Envision a highly motivated, educated work force so eager to please they give tirelessly of themselves solely for the experience. Now imagine it snatched away because of bickering law makers.
Internships are a right-of-passage for many college students. Every year hundreds of applications are submitted to congressional offices in hopes of obtaining a precious position with the federal government of the United States. However, in the face of tumultuous economic times, many of these hard-earned, volunteer positions were threatened.
For the first time since November 1995, the U.S. Federal Government shutdown to expenditure. On Tuesday, October 1, 2013, over 800,000 government employees found themselves on furlough due to political conflicts. Everything from national parks and monuments to certain branches of the military absorbed the impact of Congressional in-fighting over the federal budget. Interns were a forgotten casualty in this great battle between House Republicans and Senate Democrats. Brea Wilkerson, a 2013 Hampton graduate with a degree in Political Science and full-time legislative intern and Taylor-Renee Collins-Headley, a Howard University Broadcast Journalism Senior, part-time intern sat down to share their experiences.
“It’s helping direct where I want to do in life. [Interning] teaches me many things I wouldn’t have known otherwise” Wilkerson says.
Wilkerson first developed a love for government in middle school when she served as a senate page in North Carolina. She continually engaged in student government and is very delighted to have the opportunity to serve on Capitol Hill. Her future plans include law school and hopefully a position as a senator which would enable her to help her hometown community through legislation.
Unlike Brea, Taylor has not always dreamt of a career in politics. However, as a future broadcast journalist, she understood the importance of the obvious connection between news and politics. “As a journalist, it’s great to have an inside perspective of how laws are made. Not everyone gets that. It really affects every other field.” Both young women felt the shock of the government shutdown. Wilkerson expressed that since she was uncertain of whether to come into the office, she spent money to commute to and from the Hill as the result of conflicting reports from staffers. “It’s no one’s fault. Everyone was confused on the issue,” Wilkerson shares. Without being able to work, its an expense Wilkerson believes to be a waste if she isn’t getting the benefit of experience. Collins-Headley revealed that she is thankful her position with the Legislator is not her primary internship or else her credits for graduation would be compromised.
As the shutdown continued, Brea Wilkerson reported that she, along with other legislative interns, were officially cleared to resume interning after checking with the ethics board. Wilkerson was glad to be back working and is currently keeping up with developments from the congressional floor.
In 1995, the nation wanted to know who would be dismissed as a result of the shutdown. The terminology to determine who did or did not keep a paycheck was “essential” and “nonessential.” In today’s crisis, these terms have resurfaced and many workers feel slighted when the job they devote so much of their time and energy to is deemed “nonessential” to government functioning. Interns fall into a peculiar category. At a glance, they appear as merely fledging “wannabes” who are meant to only fetch coffee, deliver messages, shred papers and serve as a barrier between crazies and legislative assistants. However, most interns realize the true worth of their work. “We are believed to be nonessential because we don’t make the big decisions, but that is not the case.” Collins-Headley asserted. “We do the things [staffers] don’t have time for. They are able to do their jobs because we do ours” Wilkerson added.
The Federal Shutdown of 2013 was the result of Congress’ inability to compromise on federal spending. “Its childish how they go tit for tat back and forth. I believe all of it could have been avoided,” says Wilkerson.
Interning is a huge element of higher education. It allows students to get a preview into life in the real world. During the shutdown this valuable learning tool was compromised. The nation must be careful of partisan bickering and its on affect the education of future leaders, though unfortunately this is often the case. Though the job of the intern seems menial, to those in such positions, it is a major accomplishment.