Students rub shoulders with nation’s leaders, soak in D.C. experience
The Illinois State Society of Washington, D.C., has awarded scholarships to each of the four NIU students who interned this summer in the nation’s capital, but the real payoff was in the experience itself.
The interns rubbed shoulders with political powerhouses, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner and NIU alumnus and former Speaker Dennis Hastert. They heard speeches from the likes of President Obama and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
They researched legislation, sat in on congressional briefings, dealt with constituents’ concerns and gave tours of the U.S. Capitol.
Most of all, they soaked it all in.
“This was a once-in-lifetime experience, having the opportunity to learn firsthand how Congress functions on a daily basis while networking with the top professionals and businesses in the world,” said senior political science major Jason Montemayor of Fox Lake.
Montemayor interned with U.S. Rep. Bill Foster.
“It was a very exciting time to be in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and the Senate approving a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill,” he added.
NIU’s highly competitive congressional internship program each summer provides students with the opportunity to live, learn and work in the heart of the nation’s capital.
Each student interns for a member of the Illinois congressional delegation and receives a $6,000 scholarship to cover housing costs and some living expenses. Housing is provided by George Washington University.
The most recent contingent of interns began their assignments in late May and completed them last week.
NIU graduating senior Gina Gregolunas of Batavia hopes to follow a similar path. The 22-year-old political science major has already been asked to return to the office of U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren to work as a paid intern. She hopes to become a permanent staffer.
“My experience was great,” Gregolunas said.
“I am so grateful for the opportunities NIU has provided me with during my years as an undergrad. Interning in Washington, D.C., enables you to not only experience what life on the Hill is like, but also to see how the government functions and to be part of its day-to-day operations. Being in Washington gave me insight into so many things.”
The NIU interns also took advantage of numerous networking events.
“What I enjoyed most was attending events and dinners at the Capitol Hill Club,” said Jeanna Ballard, a senior political science major from Gilberts who met Speaker Boehner at one such event. “It presented a great opportunity to expose me to the wisdom and knowledge of the many great minds on Capitol Hill.”
Ballard, who interned for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, said she also attended a moving homecoming for wounded warriors.
“It was an incredible experience,” she said. “The event allowed us to provide the proper welcome the soldiers deserve because they were not able to be welcomed home by their towns or families while being treated for their injuries elsewhere.”
Senior Amanda Insalaco, a 23-year-old Elgin native majoring in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement, interned with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly. Kelly was elected in a special election to replace Jesse Jackson Jr., who had resigned. The district had gone without representation for nearly a year.
“This made the experience all the more challenging and rewarding,” Insalaco said.
“I spent much of my time assisting with operational duties and giving tours,” she said. “However, I was additionally tasked with numerous substantial research projects.”
Those projects included collecting a list of organizations in the district that provide emergency food assistance, compiling a Small Business Guidebook for Women Entrepreneurs and completing a socioeconomic, demographic profile on the district.
“I most enjoyed interacting with constituents to whom I gave tours, learning about the challenges the district faces, and observing the overall strategic, daily operations of congressional offices,” Insalaco said.
Since NIU’s congressional internship program was launched in 2009, more than 20 students have interned in D.C., said NIU Political Science Chair Matthew Streb.
“We’re very proud of how our interns represent us,” Streb said. “Our four interns this summer were chosen through a very competitive process. Our expectation is they do their best and represent the university honorably and professionally, and they did just that. They are all great people and excellent students.”