Originally, I had not expected to intern again within Congresswoman Rice’s office this summer, as I sought to diversify my experiences in public service. Prior to when I reached back out to office staff, I restricted myself from reapplying to the Hill, despite that I had such a positive experience the summer before. Yet as a firm believer in the cliché that “everything happens for a reason,” I was incredibly grateful and excited to return back to Congresswoman Rice’s office, as I had the opportunity to work, observe, and learn in both an atmosphere and an industry that I love. But while I was previously acquainted with the work environment, I found that my leadership studies coursework this past year enhanced my experience this summer and my aptitude to learn about the legislative process, which enabled me to expand my typical intern responsibilities, build more meaningful connections with office staffers, and better recognize Hill leadership processes. I would summarize my summer internship as insightful for both my legislative knowledge and professional development.
In one way or another, each goal and learning method I discussed throughout my Jepson internship requirements focused on the two categories of building legislative knowledge and professional development. Throughout my personal plan paper (though it regarded an opportunity in a different agency), personal contribution paper, and learning contract, I reiterated wanting to improve my skillsets to pursue a career in public service. Specific to my personal plan paper, I sought to improve my writing skills for memorandums, explore future career paths, and gain clarity for what my goals are post-graduation. Within the paper, I initially remarked that Ishould notreturn to the Hill so that I could learn about different careers in government, despite that I had dually acknowledged how much I loved the Hill. However, by going back to the same office, I was still able to accomplish each of those personal plan goals, and did so through the strategies I listed in my learning contract. For instance, to improve concise writing abilities, I often asked my supervisor for feedback when writing cosponsor memorandums and constituent letters. From doing so, I learned staffers’ various styles and how to highlight information that resonates with the Congresswoman’s priorities. As a result of their guidance, I found that I was able to write memorandums quicker throughout the course of the internship, and gained valuable insight for how to succinctly get my point across with all the necessary information for decision-makers.
In terms of professional development and career exploration, I took the time to rebuild my connections with staffers in the office and learn from their diverse experiences. Through some self-reflection and networking, I discovered that while I still weigh graduate school versus law school for the future, I am drawn to work on the Hill, and I could see myself pursuing a career as a legislative staffer. Apart from the connections I built within the office, one of my favorite professional development experiences this summer was attending the Women’s Congressional Staff Association’s annual conference. The conference featured female trailblazers in public service and was an opportunity to network with colleagues from both sides of the aisle, all of whom seek to empower women and build bipartisan connections.
I echoed the same two sentiments in my site description and personal contribution paper, as I categorized my four goals for the summer into, again, building my legislative knowledge and developing professionally. To gain greater insight towards to how bills and legislative priorities develop on the Hill, I leaned heavily on my prior experiences in legislative offices. Having a baseline in place, I was able to take better advantage of which resources I had at my disposal to learn about floor procedure. From advice I heard, knowledge of floor procedure is an invaluable skillset to have when serving as a legislative staffer, as it can facilitate office organization to adequately prepare the necessary research for votes across staffers’ diverse legislative portfolios. In my learning agreement, I emphasized my desire to learn more in depth about how systems operate on the Hill, which I accomplished through meeting staffers for coffee, watching session live, conducting personal research, and attending committee hearings from the Rules committee. I initially imagined that the best way to observe legislative procedure would be to watch the Appropriations committee, but given that most appropriations packages were debated prior to the start of my internship in July, I did not get the opportunity to see how priorities are evaluated for government spending. However, I did not let the lack of appropriations packages impede my aptitude to learn about the legislative process, and instead took the time to learn in depth about the Rules committee, which serve as the gatekeepers of all that reaches the House Floor.
My professional development goals, reflected in both my learning contract and in my personal contribution paper, were to build better relationships apart from a one-time coffee meeting, and to reach out to Jepson alumni. While I did not end up reaching out to Jepson alumni, I did successfully get to know most of the people in my office, which made the work atmosphere lighter and made each of the staffers more approachable to ask questions of around the office. By building better relationships, I also was able to further my legislative knowledge goal, as it allowed for me to see the connection between each of the office’s internal processes and how they come together to serve constituent priorities. Stepping outside of intern duties of recording constituent opinions, drafting letters, and organizing the constituent mail, I gained a greater overview for the balance legislative offices strike between constituent opinions and legislative priorities/caucus agendas. Seeing how each staffers’ work product combines with one another helped give me greater context when writing cosponsor memorandums for the Congresswoman, as well as helped me to understand the way she votes.
Apart from accomplishing many of the goals laid out in my Jepson requirements, I also found that my leadership studies coursework gave me a different perspective on the Hill, especially with respect to gender. As the only female intern, I paid particular attention to the impacts of gender in the workplace and was mindful of how implicit leadership theories affect our perceptions of leaders and thus the way individuals assert themselves in professional spaces. I observed how interactions become magnified when they violate societal expectations for leader behavior and character traits, or perhaps why differences among men and women in leadership styles continue to exist, despite the gains we have made in society towards equality and equal representation.
As I discussed in my last reflection, I also used the lens of path-goal theory to reflect broadly on the reasons people work in public service, as well as the way my supervisor interacted with interns to help us to achieve collective office goals. In my personal contribution paper, I discussed the expectation gap between interns who love working on the Hill and those who did not come to enjoy it. The difference mainly stems from expectations to perform top-level policy work on hot button issues, with the realities of attending to constituent inquiries and taking initiative to seek out learning opportunities outside the confines of the office. But as much as expectations can affect perception of work, the type of leadership and followership dynamics in an office impacts interns’ motivation to produce quality work. Path-goal theory evaluates leader and follower dynamics through two components: how supervisors (leaders) inspire followers to achieve their personal goals and how they meet followers at their preferred levels of ‘directivness’ versus ‘supportiveness’ within tasks. My knowledge of path-goal theory allowed me to evaluate my coworkers’ satisfaction with their experiences based on our supervisor’s disposition and the ways she distributed tasks. I found this perspective and leadership theory to especially insightful for future job applications, too, as knowing not only what the job responsibilities are but also which mechanisms inspire better work products provides invaluable experience for working on the Hill, or within any industry.
In my site description and personal contribution paper, I characterized my internship as “the opportunity to look for opportunity.” The way I sought out opportunities manifested through obtaining greater insights for the way systems operate and building my professional network. While I spent much of last year learning the basics, including how to master the simple tasks and administrative work (such as answering the phones and sorting the mail), this year I was excited to observe how each of the different facets of a legislative office come together, as aided by my coursework in leadership studies. By returning to work within the same office, I discerned various structures and customs in overarching political environment due to my prior knowledge of how legislative offices operate and how leader and follower dynamics promote collective goals. My leadership studies coursework thus was crucial towards my ability to be a participant-observer in the legislative process, as it enhanced my perspectives and inspired me to ask more insightful questions.