Placement programs give students the D.C. advantage

04-16-09 Washington
Blake Dodd and his mother stand in the rose garden in front of the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., in fall 2008. (Photo Courtesy of Blake Dodd)
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Thursday, April 16, 2009
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When Zachary Baker of Tempe arrived in Washington, D.C., to intern at the BBC last August, he expected to gain valuable experience, make professional contacts and learn more about the nation’s capital.

What he didn’t expect was to share a Capitol Hill apartment with Adam Brickley, better known to the world as the “Sarah Palin Guy” for starting a blog advocating the Alaskan governor for the vice presidency a full year before her announcement.

One of the experiences a Washington, D.C., internship offers students is throwing them together with all sorts people, from politicians to news personalities to other up-and-coming interns.

Students and experts said state and national internship-placement programs give the professional edge needed to play a part on the national stage.

“The first day I met Adam, he had a McCain-Palin sticker on his computer,” said Baker, a 23-year-old graduate of Azusa Pacific University. “This was two weeks before she got picked. I remember asking him who Palin [Pal-lin, as Baker pronounced it] was.”

People like Brickley are common in Washington, D.C., Baker said, and complete the experience of spending a summer or semester at an internship in the capital city.

“You meet people who are involved and know what’s going on,” he said. “Everything you want to be a part of is there.”

Participating in an internship program in Washington, D.C., is important especially for students who want to go into journalistic, public relations or political fields, said Joe Starrs, director of the Institute on Political Journalism.

By going through a placement program, students can cut through some of the “red tape” that makes getting great internships difficult, he said, as not all qualified candidates for internships already have connections in D.C.

The Institute on Political Journalism is part of the Fund for American Studies, which places more than 500 students in D.C. internships yearly in a variety of fields.

“Internships are competitive,” Starrs said, “but no, you don’t have to know anybody.”

Other internship programs provide similar opportunities for work experience in the D.C. area. ASU political science senior Blake Dodd spent the fall 2008 semester interning in the White House office of Presidential Personnel with the help of the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars.

Dodd had previously interned for the Arizona Republican Party and was encouraged to apply for his White House internship by co-workers in U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl’s Arizona office.

“I felt like … I was getting experience at the state level,” Dodd said, “but I thought it would be nice to get out on my own.”

The Washington Center is a nonprofit educational organization that places students from across the country in internships in D.C. and helps them find housing, sometimes providing scholarships.

Through a grant from University Student Initiatives, an additional ten scholarships of up to $5,000 are available to ASU students who are accepted into the national program, said Adele Darr, an ASU liaison with the Washington Center.

In the past, ASU students have been placed at the Department of Defense, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Museum of the American Indian and lobbying firms and the White House.

A similar program, the Washington Center for Politics and Journalism, was the facilitator of two other ASU students’ D.C. internships.

Jonathan Cooper, a journalism senior, interned at the Washington bureau of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and alumni Bill Hennigan, 26, interned at Legal Times, a weekly law and lobbyist watchdog newspaper based in the nation’s capitol.

Both internships were during the spring of 2008.

“It was right in the middle of the campaign season,” Henningan said, “so really a lot of news was being generated so you’re following a lot of stories.”

At the Post-Dispatch, Cooper said he was immediately thrown into covering the Clinton-Obama primary contest.

“I was just sort of thrown in the fire — there wasn’t a lot of time to teach me how to go around the Capitol,” Cooper said.

Hennigan’s experience was similar.

“Rather than get my feet wet, I really just jumped in,” he said. “I wasn’t put in kid gloves; it wasn’t like, ‘Go fetch coffee’ or something. I was treated like a staffer. … Sometimes they would give me a little tip or two on where to start, but … you branch out from there.”

Both said the Washington Center for Politics and Journalism program was easy to work with and overall a good experience. Cooper said he was paid a $3,000 stipend for his time in D.C.

“I’ve been told in interviews that my experience in D.C. is very helpful, especially since that’s what I want to do in the long run,” Cooper said. “Hopefully I can get back to D.C. by showing that I’ve already been there, done that.”

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