Interning at the White House

GW boasts 13 students and alumni in the spring 2016 White House Internship Program—more than any other school in the United States

White House
GW Colonial spring 2016 White House Interns: Logan Davis, Paul Lisbon, Celeste Aguzino, Miriam Young, Honor Williams, Janie McDermott, Danielle Cohen, Karolina Ramos, Savannah Polzin, Sarah Chase, Dylan Sheinberg, Dean Velodota (Ryan Cowdin, not pictured)
May 09, 2016

By Brittney Dunkins

In the final months of President Barack Obama’s administration, 13 George Washington University undergraduate and graduate students and alumni were granted inside access to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as members of the Spring 2016 White House Internship Program.

GW students and alumni selected for the program hail from D.C. and 11 states and have contributed their talents to a broad array of White House offices from Digital Strategy to the Office of the First Lady.

The experience is a coup for the students, who earned the coveted opportunity to contribute to the final term of the historic Obama administration. Their acceptance also marks an achievement for the university, which has more students participating in the program than any other school represented.

George Washington Today talked with some of the GW White House interns about pitching ideas for the White House Snapchat, attending the Canada State Arrival ceremony and being a part of the best of public service—when idealism meets hard work.

Logan Davis, Junior
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Political Science
Office of Presidential Correspondence
Montgomery, N.J.

Why did you apply?
I had fallen in love with the idea of interning in an environment where the work would help better people’s lives. I was in eighth grade when President Obama was elected and sworn into office, and even though I didn’t know much about politics, I knew enough to realize I was witnessing history. I was genuinely inspired to become a part of what the president was trying to accomplish.

Lessons you have learned?
No matter how good your ideas are or how well you produce your work, if you can’t effectively communicate your thought process and argument, they’re useless. This internship also has reinforced the importance of hard work. I mean pouring everything you have into every task because your boss, her boss, the president and the American people expect you to give your best 110 percent of the time.

Advice for GW students who are considering applying?
Just go for it. It sounds cliché, but there really is no harm in putting your name in the hat. We have a unique opportunity being at a university that is only four blocks away from the president’s office. It would be a mistake not to take advantage of that.

Danielle Cohen, Junior
School of Media and Public Affairs, Political Communication
White House Office of Digital Strategy
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Lessons you have learned?
As an intern in the Office of Digital Strategy, creativity and new ideas were encouraged. From drafting and formatting digital content for White House channels, to working on independent projects to creating analytic reports, I honed many skills that will help me in future internships or jobs.

Most rewarding part of the experience?
It is amazing how much hands-on digital experience I’ve gained this semester. For example, the White House launched a Snapchat account during my first week, and I have been able to witness and assist with the strategy. Outside of the office, I loved having the opportunity to attend the Canada State Arrival, the White House Easter Egg Roll, weekly speaker events with senior staff and so many other incredible events.

Your “Only at GW” moment?
When I came to GW, I never imagined I would get to draft social media posts for the White House channels or pitch ideas for the White House Snapchat account.

Janie McDermott, Senior
Elliott School of International Affairs, International Affairs and Political Science
Office of Public Engagement
Baltimore, Md.

Most rewarding part of the experience?
The most rewarding part has been helping with Champions of Change, a program that honors everyday Americans who do extraordinary work on issues like health care, sexual assault prevention and education. A lot of important and exciting people come into the building, but I love working on the Champs program because it’s honoring people whose work often goes unnoticed.

What have you learned from your fellow interns?
I’ve learned how many paths there are to civil service. It’s not all people who majored in political science and have interned on the Hill. In my office alone, there are biology majors, veterans, education majors and first-generation Americans. It’s an incredibly diverse group of students in every sense of the word.

Your “Only at GW” moment?
Last week, I presented my thesis at the Elliott School and ran back to the White House to hear the first lady address all of the White House interns 10 minutes later. There is no other school where I could have pulled that off.

Sarah Chase, Junior
Elliott School of International Affairs, International Affairs
Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs
Dayton, Ohio

Why did you apply?
When I was young, my mom fell ill and had to stop working. For the next years of her life, she fought a seemingly endless series of battles with her health insurance provider. When President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act my family breathed a collective sigh of relief. I applied because I believe in the president, I believe that government can create sustainable change, and I want to learn from those who have achieved so much in such little time.

Most rewarding part of the experience?
I continue to be in awe of how much those around me support and invest in me. Whether it be giving me more complex projects as time goes on, taking the time to give me advice about my career and how I can improve my work, or staying an extra 15 minutes to look over my resume, I’m grateful to intern in an office where people focus on lifting others up.

What have you learned from your fellow interns?
I’ve learned the value of teamwork and a positive attitude. Tasks are completed more quickly when everyone chips in. There is no better feeling than knowing that you have a solid team who will support you when things get hard.

Paul Lisbon, Senior
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Political Science and Africana Studies
White House Office of Communications
Kansas City, Mo.

Why did you apply?
Principally, I wanted to get a closer look at what is likely one of the biggest intersections of race and politics in the modern era. The election of President Obama has had and will continue to have remarkable effects on the narrative of race in the United States and across the world. The ability to work in politics and simultaneously experience what is sure to be a very historic administration made it something I had to pursue.

