Interning at the House

summer interns

Latest wave of seasonal staffers gets to work

On his first day as a House intern, Nijat Worley was a bit shaky. “I kept thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. This is my first time being in Congress. I’m going to be representing this office.’” While there’s nothing unique about new-job jitters, Worley was aware of standing out. He is blind.

Worley, a summer intern in the office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, is a 22-year-old political science and international affairs double major at the University of Colorado Boulder. He found his internship through the American Association of People with Disabilities. In the days since he started, he has taken on a variety of work including researching legislative issues and attending important meetings. “I haven’t been left on the sidelines,” Worley says.

The hundreds of interns that pour into House office buildings every summer—the most popular and competitive season for internships—are as diverse and unique as the country they serve. In addition to standard internship programs at most offices, a variety of internships are geared toward traditionally underrepresented applicants.

Minority interns are sponsored by groups including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation Native American Congressional Summer Internship Program. A program started in 2010 by Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi places college students with intellectual disabilities in internships. The program, administered by the Committee on House Administration, has grown to include 16 congressional offices.

While interns can expect a fair amount of clerical work, most positions include substantive and challenging projects ranging from researching legislation to writing press releases. For their work, interns usually receive academic credit. Among other perks, this summer’s crop of interns will get to attend a lecture series featuring luminaries such as New York Times columnist David Brooks and social critic Ralph Nader.

Martine Aurelien, an intern with Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, is using her time at the House to explore a possible career in politics. The 20-year-old Cornell University student is interested in the intersection of government education policy and developmental psychology. “Understanding people and helping them,” as she puts it.

To that end, Aurelien is learning Capitol Hill lingo and etiquette, attending education legislation briefings, and consulting with staff about ideas for an education bill. “These are things I knew I was interested in, but I wasn’t sure if I could see myself there.”

As a young man, Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama also wanted to explore the halls of power. So he interned for then-Rep. Jack Edwards of Alabama. The job started on a somewhat intimidating note. In no uncertain terms, a senior staffer informed Bonner and his fellow interns they were expected to answer every phone call on the first ring. “We had the fear of the Almighty put into us within five minutes of being in the office.”

The young Bonner worked long hours doing a range of work including once drafting a newspaper column about the importance of timber to Alabama. The internship’s most enduring value, Bonner says, was “the opportunity to see—up close—what really happens behind the scenes,” and to see how essential a good staff is to a congressional office. To this day, Bonner appreciates it when his staff pick up constituent calls on the first ring.

Anthony Leon, an intern in the office of Rep. Jose Serrano of New York this past spring, will count himself truly lucky if he can work his way up from intern to member of Congress, as Bonner did. During his internship, the 22-year-old Millersville University student felt engaged speaking with constituents, attending hearings, and learning about federal budgets.

When he wasn’t getting lost in the sprawling House complex, Leon enjoyed himself and liked what he saw. “I got to see that members of Congress are like everyday people. Not all of them came from a privileged background,” Leon says. “I could see myself being a member of Congress one day.”

To learn more about internships in representatives’ offices and how to apply, visit your representative’s site (find your representative by state or by zip code at the top right of web page banners) and sign up to receive the weekly House Employment Bulletin. To apply for internships with House organizations, follow the instructions in individual vacancy announcements. House organizations include House Officers—the Clerk, the Chief Administrative Officer, the Sergeant at Arms and the Chaplain—and the Inspector General.