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Congressional interns learn real-life lessons during summer of work in Washington, D.C.

September 23, 2010

As an NIU senior majoring in political science and journalism, Dave Thomas knew Washington, D.C., is a big, busy, fast-paced and sprawling newsmaker of a town.

This past summer, he became part of it.

DC Interns 2010

NIU’s 2010 Washington, D.C., interns, from left: Leigh Owano, Meagan Szydlowski, Dave Thomas, Nomeda Tautkute and Jaclyn Curtis.

While serving as an intern for U.S.  Rep. Mike Quigley (5th District), Thomas learned that congressional staffers not only work fast, but they work hard. He also learned that everything they do is for a good reason.

“It’s mindboggling the number of people that are working for the federal government,” the West Chicago resident said. “(Politicians) have staff and every committee has a staff.”

Thomas was one of five NIU students who spent three months learning the ins and outs of Washington, D.C., as part of the university’s congressional internship program.

The students worked with federal lawmakers and their staffs, stayed in George Washington University residence halls and gained valuable learning experiences in our nation’s capital.

Senior political science majors Jaclyn Curtis of Hickory Hills, Leigh Owano of Rockford, Meagan Szydlowski of Hampshire and Nomeda Tautkute also participated in the program.

“To get along in Washington, D.C., you have to adapt to a fast-paced environment; otherwise you’ll be eaten alive,” Owano said. “Working in Washington can be intimidating, but it’s so exciting.”

The Rockford resident worked with U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo’s (16th District) staff. Like Thomas, her duties included sorting mail, meeting constituents, working with full-time staff members and attending meetings and briefings.

“At one meeting, employees of the (U.S.) Department of Agriculture discussed the reduction in pollination and the collapse of bee colonies,” Owano said. “I never realized that every three to four bites of fruits and vegetables depend on pollination.”

After graduating, Owano wants to enroll in graduate school at NIU and study business. Then she wants to return to Washington D.C. to work and live.

“I always suspected I would love Washington, D.C. Now, I want to go back there as soon as I can,” she said.

This is the second year NIU’s summer internship program has been offered in Washington D.C. It was started to give students a real-life experience in the workings of democracy and government, NIU Political Science Professor Matthew Streb said. He and Department Chair Christopher Jones worked with President John Peters and Vice President for University Relations Kathryn Buettner to create the scholarship program.

“What the students learn in Washington, D.C., I could never teach in a lecture,” Streb said.

Owano and Thomas agreed.

“Washington, D.C. is one of those places you have to be thrown into to do the work and feel the environment,” Owano said. “That’s the best way to learn about it. I am so thankful to NIU for giving me the opportunity to work there during the summer.”

“It was probably one of the most enriching learning experiences I have ever had,” Thomas added. “I walked away from it with a respect for government.”

Information about the 2011 Summer Internship Program is available online. The deadline to submit an application is Friday, Oct. 29. 

by Gerard Dziuba