Four NIU students chosen to live, learn and work on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., experienced a summer of opportunity.
As congressional interns, students Brodie Walker, Elizabeth Korbut, Victor Owoeye and Robert “Quinn” Carolan each worked for a member of the Illinois congressional delegation from May through early August. Along with experience, they gained invaluable insight into the inner workings of Congress.
“You’re really in the heart of government,” said Walker, who interned with U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger. She spoke to constituents, attended hearings and briefings, and even gave tours of the Capitol.
“You have so much access to different places you didn’t even know existed,” she said. “There was something new every day, so much opportunity.”
NIU’s highly competitive annual Congressional Internship program includes a $6,000 scholarship to cover the cost of housing and some living expenses, as well as the option of a tuition waiver for six hours of related coursework. Housing is provided by Washington Intern Student Housing, with the interns living within a short walk from the Capitol.
Along with the NIU internships, all four students also won Congressional Intern Scholarship awards from the Illinois State Society (ISS). The ISS only selects two interns from each congressional office to help them offset the higher living expenses in Washington.
The interns were not only able to apply their classroom knowledge to a work setting, they were given extensive networking opportunities, said Catherine Doederlein, director of Internships and External Relations at NIU.
“Even if you’re not a political science major, what this can teach you is huge,” she said. “The interns really get a lot of great exposure that helps them work on their communication skills. That’s a skill that’s going to be applicable no matter what career path they take.”
She encouraged students of all majors to keep an eye out for next summer’s congressional internship opportunity at MyScholarships.
The internships not only expose students to the nation’s government, they put NIU students on the national stage, said Anna Quider, assistant vice president for Federal Relations at NIU. Along with Capitol Hill, they’re able to explore Washington and all the city has to offer, she said.
“Interning on Capitol Hill just opens up your world to so many different networks, so many different experiences,” she said. “It’s just such a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else.”
Although many interns are political science majors, even those not interested in a career in politics would benefit, Quider said.
“I personally think every person living in this country would benefit from a better understanding of how Congress operates,” she said. “So much happens at the federal level that affects all of us in our personal and professional lives.”
Because of her internship, 21-year-old Walker aims to return and work in Washington upon graduation. She expects to graduate in May 2020 with a double major in political science and Spanish in World Languages and Cultures. Originally from Bristol, England, Walker was recruited in high school to play on the NIU tennis team.
She’s always enjoyed traveling, and the Washington, D.C., experience inspired her to eventually pursue a job in diplomacy and foreign policy.
“Alongside the work, just living there was such a great experience,” Walker said. “There’s so much opportunity there if you want to work in the field of politics. I kind of used this internship opportunity as a way to figure out that’s what I wanted to do.”
Working with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, 20-year-old Korbut of Naperville wrote letters, researched legislation, spoke with constituents and sat in on hearings, among numerous duties. The political science major who expects to graduate in December now wants to go to law school in Washington.
“D.C. was amazing,” she said. “I recommend this internship to anyone, even if they’re not a political science major.”
A journalism major and political science minor, 21-year-old Owoeye of Chicago interned with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, working closely with the communications staff. He expects to graduate in May 2020 and eventually pursue law school, but his time in Washington pointed him toward a job as a media strategist or communications director.
“Once you get through the door, that’s your opportunity,” he said of his time in the nation’s capitol. “If you’re a genuine person and put in hard work, it will pay off. I definitely saw the ability to excel beyond what I thought was possible.”
Robert “Quinn” Carolan
Having studied abroad in Russia his sophomore year, 21-year-old Carolan of Algonquin knew he’d like to pursue foreign service one day. His internship with U.S. Rep. Bill Foster not only cemented his goals, but expanded his opportunities as he pursues additional internships this coming year with the U.S. Embassies in Kieve, Ukraine and Tbilisi, Georgia, as part of the Gilman International Scholarship program.
He expects to graduate by August of next year with a double major of politics and governance and French and Francophone Studies and a minor in Russian in World Languages and Culture. Along with English, French and Russian, Carolan speaks Wolof, a language of Senegal.
He sought the congressional internship to gain experience in domestic politics, but said he gained so much more as he learned from those he worked alongside.
A staffer gave him this advice: “Never stop, just keep pursing whatever you can. Appreciate where you end up.”