Your “Only at GW” moment?
There was one Friday where I had a full day at the internship after which I left for a performance. On my way over to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts I ran into my major advisor, Professor Jennifer James [director of the GW Africana Studies Program], and we had a quick chat. I told her, “If someone would have told me I’d be running from interning at the White House to dance onstage at the Kennedy Center a year ago I would have laughed out loud.”

Advice for GW students who are considering applying?
Make sure to send an application that is representative of you. Spend more time talking about what you have done and want to do rather than emphasizing what you think they want to hear.

Celeste Aguzino, Junior
School of Media and Public Affairs, Political Communication
Office of Communications
Downers Grove, Ill.

Why did you apply?
I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the American presidency for a while. I first remember touring the White House when I was five and gazing up at the portraits in awe. Fast forward to last summer, I was looking for a new kind of challenge off-campus. Like many GW students, I think giving my time is how I can best support my communities and serve my country. This administration continually strives, every day, to make Americans’ lives better. I wanted to contribute to that mission, especially in its final few months. And when the president is from your hometown, how could you not?

Most rewarding part of the experience?
Learning from tremendously talented people, especially some inspiring women, has been wonderful. I’ve found the most rewarding moments are the most unexpected. The Press Office operates as the administration’s nerve center. There’s a routine, but the news cycle can suddenly shift, which creates a variety of tasks. On a given day, I might be helping elementary school girls brainstorm robot designs at a STEM event or attending a press roundtable.

Your experience in three words?
Absolutely worth it.

Honor Williams, B.A. ’15
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Communication
Office of the First Lady, Correspondence
Washington, D.C.

Lessons you have learned?
At the White House, everything seems to be moving at a fast pace. The one thing that I have learned to do is to live in every moment. Whether it’s watching a Marine One [aircraft] departure on the South Lawn or watching the president speak, just taking a moment to take in the atmosphere allows me to truly appreciate being at the White House.

Your “Only at GW” moment?
The moment I met First Lady Michelle Obama was pretty incredible. Throughout my life, I looked at President and First Lady Obama as role models. Ms. Obama showed me that as a young African-American woman I truly could achieve anything. I walked up to her, and she shook my hand. I looked at her and said, “Thank you for being my idol.” She touched me on my shoulder and thanked me for my service to the office.

Advice for GW students who are considering applying?
Believe in yourself. I am the first one to say I did not think I would ever intern at the White House even though it is right next to GW. Be proud of your accomplishments and trust that doors will open up for you.

Karolina Ramos, B.A. ’14
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Political Science
Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affair
South Burlington, Vt.

Recount the moment you were accepted to the program:
I was sitting in my office in City Hall in my hometown, and I launched into the hallway to call my mom and two close mentors to share the news. I was thrilled and grateful and wanted to share the excitement with the people who supported my application process from day one.

Advice for GW students who are considering applying?
First, proofread. Second, demonstrate that you’re willing to work hard. This is an incredible experience with high demands, and you will thrive if you dedicate yourself to the work in front of you, say yes to every task and opportunity and approach every assignment with enthusiasm and a commitment to producing high-quality work.

Your experience in three words?
Exhilarating, dynamic, gratifying.

 

Miriam Young, Freshman
Elliott School of International Affairs, Undeclared
Office of Scheduling and Advance
West Hartford, Conn.

Recount the moment you were accepted to the program:
I was sitting with my high school history teacher at my old high school during winter break from GW.  The teacher has been integral to my every success and being able to share that with her was an extra blessing.

Lessons you have learned?
This internship has taught me how to ask the right questions and how to take responsibility for tasks without constant oversight. It has given me an internal clock for time management and the skills needed to work with a team while focused on different projects.

What have you learned from your fellow interns?
I learned the value of hard work and humility. Everyone is very aware of the privilege we are given in serving the Obama administration and that has been really inspiring.

Savannah Polzin, Senior
Elliott School of International Affairs, Political Science
Office of Legislative Affairs
Boulder, Colo.

Why did you apply?
I applied to the program because I was interested in how the White House and Congress interact on a daily basis and wanted to contribute to the president’s work in any way possible.

What have you learned from fellow interns?
I have learned that students and young adults can provide valuable contributions to the office, even at the federal level.

Your “Only at GW” moment?
I will always remember witnessing President Barack Obama announce the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dean Velodota, Second-Year Law Student
GW Law
Office of Presidential Correspondence
Southington, Conn.

Most rewarding part of the experience?
The most rewarding experience of this internship has been the people I’ve met, whether staff or other interns. Hearing everyone’s stories and aspirations in life is so rewarding, as we all share a common goal—to serve our great nation.

What have you learned from your fellow interns?
Most of us are from places all across the country. At the end of this internship, we will go back to our respective places. We cherish the time we have together and value the present moments that will soon be great memories. I’m positive that these connections, which were made in such short time, will last a lifetime. This group of interns will be future leaders, politicians and lawyers, who will, without a doubt, have each other’s backs.

You experience in three words?
Honor, pride, intriguing.


GW students and recent graduates interested in the White House Internship Program can check online for updates and application information.

(All photos by Logan Werlinger/GW Today)

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