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AU Students Step Into Service at White House

By Roxana Hadadi

Deon T. Jones, SPA/BA '14, interned at the White House in fall 2012. Courtesy of Deon T. Jones.

Deon T. Jones, SPA/BA '14, interned at the White House in fall 2012. Courtesy of Deon T. Jones.

Deon T. Jones, SPA/BA '14, already made history three years ago when he was elected to the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission in 2010. At 19 years old, he was the youngest elected official in the history of Washington, D.C. For Jones' family members, however, Jones’ biggest career accomplishment was his participation in the White House Internship Program.  

“If you were to ask my family, they would say I was with the president on a daily basis,” says Jones, who interned in the Vice President's Correspondence Office, with a laugh. “I’m really the first person in our family to ever achieve this level of grand success.”

The White House Internship Program typically admits one or more AU students each cycle, says Jessie Carter, employer relations coordinator at the Career Center. “There’s definitely an interest from the students. … They’re doing actual things that could lead to other jobs, and they’re part of what’s going on. I think that intrigues people."

Carter, who works with the program to plan information sessions for students on campus, notes that the opportunity is ideal for AU students, who tend to be politically active. Plus, a benefit for AU students is that they’re in D.C. year-round and don’t have to travel far for the opportunity, which is a full-time, unpaid internship. During the application process, students indicate which program office they would like to work in, and are informed of their placement after being accepted. Tasks are unique to each department and interns are generally treated like staff members, with a range of different responsibilities and projects.

Jones wasn’t fazed by the full-time commitment—his experience interning in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation was also a full-time commitment and prepared him for long days of working and studying. That background was immeasurably helpful when he interned at the White House, Jones says. While in the Communications Office, Jones worked with another intern, the head of the office, and her deputy, handling correspondence to Vice President Joe Biden from people around the U.S. and the world by responding to inquiries and forwarding on requests. The small office made for a cozy atmosphere, and allowed Jones to interact with a variety of different citizens who wanted to get in touch with Biden.

Sarah McBride, SPA/BA '13, also participated in the program this past fall, working in The White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs; she assisted in outreach to the Asian American and LGBTQ communities, scheduled meetings and events with various constituents, and informed community members about issues such as immigration reform and the fiscal cliff. She loved the experience so much that she extended her internship into January 2013.

“My brother’s college roommate was a White House intern, and he seemed like a celebrity to me,” McBride says of her longstanding ambition to participate in the program. “I would ask him questions about what it was like working at the West Wing, and from that point on, it was just something that had always interested me.”

For McBride—who worked on political campaigns in high school, interned at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and was AU’s student body president during the 2011-2012 academic year—the appeal of the internship was working for the administration of President Barack Obama, who McBride describes as “someone in the White House who I believed in.”

As the first transgender woman to work in the White House, McBride made waves, using the opportunity to, as her friends and family suggested, “educate and improve the culture in the White House regarding the full spectrum of LGBT people.”

“Seven or eight months before I started the internship, I had just come out, and the notion that at that point in December 2011, within a year, I would be interning at the White House—that seemed far-fetched, if not impossible,” McBride says. “Only in this administration would that have been possible. And for my family in particular, it was extra special. I had worried and my parents had worried that my professional life was effectively over.”

But for McBride and others, the White House Internship has certainly helped secure other opportunities. Emily Roseman, SOC/BA '12, who interned there during her sophomore year, went on to be a SOC Dean’s Intern at USA Today. Currently an editor/producer for ABC News Digital, Roseman credits the program and her experience both in the Washington Mentorship Program and as a Student Ambassador in SOC for inspiring her to aim high.

“I am a big person on challenging myself … I have a very aspirational attitude,” Roseman says. “And the White House application was just like, ‘Let’s do it, I’ll take it on.’”

At the time of her internship, Roseman was 18 years old and the youngest person working in the Office of Presidential Correspondence. While there, she worked on research, data collection, and charting all communication that was coming in and out of the White House, from memos to phone calls. Although the experience was daunting at first, her public speaking and research skills helped her transition successfully.

“They wouldn’t have asked us to be there if we didn’t somehow deserve it and bring something very unique,” Roseman says.

Most importantly, students say, the internship reinforces the importance of giving back. Jones, for example, has focused his life on “serving something greater.”

“Meeting the president, the first lady, the vice president, Dr. Biden, and some of the senior staff—that was just unimaginable for me, where I come from in the inner city of Atlanta, from a single-parent home,” Jones said. “When people see that you worked at the White House, there’s a commitment to service, a commitment to hard work, a commitment to excellence. … It shows just how committed people are to making this country better—and that’s extremely inspiring.”

Stephen Bronskill, CAS/SPA/BA '13, interned in fall 2011 in the White House Visitors Office—a highlight was giving his family a White House tour—and agrees with Jones about the impact of the program’s focus on service. His decision to accept a position with Teach For America was inspired by his experience, and he hopes to “continue to be an advocate for social justice outside D.C.” when he moves to the Mississippi Delta region this summer to begin his teaching commitment.

When it comes to advice for prospective White House Internship Program applicants, McBride, Roseman, Jones, and Bronskill agree: Make sure that you’re doing the internship for the right reasons, and it will ultimately be a rewarding experience. The level of responsibility and constant work handed to interns can be challenging, but the fast pace, interaction with diverse communities, and high expectations will help prepare anyone for any kind of career, they said.

“You’ll be a successful White House Intern if you work hard,” McBride says. “Self-motivation is really what gets you through it. At the White House, true to form, they treat everyone equally. I wouldn’t have traded this for any other job.”