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Public service internship takes honors student to nation's capital

by Sherry Fisher - September 2, 2008

Michael Mitchell spent his summer in Washington, D.C. surrounded by politicians and other national leaders, and made some lifelong friends.

Mitchell, a junior majoring in economics and political science, was an intern in Sen. Edward Kennedy’s office during June and July. He was chosen for the internship by the Institute for Responsible Citizenship, which offers internships to 24 of the “most promising black male college sophomores in the U.S.”

The organization focuses on developing young men who will sustain a lifetime commitment to public service.

“It was the greatest summer I’ve had in college, or in my life,” says Mitchell, who is in the Honors Program. The students were housed at American University.

Mitchell answered some of the senator’s correspondence and scheduled appointments, but a large part of the internship involved attending hearings. “It was amazing to see the senators and congressmen and congresswomen doing their jobs and trying to solve problems,” he says.

He was required to take notes and read the transcripts of the hearings, and write memos to the senator and staff member in charge of the hearing topic.

“I got a lot of professional experience from the internship,” Mitchell says. “There’s no place more professional than the Senate – there are rules and protocol that you have to follow. I learned a lot. Also, there was a lot of networking and it was fun meeting people who have jobs there, who you can keep connected to.”

Mitchell attended three-hour classes three evenings a week, after working full days. One was a seminar on professionalism in the work world, another focused on federalism and politics, and a third dealt with economic theory.

One evening, when there were no classes, Mitchell and some of his fellow interns got a nice surprise. They were invited to the Supreme Court to meet some of the law clerks.

“We got to talk to law clerks for Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas,” he says. “We talked about the career paths they took, some of the things they do for their current job, and what they’re going to do afterwards. Talking to them made me more certain that I want to go into law. They described it as fun, hard work, and rewarding.”

Honors student Michael Mitchell, an economics and political science major.
Honors student Michael Mitchell, an economics and political science major.
Photo by Daniel Buttrey

Mitchell says that since about 70 per cent of the students in his program were interested in law careers, many of the events were centered on law and visits to law firms.

“The events helped you figure out the different kinds of law you can practice and what law schools you might want to attend,” Mitchell says.

“From that standpoint, it really helped me focus on my future.”

One of his memorable experiences was working on a project involving international high school students.

“Senators Kennedy and Lugar from Indiana have a joint program called Cultural Bridges where they bring about 500 students to their states from across the world to study in high school,” Mitchell says.

At the end of the experience, they bring them to Washington.

“I was picked to help coordinate the event,” Mitchell says, “and being there to hear Lugar speak and watching these kids – knowing I had helped set it up – was amazing.”

Mitchell says the program offered him a chance to live in “one of the most important cities in the world” and was an opportunity to make connections for the future.

He hopes to participate in the program again next summer.

After earning a law degree, Mitchell says he would love to go into politics: “I’d like to help people and be able to influence others to make positive changes.”

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