At the very least, it provides a powerful insider’s view of the government that has the potential to change minds and lives.”

Barry says that after spending three months on Capitol Hill, “I am not only further inspired and driven toward a job in foreign affairs, but have been impassioned by the prospect that I can and will effect some change in this country and our global community.”

He says the academics have complemented the work he has done as an intern: “The two realms of political science and public policy interpret and explain each other perfectly.”

Misenti says working long hours doesn’t bother him. “I tend to work 10- to 12-hour days,” he says, “not because I have to, but because I want to. There are always so many interesting and exciting things going on, and I don’t want to miss a second of it.”

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