Thoughts on Working on the Hill — From Pi Sigma Alpha Alumni
As a political science student in college, there’s a good chance that some time working on Capitol Hill could be in your future. This was indeed the case for many Pi Sigma Alpha alumni, who landed a variety of jobs and internships in the House and the Senate.
“Although studying political science had given me plenty of opportunities to learn about Congress from afar, it was no substitute for witnessing— and even participating in— the processes of lawmaking firsthand,” said Soren Schmidt, a current J.D. candidate at Yale Law School who interned with Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona during the summer before his senior year at Brigham Young University in 2016.
Many members of Pi Sigma Alpha had long had their eyes set on Capitol Hill, as it fit their trajectory of a career in government and public service.
“From a very young age, my parents instilled in me the importance of civic engagement— voting, attending town halls, and the rest,” said Mark McDevitt, who worked as a legislative intern and press assistant for Congressman Tim Ryan before being promoted to press secretary last year. “As a result of that— coupled with a strong interest in public service— I found myself in an internship on the Hill.”
Brent Sullivan, current president of Time on the Hill, Inc., similarly expressed that he went to work in Congress out of a desire to make an impact in fields that matter that him, in particular the national debt and healthcare delivery system.
“I had wondered for years what it was like to be a staffer,” he said, regarding his time in the House of Representatives. “The time came when I had to make a decision, and I went for it.”
Upon arriving on Capitol Hill, interns can land a variety of assignments. Some duties which Pi Sigma Alpha alumni described carrying out include: producing reports and research on government spending; interfacing with other offices; responding to press and citizen inquiries by phone and e-mail; and giving tours to visitors at Capitol Hill.
“It was so rewarding being able to connect with people from so many different backgrounds,” said Charlotte Nichols, who gave four to five tours a week during her summer interning with Congressman Dave Joyce of Ohio in 2016. “Whether it was a family on vacation, business people visiting for work, or any person’s first time to D.C., each interaction was filled with excitement and awe.”
Interning at Capitol Hill also gave our alumni access to many memorable events outside of the office. They were able to attend committee disputes concerning health care and various pieces of legislation, and also watch the House elect Paul Ryan as its new speaker in 2015.
Other remarkable experiences include meeting the Prime Minister of Ireland; working late into the night on President Obama’s final State of the Union address; and attending the Congressional intern lecture series on a regular basis.
“I listened to both Democrats and Republicans discuss issues that are important to them, how they believe they contribute to their Committee assignments, and ended by personally asking him or her any questions we might have,” said Nichols.
“Thought leaders and experts on essentially every topic you can think of walk the halls of Congress every day,” said McDevitt. “At any given time, there’s a hundred hearings or briefings going on for staffers to attend to become better familiarized with new policy or initiatives. I try to attend these whenever I can.”
Past interns admit that the work can become challenging over the course of a long summer. However, they also found ways to cope with the demands of the job, particularly by structuring meaningful activities into their demanding schedules.
“To deal with the occasional stresses of the job, I try to maintain a solid friend group outside of work, teach music… and remain active in my church,” said a former intern who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Exercise, happy hours, and a little mindful meditation have all come in handy to mitigate some of the more stressful periods of time,” said McDevitt.
Schmidt added that he made the most of his time off work by exploring the greater Washington area, which he described as an “exceptionally rich center of culture and history.”
“I spent countless hours exploring everywhere from the Smithsonian museums to Gettysburg to the local indie music scene,” he described. “Perhaps even more importantly, I made many new friends in government, advocacy, and the private sector who helped me learn more about professional possibilities related to political science.”
Having worked on Capitol Hill, Pi Sigma Alpha alumni recognize that it takes immense commitment and dedication to succeed in this arena.
“If you don’t have a burning desire to work in Congress, it won’t happen,
said Sullivan. “There is too much competition and too many ambitious candidates. However, if you are willing to collaborate with others and if you have key issues— foreign policy, tax, health care, education— already in mind, you will be massively successful.”
“You really have to love what you’re doing,” the anonymous staffer agreed. “You have to love working for Congress to stick it out and put in the time that it takes to move up the ladder to the more enjoyable jobs. However, if you do put in that time, working in a fun, more senior-level position is the bomb.”
Overall, Pi Sigma Alpha alumni have spoken very optimistically about their experience working on Capitol Hill, and encourage all students considering an internship there to give it a shot.
“It was the best learning experience of my career,” said Sullivan.
“It’s hard to overstate the collective value of these experiences,” said Schmidt.
“If you want to do it, hustle till you can,” said McDevitt. “It is worth it.”
By Josh Weiner
Spring 2018 Pi Sigma Alpha Intern